Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bits and Peaces

Last chance for the graphic novel Watchmen before movie! Watchmen is getting good reviews, mostly, but a few really negative ones. Seems they either love it, or hate it.

What's happening at Bachelor? No news is good news?

Is "It could be worse...." a good answer to, "How's business?"

That Zicam cold remedy, actually seems to work.

You know, Iraq seems to be functioning...never would've believed it.

The Blazer's, I mean Oden's....knees are bad again.

Previous original owners of Jackalope Grill and The Barking Squirrel, are opening Joolz in downtown Bend, in the Bistro Corlise space. What...they ran out of animals? The Mad Chipmonk, the Rabid Raccoon? (P.S. Will be revising the Opening/Closing list with one more change...)

Bulletin beats the two T.V. stations on news of Captain Sawyer's retirement; though KOHD still has more info about 'new' charges...

I no longer feel the need to point out the bad economic news; the media has caught up.

Bank of the Cascades is a penny stock? Anyone remember the huge, glowing articles about this Bank, and it's walk-on-water CEO?

Where's Central Oregon's unemployment rate? 9.9% for Oregon can't bode well...

How many tattoo shops and baby/children's stores does one town need?

These could have all been Twitters, I suppose. I don't really get Twitter.

Speaking of which, I have massively long blogs that I don't want to burden anyone with. Eyes glaze over. I try to do no more than one or two big ones a week.

Network T.V. is collapsing? This is like my favorite year: Mentalist, C.S.I. Vegas, Dollhouse, Sarah Conner, Terminator, Life, Heroes, Lost, Life on Mars, I suffering the dreaded "Show Inflation?" Then again, I dropped Fringe, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Chuck, Eleventh Hour, almost dropped Life on Mars, but then it got interestingly weird. No sitcoms or reality shows....Oh, and loving (hating) Battlestar, but that's not network.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Statistical blubber

So it turns out that the downturn in the GNP in the last quarter of last year wasn't 3.8, but instead 6.2.

That's only off by....well, just a know....not so much.....

ONLY 40% !!!!

But trust us, folks. We know what we're doing. (Whatever you do, don't scare people, feed them the bad news a little at a time.)

They're talking about an even bigger drop in this quarter.

But good news, people! The second quarter of 2009 should only drop 1.7%!


The regular connection.

I've been thinking about this whole 'discretionary spending' thing.

On the surface, comics wouldn't appear to be something that people need. And yet...

It's a regular activity on the part of most of my subscribers -- they come in every week, or every two weeks, at least every month. It becomes part of their lives, a habit, if you will.

Certainly, in the larger scheme of things, comics aren't really that expensive; ten or twenty dollars a week, for most of my customers.

And entertainment in times of trouble is more of a need than a want, in my opinion. When Linda and I were really struggling, the basic cable T.V. was the last to get cut, and the first to come back. We never gave up on reading material; that would have been unthinkable.

Anyway, I'm noticing that the percentage of customers who spend money who are regulars seems to be rising. They account for a minimum of 70% of my sales everyday, which accounts for about 70% of what I need to make my average.

There is a connection there, between me and my customers, and I know them by name and I can chat with them, and it makes the store work. It's a fragile connection to be sure.

After an initial crunch, most of my regulars are hanging in there.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just watching.

Because of circumstances beyond my control, I haven't made very many reorders the last three weeks. (Mostly because my main supplier has been moving their warehouse, and because my other main suppliers got huge orders from me at the beginning of the month.)

I've been sort of waiting for demand to build up -- and it hasn't. Except for the usual spot shortages. (I could've sold Walking Dead #9, a really fun graphic novel, a half dozen times if I had it in stock.)

So I've kind of watched what appears to me to be a declining economic condition with a bit of bemusement, and counting my blessings that I escaped over ordering almost by happenstance.

When or if I make big reorders waits upon events, I think.

But if everyone is thinking this way, we are negatively reinforcing, each of us by protecting ourselves.

Even Walmart is announcing they are going to have tighter controls on SKU's. (As I've predicted since the beginning, the consumer is going to have less and less choice in product -- no doubt driving them to the internet. Again, a negative reinforcement.)

But what you gonna do?

Have to watch the bottom line.

Book bits.

Funny animal books always sell.

Used poetry books sell like crazy, new poetry books not so much.

Good, quality Children's chapter books sell almost immediately.

Almost all art and/or coffee table books have a bit of scuffing or dings...must be why we get them.

Classic authors just don't show up enough; nor good history books.

Diet books and business books are almost the same. Simple answers. If they all worked we'd be both rich and skinny.

There is a constant call for basic addiction books.

"How to" save a marriage books sadly come into the store in clumps.

There is a "How to" Christian book on every conceivable subject. Brighter teeth, skinnier bods, and fluffier hair.

We get way more conservative political books than liberal political books.

They make a travel book about every little tiny hamlet in the world.

Philosophy books don't sell as well as I'd expect; health books sell better than I'd expect.

There are a lot of books in the world.

No matter how many car mechanics books you have, you will never have the model the customer is looking for.

Quality cook books and gardening books come in more than I'd expect.

There is a very fine line between pop psychology books and new age books.

Too many sports books.

Western books sell very well -- must be the only media left where they are strong, but it doesn't matter how old or beat up the book is.

Mystery readers read lots of mysteries.

Science Fiction readers read lots of S.F.

Romance readers read lots of romance.

(I may add more of these as they occur to me.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Far be it from me to tell anyone else how to run their business.

And yet, I might be able to help you avoid a few mistakes I've made over the years.


Early on, someone told me the two biggest dangers in business were 1.) too little success, and 2.) too much success. I'm not sure I understood the latter at first. But I learned the hard way.

The store that Linda and I ran was very successful for the first 6 years or so. One success after another, ever increasing sales, happy customers.

So successful, in fact, that it took every dollar I made sunk right back into the store, to keep up. So successful, it often required that I stay until midnight getting ready for the next day.

Eventually, it got so I figured I was bulletproof. Linda and I split our efforts -- she went to Sisters, and her store there was, if anything, even MORE successful.

But it was also the beginning of the end, in some ways. We lost our very functional working relationship -- Linda makes friends very easily, and I'm very knowledgeable, and between us we made a very strong pair.

When I opened a third and fourth store, it really went bad. I just couldn't keep up the quality control, and I got more and more competition, and I worked myself into the ground.

Eventually, I asked myself: was I having fun? Was I making money?

The answer to both was a big NO.

I'm back to one store now, I'm even working it alone, and yet I'm not anywhere near as stressed as I was back then. And I'm probably making more real money.

Sure, I've complicated the store no end. 8 or 10 different product lines, depending on how you count them. I have to keep up with a ton of details, and it's fortunate that I enjoy lots of details.


I want to DOUBLE emphasize this point:

Success can breed burnout. You find something works, and you do more of it. It gives you an idea to do another thing, and you do more of that. Before you know it, you've got so many things going, you're running full blast just to stay in one place.


Contrast that to the way we did Linda's store, the Bookmark. Even the name is purposely simple -- we came up with all kinds of punny, funny, exotic sounding names. But in the end, we went with a name with BOOKS in the title.

We developed a simple trade policy, a simple philosophy.

We organize the books in as intuitive a way as possible.

We do used books. Period.

Everyone tried to tell us to do coffee, but we saw that as a unnecessary complication. We sold soda for a while, and snacks, but dropped those.

If it was me, I'd probably have complicated it by now with; new books, magazines, remaindered books, accoutrement's like bookmarks and puzzles and note cards. I'd have moved things around a dozen times. I'd have played with the formula.

Instead, Linda has stuck to her original guns. And the results are a fully functioning store, that has reached enough success that we are faced with nearly too much work anyway. That is, complicating it would have made it way too much work by now, probably without the comparable recompense.


It's hard when you're successful at something to say no to doing even more of the same thing. It's hard to turn down what appears to be opportunity.

But ask yourself, "Is this what I really want? How much extra work with it make? Will it be a permanent change? "

Apparently, when these restaurant fixers come into these places, one of the first things they do is simplify the menu, simplify the procedures, simplify the ingredients.

I think this is good advice for any retail.


You shouldn't try, you'll never succeed, in keeping all the people happy all the time.

Customers will ask you to do many, many things. You want to please them. You've been told over and over again that the customer is always right.

Does it really make sense over the long run to pursue that one item for that one customer? To pay for postage and handling and storage and display space and inventory placement and so on?

I've taken to sending people elsewhere for stuff I don't have -- without qualms. "I think Barnes and Nobles has that..." I'll say.

"But we'd rather buy it from you," they'll answer.

"Thank you, but we really can't do it. Really, it's O.K."


I eventually stopped buying off the street, for instance. Or doing any trade. Because it seemed like it caused bad feelings just too much. "You're ripping me off!" someone would say to me, after I bought his cards as a favor, as a service.

Also, anything you add, you then have to keep up. If IT'S successful, you have yet another element of quality control to keep up with.

For instance, say you have a delivery service. But if your location is generating so much business you can't keep up, why are you doing that?

The equivalent to me is online or mail order. Wait a minute. I've got more than enough to do in my store; isn't my time better used to do a better job there?

Certainly, the customer is important. But even more important is your own spirit and motivation. In the end, you'll serve the customer better by not over extending yourself.


Opportunity will always arise. You don't need to go a million miles an hour, even in the first few years. If you find yourself near tears because you've got too much to do, it would seem a pretty hefty clue that you've taken on too much.

You want to LIKE your job, you want to LIKE your business. It's a marathon, not a sprint. If you've reached that stress point, it means you've succeeded so far, but it's time to internalize.

Stop advertising, perhaps. Stop having sales. Stop doing special events.

Or even....horrors!....raise prices. This isn't as crazy as it sounds. If you've got a premium product that has too much demand, price raising to slow demand is actually a pretty smart thing to do. Don't hide your quality. (If you don't believe me, do some research.)

Another thing that someone told me early on, the closer you can ask to retail price, the more healthy your store. It not only means your store is healthy enough to ask retail, but it also means by asking retail, your store can get healthy.


But of course they did. But I didn't listen. I could wish I had taken it slower, turned down a few growth opportunities to build a better foundation.

In a sense, I didn't have enough trust in my own abilities. I wanted to strike while the iron was hot, not realizing that the iron will get hot again.

So here's my advice. Slow and steady wins the race.

Take care of the business for awhile. Get your feet under you.

I'm liking Obama.

Despite appearances, I'm not really all that political. I think of myself as a pragmatic liberal; but I don't have a whole lot of faith in government's ability to get much done.

But I don't completely discount the possibility, either.

I was firmly in Obama's camp, I thought Palin was a disaster, but I kind of like McCain. seemed to me that we needed big changes, and Obama was the best possibility of that.

Anyway, his speech last night was very impressive.

I don't want to fall into Obama idol worship. Just as I think it's silly to expect him to fix everything in a month, I think it's even more silly to declare him a success.

I'm going to take a wait and see attitude.

Yeah, I know he didn't write the speech on the back of an envelope, Lincoln like, but still -- isn't it nice to have a President who is eloquent? Just from a writerly standpoint, it's really refreshing.

Again, I'm not quite ready to fall into the 'great man' framework, Doris Kearns Goodwin notwithstanding.

I think he's pointed in the right direction. But there's still that little problem of only 58 Democratic senators.

Then again, Republicans, keep acting the way you're acting, and I think the voters will take care of that in 2010.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

All right, all right, 2009 sucks. But 2010? Oh, la, la.

Interesting how many people -- so called experts -- are predicting an economic recovery in 2010.

"You know, we've written off 2009, what more do you want?"

"So we've been wrong about every prediction so far, but how can you doubt us?"

Strangely, the local real estate group who heard Dana Bratton predict an imminent recovery last spring, from this year's speakers heard a 3 year time-line ....but, you know, keep a stiff upper lip and soldier on.

Three years is a longgggg time. I wonder how many of these real estate types really have the patience. I wonder how many of them can hold out that long?

Save the Cheerleader...for me.

You know it's windy when it wakes you in the middle of the night.

Woke me from a dream where I was getting it on with the Cheerleader in Heroes.

Don't go ewwww....I'm her age in the dream. O.K.....NOW you can go ewwwwwwwwww.

Mostly though, the dream was another ostracism dream. Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I'll go eat worms; long, thin skinny ones, short fat fuzzy ones. Trying to get out of some church camp that Linda has dragged me too. Now I'm feeling guilty about cheating on my wife, so I intend to go back and tell the Cheerleader she's out of luck, she can't have me.

In the final part of the dream, I'm in a car and backing up, and I fall off a cliff.

Yeah, I know you didn't really want to hear all this, (sharing too much, Dunc....)but this rotten (at least second half) dream is still lingering a couple hours later.

Monday, February 23, 2009

My moment of 'high' finance.

Went to see our financial guy (I have a financial guy? Well, my family has a financial guy, and he was willing to set aside an hour for me and Linda.)

Thing is, I've always had more faith in my ability to turn 1.00 into 2.00 in my store, than handing it to 'financial guys...."

Or I've needed whatever money I had just to survive.

But whatever money I've made in this store beyond living expenses, is locked up in inventory, which may or may not be retrievable.

Linda and I had a small IRA in the '90's, which we closed and paid huge penalties and taxes. But it was that, or give up the store. It's awfully late to be starting a new one, but better late than never, and if I make a maximum contribution in both IRA's every year for the next 10 to 15 years, it might actually become something.

The irony is that in the last decade, the money we might have put in (1997) would currently be worth about what we can put in now. A lost decade.

Of course, the big thing about IRA's is that they more or less save you about 1/3rd of your contribution in taxes, so it's like turning a 6k contribution into an automatic 8k in returns.

We finally got a couple of new IRA's started a couple of years ago. We missed last year. One of the reasons I wanted a lease early was so I could possibly have a contribution this year. (If I had had to move, it would've cost an enormous amount of money, which my aborted idea of a second store showed me, not to mention the risk of falling sales until people found us again....)

I've been holding a lump sum in savings just to cover checks in the store. It's been a great luxury; I don't have to worry that if I miss a deposit that I'll bounce a check.

On the other hand, my budget is currently working and has been working for a couple of years now, and I've rarely dipped into it. I also have a line of credit with my bank, so that's also enough....(there is an annoyance in that to replenish the line of credit, I can't do it over the phone but have to actually go into the bank.)

So I'm sitting in the store on Friday, watching the stock market reach 1997 levels, and I'm thinking maybe this is time to get an IRA contribution in, both for 2008 taxes and because....well, the stocks are certainly cheaper than they were a couple of years ago.

Of course, every time I hear that kind of reasoning on house prices, I wince, because I can go every day to the Bend Economy Bulletin Board and see that 99.9% of the prices have been dropping for a couple years, and are still showing no signs of bottom.

I figure you could wait until at least 10% of the prices go up, or 20%. You're not likely to miss the bottom by much. I figure for every 6 months you wait, you might be saving 5 years worth of principle payments.

So...what if the same is true on stocks? Who's to say the stock market won't drop to 5000 or lower?

Well, the deciding factor is the saving in taxes.

And strangely, it'll make me more disciplined in saving at the store.

RDC mentioned averaging, and that sounded like a good idea. (watching the stock market drop another 200 points (currently) reinforces that idea.)

So I tell my financial guy what I want to do, and he launches into an explanation of what they planned to do, and what has happened, and so on.

Weird thing. I understood everything he was saying. I could even embellish it, and I could see a couple of holes in his reasoning. But mostly, I was reassured that he knew what he was doing, and I knew I wasn't going to be watching every move, and they've handled my Dad's trust well over the years, so I told him to go ahead.

I also found out that after 59.5 years of age, one can withdraw without penalties; so we can also make a full contribution to Linda's IRA and the money would be accessible.

And he reassured us that, in any case, the money is only 3 days from being liquid.

So I'm doing the full amount for both accounts, which will pretty much wipe out my savings -- but I've got a couple of months to see how I can do replenishing that before I have to make the final decision on Linda's.

All very interesting to me, though probably everyday stuff to RDC and Jesse and all those other market guys.

Slumdog Slam

Watching the Academy Awards with 4 women (wife, two sisters, and friend) was a different experience.

They started talking about how some of the dresses were 'too' revealing, which made me exclaim "Look at those rockets!" when Sara Jessica Parker walked onto the stage.

After everyone teared up over Heath Ledger's family acceptance, I demanded to know why "Matilda didn't accept the award!" (3 year old daughter.)

I was the definitely the Barbarian in the room.

I started making catty remarks about the dresses with a lisp.

My sister Betsy kept going on about how great Benjamin Button was, but I told her, "John Stewart thought it was boring. Who am I going to believe, you or John Stewart?"

Sophia Loren sent me to the back of the chair with a big "Wow! I'd hate to meet her in a dark alley!" That lady has presence...

And so on. I told them, it had to be a different experience to see the Oscars with a bunch of guys and some beer -- of course, I suspect they were all watching the Blazers game...

It was funny, when they showed the Action Films clip, I kept saying ,"I saw that! I saw that!" Which was a relief, because until then it seemed like I didn't go to the movies at all last year.

I did. But if it didn't have a gun or an explosion, I didn't. And if it had a gun or an explosion, it seems like it didn't get nominated.

The only movie we did see was Slumdog Millionaire, which was apparently the right one to see.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cheap? condos?

Only three bids on the Putnum Pointe condo's.

Any bets about how many of those 3 follow through? How many actually get a loan?

No worries.

Now it's first come, first serve.

You know for all those 'affordable' people who make over 70k a year and want to live with low rent neighbors....

Or will they be low rent neighbors?

I'm confused.

"affordable?" Maybe this word doesn't mean what I think it means...

Eating the fat.

Buster seems to think I'm calling for a return to 1983.

I know 1983, I was here in 1983, and Buster....this isn't 1983.

I don't think we'll return to those bad old days for a number of reasons.

1.) In 1983, the national chains barely had a presence in Bend; a couple of anchors on the end of both malls, and that was pretty much it. Once these dinosaurs get to Bend, it's unlikely they'll leave. (Other than a few national BK.R's and local branch closures, the vast majority are here to stay.)

2.) The population is so much larger.

3.) We have become a regional hub. In health, especially.

4.) Rich people. I'm sure they're here, even if I'm never aware of them in my store (which says something right there.) I've talked to enough people who service these rich to believe they exist.

5.) The tourism and retirement industries are real, and much, much bigger than 1983. They may pay minimum wage, but at least they pay something.

It's just that I'm not a great believer in the 'trickle down' theory. I never bought the rich could pull the rest of Bend up. I believe they are more likely not to spend money, or to spend money elsewhere. (I get these people in the store from out of town all the time. The rich go elsewhere to spend silly money, the rich visit here to spend silly money.)

I'm sure that there will be some enclaves that will do well.

Anyway, I don't believe I'm exaggerating to believe that maybe half of Bend's business was due to the boom. But a good percentage of these people will make adjustments, and find ways to stick around.

I've always felt a 30% drop was the most likely outcome. The fact that we are already there from the peak, probably means I underestimated it. But I planned for a 50% drop.

Still, I doubt vacancies will get past even 10% or 20% at worse downtown -- a far cry from the 40 to 60% vacancies in 1983.

Bend was a pretty lean town even in the late 70's, and had very little to fall back on.

We're considerably fatter right now.

Tain't no market bottom....

Today's article in the Bulletin, "National recession takes its toll locally," was pretty darn dire.

But you know what?

Bend was going to have it's comeuppance whether or not the national economy tanked. It's just plain disingenuous to pretend our problems stem from a national collapse (who could've predicted? who could've known?). We created our little bubble within a bubble, and I for one was hoping the national economy would help us out when our bubble burst. Instead, the national economy is helping drag us down further.

It would seem with such an article that we've finally admitted our problem.

But there was still a little too much emphasis on 'silver linings' and 'calling the bottom' to really be the bottom.

As Paul-doh said today over on BB2:

"Pretty bleak.

But what's funny, is you can still smell a whiff of hope there. A whiff of, "We'll be back to bubble times again, if we just believe!"

I, too, think Duy nailed it when he said we'll never go back to that bubble economy again.

I don't know what percentage of the local economy was based on the boom, but it's not a small number. 25%? 50%?

It's extraordinary how many people are quoted in these stories who arrived in Bend in 2005 or 2006 or 2007. I hate to say it, but these people have NO IDEA how bad it could get around here. You can just see them grasping at straws.

Again, the emphasis is on 'true grit' and "pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps" and "putting our nose to the grindstone", and every other American Work Ethic cliche you can imagine....

Take away the boom, and what do you have left?: Tourism (which is down) and retirement. Both are minimum wage jobs.

Hollern seems to be seeing it somewhat clearly. I think that's because, like me, he knows that the real base of the Bend economy is far south of what's been going on. Like me, he probably hoped for strong, steady growth...not the insane bubble we saw.

I think this whole idea by the part of the Bend bubble boomers that: "Oh, the boom is over? That's O.K. I can live without buying a new car every year, or going out to dinner every night. I can adjust."

No...that's how you should have been living DURING THE BOOM. Now you need to sell your EXTRA car, and NEVER go out to dinner, and start looking for an exit strategy.

But you won't get to that point until it gets to, "Let's get out Dodge." And by then it may be too late for that....

All through the boom, I maintained my infrastructure and debt level as low as I could get it, while boosting my inventory and sales. When I saw it was going bad, I cut down to that base level, which could conceivably allow me to take home just as much pay at 50% sales level.

I'm not looking too far into the future, right now. I'm already at base level, and all I can do is maintain that. My problem will be to restrain my spending on inventory. That will be a constant adjustment to the level of sales.

But if I do that, I should be O.K.

Because I never believed the boom was real. I never based my business upon it.

P.S. The revised job loss figures are interesting. My business saw a drop in August, 2007. As far as I'm concerned, that's when the recession started. Job losses may have started in Dec. '07, but that probably reflects several months of lower sales before people got laid off.

August, 2007. Folks. Whatever they say.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

No life.

It's always fun and enlightening to get the perspective of newcomers to Bend.

We sit and stew over Juniper Ridge and Mount Bachelor and downtown restaurants, and think that everyone else is doing the same.

But a newcomer doesn't really know the dynamics and history of Bend, has no real perspective, on what's going on.

Which can be a blessing, I suppose.

I had a young lady in yesterday, who was kind of picking my brain about Bend. (I should have warned her how dangerous THAT is. Little did she know....)

Anyway, she was surprised when I told her I was a native of Bend. "You're the first one I've run into!"

She's probably reading this, so I hope she doesn't mind if I try to recreate our conversation. I could tell she was a very smart person and I give her kudo's for trying to learn about seems like so few newcomers even make the attempt. She can correct me if I'm wrong. (I'm being a little silly, so forgive me.)

She had just moved to Bend with 3 others to start what I gathered was a 'high tech' operation; you know, something to do with computers.

"Wow. You're just the sort of people that Bend is looking for. Why did you move to Bend?"

I know what she'll say: Bend's a beautiful place, we are outdoor people. we ski, and we love it here. Whoops.

"Oh, we were planning to open in Portland, but we passed through Bend, and decided it was cheaper here..."


"Yeah, way cheaper than San Fran, or Seattle."

"Hum. You realize that Bend is almost the most expensive place in Oregon?"

"Yeah, we also figured since there was so little night life, that we could get our work done quicker. No distractions."

By now, I'm getting amused. But she has come to Bend by way of New York, S.F. and Seattle. We must seem really, really small to her. All the hustle and bustle of our 'high end' restaurants must seem quaint.

"Do you have any tech get-togethers here?" she asks.

"I wouldn't know, all I do is point and click." But I give her my blog name, and figure she might make connections through the Twitter. Her other big concern about Bend was it's "lack of infrastructure...."

For all you people who think that Bend is exceptional, and wonderful, and everyone wants to live here because of the outdoors and the great amenities downtown, and sure it's expensive but worth it -- I give you the proceeding conversation for perspective.

Grasping at straws?

At first, I thought the building permit numbers in the Bend Bulletin editorial, "It's not all bad", were pretty weak to be crowing about. Going from 2,050 in 2005, to 276 in 2008 would appear to be a complete collapse.

And yet....the Bulletin is right that 276 is a strong number compared to everyone else. (I don't buy their projection of 300 over the mid-year to mid-year range, seems to be playing with numbers to come up just slightly higher...).

That 2,050 number was in some ways a disaster for Bend.

I was never against growth, per se. Just crazy growth.

It reminds me of my situation downtown. Even with the downturn, my foot traffic rate is higher than it used to be. High enough that almost any urban zone anywhere in Oregon would be happy with it. But I no longer feel threatened that they will tear down my building or the building across the way and build some monstrosity.

I've always said, I'd prefer a steady 10% growth rate (and even that is huge, historically) than a 30 or 40 or 50% jump. Those kinds of growth rates cause all kinds of dislocations and imbalances.


I had a good day at the store again. If I can keep these numbers, my daily average may be down about 15%, possibly 20% from last year. Those aren't great numbers, but last year's February really outperformed almost any other month in the year, relatively speaking.

I've got money in my budget to spend, but I'm thinking about waiting another week. I've got spot shortages all over the store, but I just don't feel the level of real need has reached any sort of urgency. (It's more at the gnawing, scratchy level...)

It's extremely rare that I have money to spend and don't pull the trigger.


I dreamed all last night of opening used bookstores. We have the formula, we have the material, we have the know-how.

But I don't have the manpower.

And I most definitely don't have the ambition. (though apparently, my subconscious still does....)

I was scouting for locations in my bathrobe....don't know what that means....

Friday, February 20, 2009

Grinding to a halt.

I took it upon myself to ask my customers yesterday; "How are things going where you work?"

An extraordinary number of them said they were unemployed or laid off.

These were people who were actually buying something, making me wonder if its the last drips of water out of the faucet after the water has been turned off.

This is especially startling to me because this is the time of year when people would ordinarily be thinking about gearing up for the spring building season. Landscapers and outdoor stuff. More tourists.

It was also very quiet for the first half of the day. Closing my eyes at my desk, I could hear very little car traffic or conversation outside.

I've also noticed that I've gone from being the most pessimistic person in the room, sometimes ludicrously so, to almost the most sanguine person in the room. It's like the barometric pressure dropped around me.

Lots of commiseration going on.

Everyone, but everyone is finally aware, and willing to admit that things aren't going all that great.

Ordinarily, this might be a sign of the bottom. But....

I was telling my wife this, and she said, "It's funny how everyone thinks you're the pessimistic one and I'm the optimistic one. I think it's going to get way worse. Who's to say it can't keep going down?"

Anyway, this is the most anecdotal of of evidence.

And a short snapshot of time.

But there it is....

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Making lemonade

One thing about working everyday -- a slow day becomes almost like time off. An hour left alone is, well, a break. Instead of closing on Sundays, I can sit there reading or playing solitaire and listening to music.

Almost as if I'm in my living room.

You know, with strangers hanging around....

New Lease.

Got my new lease back, signed, sealed, and delivered.

So I'll be around for another 4.5 years, at least. Should give me just about enough time to finish my underground tunnel to U.S. Bank....(You didn't really think I was satisfied with working for minimum wage all these years...?)

I was given a 10% decrease for the first half of the lease. Not a huge amount of money, the equivalent of a free 2.5 months of rent over the entire course of the lease.

But I appreciated the gesture, and especially that they got it done so fast. Everything else about the lease stayed the same, including the provision for storage.

My rent was already relatively low, compared to other downtown space is pretty much stuck in the 50's when it comes to ceilings and floors and such. I was talking to another downtown merchant who managed to have his rent lowered almost a full third -- but he was still paying considerably higher than me.

I've been hoarding my cash and unwilling to take on any chances or any debt over the last year or so. I'm not suddenly going to go hog wild, but I can relax a little bit.

As far as I'm concerned, I've almost got the worst two months under my belt. My base sales level has turned out to be exactly where it needed to be, minus the employee, so I haven't fallen backward at all.

Feeling pretty optimistic that Obama is going about the things in a constructive way. At least he seems to be rolling out a plan. If.....a big if....there aren't any more shocks to the system, I think we'll be fine.

I had a sudden insight, yesterday. Why weren't things harder? Because things have NEVER been easy. I'm not spending any more or any less money than I ever have. I wasn't really splurging when things were good, so nothing has really changed....

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Risky business.

I'm assuming you all watched FRONTLINE: "Inside the Meltdown" last night?

Completely amazing.

I mean, I knew everything on there, but put into contextual sequence like that really brought it home.

Utterly baffling.

Lack of regulations? Hell. What completely leaps out is the complete lack of oversight.

It's as if the parents left the house to a bunch of 10 year olds for a few months, with the instructions "to behave." Leaving the key to the liquor cabinet hanging from a hook, and the combination to the safe written on the door.

Risky business, indeed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wiley Coyote meets Law of Gravity

With a stupid, surprised look in his face.

Lots of rich, rich blog fodder in the Bulletin today.

The paper corrected the number of Notices of Foreclosure in Jan. from 60 to 260. I have this image of the copy editor seeing that number 260 and thinking, "That can't be right. I'm putting in 60 instead." (I think the incorrect number was 60, but the Bulletin doesn't say....)

About the budget shortages in the Bend Police Department....that's what happens when Wiley Coyote spends all his money on elaborate kits from Acme to catch a Roadrunner he'll never catch. He has no money left over for basics, just an exploded kit and a stupid look in his frizzled face.

I've updated the Downtown businesses comings and goings.

I included Sweetheart Donuts, though it isn't technically a downtown store. But I've know Ray and his wife for years, and know how hard they were working to make it work.

First up, the Liberty Theater.

I said at the time, the U.S. Government made a huge mistake not accepting the 1.8 million it was offered last time. Turns out, even earlier, they were offered 3.5 million, but threw up too many roadblocks.

Two of the interested parties either "laughed" or have "no plans to submit a new offer."

Trouble with the kool-aid is that it drives the prices up so much, that outside parties can't figure out the true value of anything around here. I wonder how much of the high prices around here are due to wacky comparables and outside, absentee owners....

EnVogue is owned by the wife of the guy who almost became my landlord on the corner of Third and Franklin (and coincidentally, Sweetheart Donuts' landlord.) If rumors about a nearby car dealership are true, that whole part of Franklin seems to be almost emptying out, to be replaced by a big Thrift store and....???

Made in Hawaii. The Hawaiian connection to Bend has always been kind of interesting to me. Kebanu was also Hawaiian based. Is there some explanation for this? Or do other towns also have Hawaiian-themed stores?



900 Wall
King of Sole (moved)
Great Outdoor Store
Luxe Home Interiors
Powell's Candy
Dudley's Used Books and Coffee
Game Domain
Subway Sandwiches
Bend Burger Company
Showcase Hats
Pita Pit
Happy Nails


Bistro Corlise
Made in Hawaii
Sweetheard Donuts
Stewart Weinmann (leather)
Kebanu Gallery
Pella Doors and Windows
King of Sole (updated; moved.)
Olive company
Pink Frog
Little Italy
Pomegranate (downtown branch)
Pronghorn Real Estate office.
Blue Teal
Speedshop Deli
Finder's Keepers(?)
Paper Place
Bluefish Bistro
Painted Pony

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Game of Expectations.

On a day to day basis, my business is humming. I'm all chipper. Everything is hunky dory.

If I look at sales compared to last year, however, I'm down a full 20%. This is exactly what my middle case scenario predicted. It's a little better daily average than last month, though last month I was only down 10%. (January last year was much worse than February, or March, or April, or any month until Sept.)

But I find myself current on bills, and well stocked. In fact, for the first time I can remember, there is nothing I need order next week. I'd be ordering graphic novels, I suppose, except my distributer Diamond is moving their warehouse and are unavailable.

I don't need games, toys, cards or books that I can see.

My budget next month, which because of billing starts next week, is more than generous.

I think the difference is, that I can spend about the same amount of money as I could last year, because I'm not having to pay an employee. But unlike last year, I'm not bringing in a new product line (new books or new games) but just trying to maintain a good level.

Of course, I do have the rather large new book order I made in January. I considered that an investment, to be paid off in equal amounts each month. I might be able to hack into that a bit faster than I expected.

I'm going to skip reorders next week, and apply the difference to my book order.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Jelly beans.


Linda bought me a huge bag of jellybeans for Valentine's Day. (I brought home a copy of Settlers of Catan.)

I was jolting awake from sugar rushes until 3:00 in the morning. Also made the mistake of watching the movie, Funny Games. A more sadistic movie I can't imagine, all the worse because of the great acting by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth.


Speaking of anonymous attackers. Someone has been poking at me for spelling and grammar mistakes, over on Bend Bubble2. For misspelling 'pomegranate' and misusing the words 'neither/nor' and 'either/or.' (Which is kind of strange, because I'm sure I've been guilty of much more than that.)

How dare I call myself a book writer???

Of all the things that have been said to me over there, (and Buster is no slouch in the attacking mode), I found myself taking an inordinate amount of offense at this silly snipe.

Funny thing is, of all the things I used to worry about when writing books, my spelling and grammar were the least. In fact, I can honestly say I never worried about my spelling or grammar. (I, of course, would spell check my manuscripts before sending them off, and beg people to read them and catch mistakes....)

I worried about my work habits, about marketing, about finishing. But spelling? Don't remember it being a concern.

I worried about coming up with an original story, workable plots, fleshed out characters, believable conversations -- but spelling and grammar(?), not so much. Besides, I used neither the word 'pomegranate' nor the phrase 'neither/nor' in my fiction stories.

I'd have either looked up the rule or not used the phrase.

Besides, I don't obsess on spelling and grammar in this blog, (though I try to get it right.)

And that's the last I'll speak on the subject.


The Bulletin has pretty much gone after Jody Denton of Merenda and Deep, while still strangely silent on the Sawyers.

But after reading the story, I just have to say this.

There is a reason to be 'realistic' about your business planning, even if it seems negative to others. I never thought either the Deep or Merenda were likely to make it in downtown Bend.

I'll say it again. Almost every 'high end' business that came to downtown Bend between the years 1980 and 2000, either failed or struggled. Only in the last 8 years or so have 'high end' restaurants and clothing stores and jewelry store and so on flourished.

I suspect, in the end, we'll be more like the pre-2000 period (regardless of population) in numbers of 'high end', and less like the last period.

It was an illusion, folks.

Saying this isn't just trying to be negative. As the Bulletin points out,
"...the dream came with a cost. Many investors, banks and local vendors who did business with Denton aren't likely to receive the money they claim is due them..."

After all, I had a business during the same time. And while I can tell you that gross sales were higher than ever, so were the costs and so was the competition for the almighty buck. Having been in debt to my ears before, I realized how easy it was the fritter away ten bucks here, twenty bucks there. Much less the gargantuan amounts of money I was seeing spent around me

Nothing comes without hard work and long-term planning. Certainly, you can't just throw money at infrastructure and startup costs. Most importantly, you can't be hauling out wads of money to buy a big house and a big car and all the luxuries of life or going out to dinner every night or -- dare I say it -- even once a week.

What was everyone thinking?


Word to the BEBB. I won't be registering. Just so you know.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Good blog, bad blog.


More and More I'm noticing that blogs seem to be either nicey, nicey, or downright rude. Not that I have anything against the nicey, nicey blogs -- my wife has one and she really is that nice, folks -- it's just, well, I can't go there.

Bad Blog!

Well, I can't go COMPLETELY there, either. Hopefully.

But....I suspect I'm more in the Bad Blog camp. I just want to have fun, and express myself. So, I'd like to be able to react in an honest way, and I do like hearing about things....

As evidenced by the following gossip.


Tami Sawyer has had one colorful career. Waitress, serial marriager,then real estate agent. Come to find out, (from Linda's and my friend Karen) she was a business neighbor of ours for awhile. She was a partner in Bare Elegance, (Insert Dildo Joke Here) a store next to our store in the Mountain View Mall. But neither Linda or I remember meeting her.

Also, from a friend who met her in a Christian singles group, she was partners for awhile with a guy who tried to start a all-ages club, but had to skip town when he got over his head. I vaguely remember that fiasco; all ages clubs have been tried over and over again, but almost always go wrong.

Do gooders, gone wrong.

The Dark Side of Bend growth, I guess.


Or, I prefer the word Liberal. Linda once had someone express surprise that she was a Democrat. "You can't be! You own a small business!"

It seems like I come down much more on the conservative side when it comes to local spending issues. The goals of BAT and Juniper Ridge and Tower Theater and local funding for arts and the local shelters and urban renewal and affordable housing -- they are all laudatory, but.... least locally they seem to be mishandled more often than not. Maybe that's the way of all progressive aims. Still, I think these things need to be funded in advance, if we truly want them. Vote for the BAT, if that's what we want. Vote for the Tower Theater, if that's what we want.

Instead, they always seem to be Trojan Horses. Started with great fanfare but without adequate support, and then followed by cries of...."We can't let it fail. All the money and effort would go to waste?"

So I find myself in support of the progressive aims, and kind of a naysayer about how they are actually accomplished. Bah.

See what I mean?

Bad Blog......

Friday, February 13, 2009

Working in the Muck.


One thing about running a store. You realize that you'll never get to completion. You'll always have too much of one thing, too little of another. You'll always have a hodgepodge of fixtures, old and new material jumbled together.

Yesterday, I finally removed my defunct T.V. and DVD player since I no longer show Anime on them. I have dropped most electronic gadgets over the years, because the more complicated the display, the more likely it will break. Good old wood and plastic and paper last pretty much forever.


Anyway, watching the Stimulus in Congress, was like watching a cobbled together sales program. You make do, try to fit it all together, and hope it passes muster. I seemed to be seeing it very different than the 'experts.' I think Obama did exactly what he said he'd do: he got a package out of Congress, he didn't freak out or make threats, he didn't panic and change course (or if he changed course, he did it quietly behind the scenes.)


We want it now, and we want it perfect, and we want it to satisfy Me, Me, ME!


I consider myself a progressive, a liberal, but if the previous council was run by progressives, they were 'pie in the sky' type. Big plans, just as the city was going down the tube.

The Chamber of Commerce types may have taken the city council back, but I think they're more likely to get down in the Muck and actually try to scale back. I may not like how they do it, I may not like the good ol' boy composition, I may not like the leaning toward real estate interests, but....

The old council showed no signs they were aware of the impending disaster, nor any willingness to scale back on their pie in the sky plans.

I still shake my head over their hour long cable T.V. program about how they were going to fix Third St. and the downtown corridor. They thought they were living in a world of unlimited money back then.

What I'm saying, I guess, is that the previous council may have been doing the wrong things for all the right reasons. The new council may do some of the right things for all the wrong reasons. To save their own ass, their own investment in Bend.

I would trust in a crew that is trying it's damnest to save the ship because their own necks are on the line, than a crew that seems to dither, to be unaware of the dangers, or even worse, proclaim that they're willing to 'go down with the ship!'

I could be wrong. I could be out of my depth here. It could be they are only out to save their own investments, that they'll jump into the last lifeboat. That the President of the White Star Line will by waving goodbye as the rest of us go down with the ship.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On Writing Lazy.

I've been thinking about writing, and all it's past and future formats.






I'm still not sure that Kindle is going to put books out of business; at least in my lifetime. But I look over at my 30k worth of worthless Anime DVD's; which have been completely subverted by 'fan-sub' pirating, and I can't be sure.


Buster comparing himself to Emma Goldman brought up the issue of Anonymity again. Emma Goldman is one of my favorite historical characters -- mostly because of her sheer guts and courage. (Her politics are another matter....)

There was a good documentary on the American Experience about her, and I've always been partial to the Stewart Holbrook's (a good Northwest Writer) books on 'progressives'.

She stood up to the Man. She walked right up the the Man and told him exactly what she thought of him. She got thrown into jail over and over again, and eventually she was deported. She didn't back down. And she certainly never hid behind anonymity.

I started this blog without fully thinking out whether anonymity or not was an option.

I'm kind of glad I went with this format. I find that when I read comments by people who are anonymous, I tend to dismiss much of what they say. Except when they make a good, reasoned point.

And the same good, reasoned point could be made with even more credibility with a real name.


I'm also noticing that I find the less formal, less structured economy blogs better reads. Calculated Risk, Mish's and Big Picture have a loosey goosey nature that I like, whereas more formally written columns by the likes of Krugman and Wolfe are interesting, but somehow....stilted. There is something very spontaneous and fresh about some blogs.


The comic distributer Diamond has imposed limits on low selling independents. They have this right, but since they are a near monopoly, this policy has major ramifications.

Comics have always had a low barrier to entry. Self-publishing isn't considered Vanity Press -- most of the time. We get tons of schlock, but also the occasional gem.

I believe that this creative freedom has made comics an incredibly fertile territory, which Hollywood, video games, and even books have taken notice.


Which has got me thinking about my own creative efforts. One of the things that blocked me on writing future books was the concern that it needed to be right, it needed to be well-thought out, it needed to be spectacularly different and new.

But if I'd just been spinning stories all these years, without regard to heavy handed editorializing, who knows what might have emerged.


I announced at the Farewell Bend Writer's Roundtable that I was contemplating a Lazy Book.

"What's that?"

"Any damn thing I want. And I'll read it to you guys, but don't you dare criticize."

I know from past experience that I'd eventually polish and rewrite -- but I also remember that I finally sprung my writing loose on the first book by telling myself to "Just Write a Story."

And when I got bogged down a few years later, I sprung myself loose by telling myself, "Write Sloppy."

So....writing Lazy is just another version of that.


Just as in my store I threw out all the rules about what constitutes literature; and I allowed myself to carry everything that intrigued me, whether it be cartoons, books, games, comics, graphic novels, art books, children's books, etc. etc.

I think that the creative urge takes all kinds of forms -- I'd like to write songs, and draw pictures, and so on. But writing comes pretty naturally, and I need to just let it flow, no matter what format it takes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Awareness horizons.

Chuck Arnold of the Bend Downtowners was in the store yesterday, and seemed rather upbeat. We have an extraordinary number of businesses down here, nowadays. And he thought he could come up with at least 30 businesses that were doing better than last year.

I mentioned that just because the spaces downtown were filling (single digit vacancy) doesn't mean that all the stores are doing well.

"But isn't that always true? Business is always a challenge. Businesses always come and go."

True enough, I suppose.

Once again I'm struck by the different horizons of awareness.

The locals seem very aware that conditions have worsened; indeed, the irony to me is that many have gone from no awareness at all, to maybe overestimating the harm.

Meanwhile, at mid-range, the local papers and media, the news tends to get lost in the mix, and to be downplayed.

At the national level. Oh, boy. That's a different story.

The more you look into what's being said, the scarier it gets. The big boys are really, really worried. Scared isn't too strong a word. I mean, really, really frightened. The only people not worried, the CNBC type crowd, have been so wrong so often and so clueless, that that's almost a warning in itself.

But then I take a step back. The more you look into any subject, the more dire it will appear, just by the nature of the commenter's. They've peeled back the layers and found the hidden dangers.

Ignorance is bliss.

If I were to really look into global warming, for instance, I'm sure I'd be much more alarmed than I am. We're all doomed, you know. I know it's there, I know it's pretty damned dangerous.

But I also know there is a small, but completely possible chance we'll be wiped out by an asteroid.

That's not to say I don't want to know, however, especially about the economy, especially about business. I still feel strongly that the more I know, the more I can prepare. Forewarned is forearmed.

Meanwhile, most of the public goes it's merry way. Aware of the conditions much as they're aware of who's in the running for the Academy Awards, which celebrity misbehaved this week, which new hot restaurant just opened. Which is appropriate enough. (Though I'm often amazed by how little people who are actually buying houses or opening stores seem to know -- that's when a bit or research would be even more appropriate.)

I do understand the general level of superficial knowledge. I feel the same way about the 'Stimulus Package' or the 'Bail-out.'

What the hell can I do about it?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What have you done with Dunc?

I probably surprised people a couple of weeks ago when I said in the Bulletin that I thought Downtown Bend was not going to empty out. I predicted that both the Volo and the Merenda space would fill up, (and I think the Deep will, too.)


Because if anyone is going to open ANY business in Bend, Downtown Bend is the prime location.

This is not to say it is a smart or profitable move. Just that it will happen.

I've oft stated that Downtown Bend 'fails upward'; store comes in, fixes up space, fails, next store takes over nicer space at higher rent, fixes it up even more, fails, next store....

The difference is, now the rents aren't going up. Instead, sales are going down.

Equally challenging, but for different reasons.

With rents coming down or stabilizing (and I'm getting more and more reports of this....) the 'hermit crab' scenario is even more in play. Great locations, especially for businesses that are already solid.

Business in Downtown is definitely slower, hasn't disappeared completely. I suspect that many locations around town are subsisting on nearly 100% regulars and locals. If that's enough, they'll survive.

But there is still a tiny bit of velvet Downtown. Just before I signed my last lease, about 4.8 years ago, I kept track of who was spending money in my store, and realized that a full 80% of my customers were people I either knew or recognized. By this, I mean people who actually spent money.

80%, during the summer, with lots of tourists.

(The old 80/20 rule seems to work here; 80% of the customers are drop-ins, but spend only 20% of the money. 20% of the people in the door are regulars, but spend 80% of the money.)

That formula probably changed a little over the next few years -- sales probably increased to somewhere in the range of 30 to 35% from drop-ins, though I didn't keep strict account.

I think it's shrunk back to about 20% again. When I do the numbers, my regulars get me about 80% of the way to my required totals everyday, so the other 20% are visitors and/or newcomers. All manageable if the overhead is kept down, and with careful buying.

What I'm saying, in a way, is that Downtown Bend is being sustained as much by it's cultural allure as by it's business profitability.

I cheer each new store opening. I can look forward to Zydeco being on a few doors away, to the Oxford Hotel being only a block away, to all the retail along the bottom.

What's not to like?



900 Wall
King of Sole (moved)
Outdoor Store
Luxe Home Interiors
Powell's Candy
Dudley's Used Books and Coffee
Subway Sandwiches
Bend Burger Company
Showcase Hats
Pita Pit
Happy Nails


Stewart Weinmann (leather)
Kebanu Gallery
Pella Doors and Windows
King of Sole (updated; moved.)
Olive company
Pink Frog
Little Italy
Pomegranate (downtown branch)
Pronghorn Real Estate office.
Blue Teal
Speedshop Deli
Finder's Keepers(?)
Paper Place
Bluefish Bistro
Painted Pony

Help me out here. Any others?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Um, Bulletin?

Um, Bulletin?

Your not talking about the Sawyers is turning into a bit of a glaring omission.....

Not too late to redeem yourself with a hard-hitting investigative report.....

KTVZ has over 200 comments on the story, (though Barney says many of them are by the same three ax-grinders.) Still, that's a whole lot of smoke to ignore.

Cough, cough....sputter, sputter....what smoke?

Especially since you seem to be on a run of 'feel-good' stories which are pretty inconsequential. Doggy shows and burglar cats. Nice. Very well written stories. But I get e-mailed stories like that every day.

Lots of news going on. It isn't even the bloggers so much, this time. Both Kohd and Ktvz are covering it; I will assume the Source is going to cover it.

Just saying, as your friend.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Another Bend Madoff?

I haven't wanted to comment on the Sawyer situation. (Local Police Captain suspended, as his real estate wife and him are investigated by the F.B.I.)

Frankly, what I've wanted to say has been way too harsh.

Anyone who has ever been brought low and humbled knows better than to cheer for such events.

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but exceedingly fine.

To be clear, my sympathies lie with the victims of these two people, if the allegations are true.

And Tami Sawyer's website didn't win any brownie points with me. If nothing else she's guilty of an insane self-esteem.

More tidbits.

Had a big day at the store, yesterday.


For which I have no explanation whatsoever.

Good results in every category.

Sorry, I'm not going to miss the Winterfest at all (nor, Aaron Switzer is probably thinking, is Winterfest going to miss me....). But if what I want is good, solid foot traffic, it seems to me that I have way more than I ever expected.

A decade ago, I wouldn't have gotten over 100 people in the door unless it was a Holiday, and even then it was rare.

To get those numbers in early February just proves to me how much has changed.

Anyway, a good 'money' day as well, which sets me up nicely to reach my 'medium' scenario, and gives me a good chance to reach my high scenario....

A nice surprise.


Got around to watching my Tivo'd Austin City Limits. Nick Lowe. His "Cruel to be Kind" is one of my favorite all time songs.

Shocker to see an old guy. But he gave what could only be called a virtuoso performance. Beautiful voice. With only him and a guitar.

Also, a song by the mythical Daniel Johnson, which I guess is a little like catching a glimpse of Bigfoot.


Back to the store. I didn't really think about it much before I did it, but working the store everyday is paying bigger dividends than I expected.

I was thinking only about saving on wages and taxes.

But I'm also getting a good solid sense of the store, and it's a bit more positive than I had when I was taking so much time off.

Sure....there is the benefit of knowing my inventory, being able to respond to requests, knowing when to discount, getting a feel for who my current customers are (the biggest surprise, and one I'll probably talk about in the future) and just my overall sales ability that comes from experience.

On top of that, though, I'm finding that I'm getting a much more solid and secure grasp of what I need to reorder, and when. (I'm letting myself do direct ship reorders again, despite the cost, partly because I'm saving so much on wages....) Having a new lease nearly in grasp has freed me to take a few chances on ordering, which has already paid off in higher sales.

Higher 'gross' sales, I should say. Probably won't translate into higher 'profits,' because more risk is being taken. But keeping sales as far north of the break-even zone as possible isn't a bad goal. The higher my gross sales are, if and when the economy recovers -- I know, I know, may be years from now -- the less ground I have to make up.


This is the first year I can remember that I haven't seen ANY of the Academy Award movies. We're going to go see Slumdog Millionaire this afternoon, so at least we'll have seen one.


Back to the store. The first two weeks of working everyday were a little rough. Had like 3 uncomfortable incidents with customers. Feeling tired all the time.

Then it was as if I got my second wind. Started pacing myself. Relearned how to handle certain customers. It's been a breeze since. I actually like working everyday.

It turns out, I'm chaffing less from working everyday than I was not working everyday.

I must be a workaholic.

I like seeing if I can make it all work, and the economic challenges just make it all that much more interesting.


I decided not to post my 'ego' entry, after all. I'm tempted to bury it in the past.
Has anyone else done that? Seems kind of silly.

But, it's like putting something in the archive, wanting it on record but not having to answer for it.

You know, because all my words are 'golden'. Sheesh. As if it really matters....


Finally got my consignment order of the Watchmen. This title has got to be the best-selling graphic novel, ever. At least in my store. I thought I had more than enough, but at this pace I'll have to make yet another reorder before the movie.

I've taken to actually down-playing the book. Don't get me wrong, it's a great book. But it ain't the second-coming. It had an impact on the industry that has been diluted since by much much copying (being the sincerest form of flattery....)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Trophy wives run Amok.

It seems to me that getting a 'Trophy Wife' is it's own Karma.

Being totally in love with my wife after 25 years, I've never understood the attraction of changing. I wouldn't trade Linda for anything or anyone (well, maybe a young Bettie Page, but no one else!).

I know this phenomenon of older men and younger women has been around forever.

It's Biblical.

It's probably Biological.

It's almost always Bitter.

And I also don't doubt that sometimes such a pairing is True Love. Really, everyone reading this, I believe it's all real. So if any of you are reading this might take offense at this admittedly misanthropic entry, take leave now...

I always joke that I got my 'mid-life' crisis out of the way early. My 20's were pretty painful, with depression and flailing around and phobias and just general marginal living. But it also forced me to be very introspective, to confront my problems, and I hope I came out of it with a better understanding of myself.

So when I met Linda, I knew she was the one. The One.

Anyway, it seems to me that I'm seeing alot of carnage around here from Trophy Wives running amok. You've heard of the Old Wives Club? Well, the opposite is the Evil Wives Club.

Seems like there are guys who, instead of gracefully and comfortably growing into middle age, go out and get that little red sports car, and work out strenuously at the gym, and take up a dangerous new sport...and, yep, get that new little, younger wife.

Who has her eyes on bigger things. Bigger houses, more houses, why aren't we getting in on this once in a lifetime opportunity to get rich, rich, rich!!!

Leading to disaster, probably losing your life's work....and inevitably, the young wife as well.

Like I said, if there is such a thing as Karma (and I hope there is) then marrying a Trophy Wife is -- sometimes -- it's own Karma.

*****This one's going to get me in trouble, isn't it? Wait until you see tomorrow, might as well get the ego driven entries out of the way at the same time....****

"The tongue is a terrible tool..."

"The tongue is a terrible tool..." Anonymous commenter on the Sawyer thread on KTVZ.

Pure poetry, I tell you. Pure poetry.

Poor Barney. Trying to provide a public service, and getting --- Angry illiterate comments. I don't know if you're reading this Barney, but my advice is to go ahead and Moderate the Comments.

But don't Moderate the Moderation.

Don't feed the trolls.



Back to the Future city council.

Don't know what to make of the Oran Teater appointment to the city council.

I have no inside knowledge, only what I read in the paper.

Certainly smacks of a certain pragmatism, but also of the 'old boy network.'

I personally think it might have been a good thing to have a local election, and really have a full discussion about the future of Bend. Without the distraction of that guy....what's his name, Obama?...on the ballot.

13k doesn't seem like that much money to get a true sounding on the local sentiments. Then again, the situation is so murky and the motivations so convoluted, that a true sounding was unlikely.

Both Teater and Eckman were players in the elements that led up to the boom.

But you get the sense that the 'old boy network' was a little horrified by what happened over the last few years.

I think they'll try to keep Juniper Ridge alive, without bankrupting the town, cut BAT without losing the 'grant' money, and otherwise be a bit more prudent with spending projects. And I think they'll be accommodating to the real estate interests, without being too obvious about it.

I'm not sure it will matter. I think it likely that the revenues streams will shrink to such an extent that either BAT or Juniper Ridge will have to go; or at the least, be put into mothballs.

I wish them luck.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Shoulder angels (and devils.)

This is a dangerous time for me.

It's akin to quitting smoking for a month, and thinking one little cigarette wouldn't hurt.

Or dieting for a month, and rewarding myself with a nice creamy chocolate eclair.

Going into this recession, I've managed not to spend savings or incur debt. I've even managed to stay in the black (at least so far) as it deepens into what I think will be a "Bend Depression."

One of the reasons I've been so disciplined is because I knew that I needed a new lease. I thought if I had to move, I'd probably use all my savings and a goodly part of my credit, and I would need what credit was left in case it didn't work out. If I can get that issue settled, and its looking good, I will feel much more secure. it's more a matter of paying bills through the rest of winter and spring, and heck, even there I'm almost 2/5ths of the way.

(See how temptation makes the time conflate? Only the 6th of the month, but in my mind February is already done, you know, because orders take time to arrive, and then there's time to pay the bill and all....get thee off my shoulder, you little red devil!)

Oh, and there's new competition, but maybe if I stock up on every variety of Magic I can, I can still keep a good part of the business.

(Begone, tempter!)

Or...gee, books sure are selling well. Here's a list of really good books I can get! And they're on sale! What would it hurt?

( Wait a minute....why you!... brushes shoulder vigorously.)

And so on.

On my other shoulder is a stern faced little angel. Patience, it counsels. You will be rewarded for your patience.

(Wow, you really are a bore, you little goody two shoes....)

The angel is unfazed -- You can always get it later, it says. There are always deals.

(You really are a killjoy, I grumble.)

The little angel has help this time, convincing me. My major supplier, Diamond, is moving their warehouse from Kentucky to Missouri, and will be unavailable for special orders for two weeks.

Which is akin to quitting smoking, and then breaking down and going to the store and finding the doors locked.

Also, if I wait two weeks, all the charges will go into March credit card billing period, and since March is one of the quarterly months onto which I tack an extra week, it's an even better time to wait.

Day to day, baby!

On the longer horizon, I'm also thinking about what will happen when this economy recovers -- be it 2, 4, or 6 years from now. The big new Oxford Hotel will be coming along, as well as the retail around that block, and it doesn't appear to me (so far) like downtown will empty out or the foot traffic will suddenly stop, so.... would be nice to have some liquidity the next time there is a leverage event.

The last few times that opportunity arose, I was so deep in debt that I spent most of the upsurge just catching up.

Just once I'd like the opportunity to really take advantage of a 'hot' market, without having to borrow money to do it. It's going to be a long wait, perhaps, but maybe I can start to save up for it.

I'd much rather earn the money and spend it, than spend the money and hope I can earn it back.

I wonder what that would feel like....


"It's quiet out there."

"Yeah, too quiet."

FLIEEETHT! (Arrow quivering in back...)

It's very hard to get a read on things right now. I looked out the window the other day, and there were 10 parking spots in front of my store (out of 12). This was about 4:00 in the afternoon, and I can't remember the last time that had happened.

Next day, after a very slow couple of hours, I looked out and they were all full.

I've hit my average for the month so far, but it's been almost all comics. Some of my subscribers have been trickling in and picking up their shelves. This is reassuring, since they really are the base of my store -- but the numbers on everything else are way down.

Comments on the BB2 this week so far, are a measly 200 in number. Bend Economy Board seems to have even less traffic.

Congress continues to play politics, and I'm disgusted with both sides. The Democrats have undoubtedly poured tons of pork on the barbie, and may not be doing due diligence (again) while the Republicans seem to think corporate tax breaks are a good idea.
I really don't want to get into a political discussion, here. I'm just registering my disgust.

I just think there isn't much clarity in the situation right now. As though everyone's waiting for another shoe to drop.

I personally believe there might be another level to drop. The people on top, the Davos people, the economists on Charlie Rose, the economy blogs I pay attention to, are so much more dire than before, it makes you wonder.

I don't believe that just because they all agree, they must be wrong. That seems like magical thinking to me, just as believing that if they all agreed in the opposite direction they must be wrong.

Anecdotally, I'm hearing of more and more layoffs and hours cut. Microsemi layed their people off for the week, for instance. I'm also losing customers to out-of-town work, more and more.

I think this is the kind of economy where clear-cut bad things could happen, but anything good is probably happening behind the scenes and incrementally.

So we just need to keep muddling through.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Local tidbits.

Nothing big happening, but lots of local small tidbits.


The cover story in the Bulletin about Jerry Opie and the Sole Shop was interesting. He was my neighbor downtown for 20 years. He's a wealth of information about downtown Bend.

He was in my store a couple of days ago, reminding me of the time that I signed a rent increase in my store, only to get it back a few days later with a rent decrease. Apparently the owner had tossed it back to the management company with the command..."lower it."

Jerry said there was a 60% vacancy rate downtown (I've always used the figure 40%) but that our building's 7 spaces were always 100% occupied.


It seemed to me that our choices in the city council last time were between the greedy and the really, really greedy. The stupid, and the really, really stupid.

Some people seem to think it a foregone conclusion that Leonard is going to win because he's got money backing him, but I think maybe, just maybe, the voters are paying attention this time.

It will be interesting to see which direction they'll turn.

I'm not terribly clear about the intentions of the different factions. I suspect that the Eckman faction will be both more price cutting (but not much), but also more developer supporting. The other faction, (Capell faction?) I believe, might be the opposite; supporting wasteful programs, but trying to tamp down on developers (but not much.)

What we need is half of each: price cutting, and developer resistant. But we'll probably get the opposite: developer accommodating and BAT and Juniper Ridge supporting.

A down to earth, independent minded councilor is what we really need.

Hard to see how that's going to happen.


Or 900 Wall.

I don't understand the appeal of restaurants with numbers in the title, but whatever...

This is pretty much the 'hermit crab' scenario I've been talking about. Shed most of the most onerous costs, and the place might have chance. It's still awfully big, but...the fact that it's being bought by the former manager bodes well.

I bought my store after managing it for a year, and hit the ground running. As smart as the previous owner had been (as he's shown by his great success in starting Dark Horse Comics) he hadn't been doing the job with Pegasus Books for a year or two. Being able to make the financial decisions helped get the store back on it's feet.


28% in Bend? That's a huge number, but it fits right in with the 20 to 30% drops that I believe most retail has suffered in Bend.


The Yarrow development in Madras has increased the sizes of their Phase One lots to roughly twice the size, and lowered the price by 2/3rds.

They try to put a positive spin on it, but those are pretty stark numbers.


And finally, things are looking pretty positive on the leasing front for Pegasus. I don't want to go into details until it's all signed and delivered, but it does look as though good, 'ol Pegasus Books will be around for another 4.5 years....

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The smallest bill.

I thought for awhile yesterday, that my smug "I'm all right, Jack," post of yesterday was going to be punished.

It turned out all right, but it was still a warning to me.

It seems like it's the smallest of bills that can trip me up.

I've taken to waiting until my medical bills have made the full circuit through the system before I pay them. My regular yearly check up is partially covered by my insurance, so I wait until I'm sure they've seen it first. In the past I've been caught paying a bill too early, and then needing a refund.

Anyway, I planned to pay the bill in mid-November, but it slipped between the cracks. Then it got paid on December 31, along with every other bill I had. Late, but no harm.

Or so I thought.

My wife came in yesterday morning and handed me a notice of my bill going to a collection agency. I was to pay within 14 days. There was no date on the bill.

"When did you get this?"

"I'm not sure...."

When I was going to Gilbert Lee's office, my bills were being sent to my wife's name. Even though I had tried to clear that up, more than once, it appears that it was still happening with the files transferred to a new doctor.

Sending it to my wife is not the best way for me to know where I stand. My wife has her bills, I have mine.

As some of you may know, Dr. Lee's office went through a bit of a disruption, so it's understandable. pushing it a little too long. (My bad -- I certainly had the money.))

By it being sent to the wrong person, during the Holiday season.

By not having a date on the bill.

It was possible that my credit rating might get a rap.

Turns out I'd already sent my payment off before the bill was even sent. But it shows how fragile my personal credit can be. One late or mislaid bill, and I might be liable for god knows how many charges. I spent a couple of nervous hours yesterday wondering if all my careful planning and paying off of credit cards and what not would be subverted.

I'm also very aware that a car breakdown or a health problem could easily wipe out my little bit of velvet. So...I'm knocking wood.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Another fine dining restaurant gone....?

Was told by a little birdie that Guido and Vito's restaurant (Old Redmond Hotel?) quietly closed down last weekend...

These guys were very successful in Seaside, I understand.

Anyone heard anything? Confirmation?

The coma patient has stirred....

Normally, I don't comment on the likes of the article below.

On the face of it, they're ridiculous. But this one was more ridiculous than most. It was posted on Bend Economy Bulletin board without attribution.

First paragraph. "...existing homes rebounded..."

Just like a cat off the concrete from a seven story building. Hey look, he's moving!

"...buyers snapped up..." More like scrapped up off the concrete. That cat was awfully cheap; he'll make a good stew.

"....may indicate a bottom is forming...." Just as long as you don't read the very next sentence, I guess, which says "...prices are likely to keep falling through 2009...."

Methinks they don't understand the word "bottom."

"The National Association of Realtors said..." Aw. Everything is explained.

And they best they save for last: "After the stock market crashed last fall, sales of existing homes plunged in October and November, but recovered in December...."

Recovered? RECOVERED?

I think the coma patient stirred enough to mutter a few words.

If you call that a recovery....

WASHINGTON – An index that tracks signed contracts to purchase existing homes rebounded in December, as buyers snapped up properties at deep discounts, especially in the South and Midwest.

It was the second positive sign in the past two weeks for the troubled U.S. housing market, and may indicate that a bottom is forming — at least for home sales. Analysts, however, caution that prices are likely to keep falling through 2009, and say the outlook for home sales is highly uncertain, especially as layoffs mount.

The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday its seasonally adjusted index of pending sales for previously owned homes for December rose 6.3 percent to 87.7 from an upwardly revised November reading of 82.5, which was lowest month on record. That's better than the 82.3 reading economists expected, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

The reading also was up 2.1 percent from December 2007.

Typically there is a one- to two-month lag between a contract and a done deal. Home sales that were pending in December are likely to be completed in the coming weeks.

After the stock market crashed last fall, sales of existing homes plunged in October and November, but recovered in December. Tuesday's pending home sales report indicates January sales data, to be released later this month, may look good too.

Opposite direction.


I really do seem to go in the opposite direction as everyone else. I'm really feeling like Pegasus is in a very good place right now. I'm trying not to be smug.

When sales dropped so drastically in Sept.-Dec. '08, I was sort of expecting it. My budget handled it, but I wasn't able to much more than that as long as I had a full-time employee.

Still, when I looked at this January, I thought it possible we would drop even more, and started to prepare.

So imagine my surprise when I ended up the month with more cash profits than normal.

As it turned out, my sales matched those Sept., Oct., Nov. numbers, but since I planned for worse, it felt like there was a very comfortable margin.


So why does this always seem to happen?

I think it's because I'm always planning for this kind of economic atmosphere -- not because I'm naturally pessimistic, but because I've had my sales fall off the table -- dropping a third or more -- about 8 times in my career; which is probably about 8 times more often than any other business I know of.


Usually, it only takes one incident to put a business down permanently. But after the biggest and most painful drop (sports cards), I got pretty good at survival mechanisms. Comics were almost as bad, but I managed that, too, barely.

Then, I basically broke even on magic, non-sports.

The last three times it happened (pogs, beanie babies and Pokemon) I wasn't hurt in the slightest. But I was still paying off the huge debts from the previous bubbles (card and comic bubbles), so I didn't exactly prosper, either.


The first growth period, I was mostly just trying to catch up (starting with a very low level) and then I capped it by expanding and opening 3 more stores. Huge mistake. The second growth period I was just trying to dig my way out of the hole.

But this third growth period was all about fully stocking the store, paying off debt, and trying to get a bit of cash in the bank.


Here's what I think happens, which makes me feel like I'm doing well in bad times, and makes me feel stressed and threatened in good times.

In good times I'm constantly experimenting, trying new products, moving the merchandise around, changing policies. I'm usually attempting to diversify, or bringing in a new line of inventory, and seeing what works. I'm constantly making bad decisions, or ordering mistakes, in the attempt to identify new things. I make a conscious effort to support the slower lines of products with the profits from the hot products.

After all, if I'm going to take damage, it makes sense to take it when sales are good and mistakes can be covered.


Then, when business slows down, I'm pretty aware of what is working and what isn't working, and I start flowing in the other direction. Supporting the product lines that have proven out, letting the slower lines fade a bit. Being much more efficient and effective, making fewer product mistakes, watching the budget.

And strangely, I'm finding myself with enough cash to actually start to support the lower selling product.

In other words, when everyone else is retreating, I think it's the moment to show your strength, to really make the store seem strong and well stocked.


You know what? I don't believe I'm being smug at all. I'm certainly aware that things could get worse -- I'm knocking wood between paragraphs as I write this -- but I still have a bit of margin to give, I still have some of that 'velvet.'

I think it's more a matter of personality. While I may not have enjoyed the cash and comfort of a growth business on the way up, I've very purposely traded that for a more secure feeling in a down market. In other words, that feeling of hopelessly drowning when times are bad is much worse to me than that little glow I get when things are good.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pegasus Books January, '09 results.


First of all, to put the following into perspective, January, '08 was a benchmark low month. Almost an anomaly. It was considerably lower than any other month until Sept. rolled around (and the drop off really set in.)


Given last year's horrible January, my best case scenario of 'matching' last years totals was actually pretty modest.

My middle case scenario was a 15% drop, which I thought likely.

My low case scenario was a full 30% drop, which is what I budgeted for.

Halfway through the month, I clearly wasn't going to have a 30% drop, so I more or less spent the difference.

The end results were down a little less than 10%. I came out ahead in profits above estimates by about 2000.00, which I immediately spent on February bills. (Mostly books.)

Results and payments don't exactly correlate, clearly. Much of the sales in late January were the results of spending for February, just as much of the results for late February, the bills will come due in March.

As long as it's consistent.


I had several unexpected bills: SAIF, which wouldn't allow me to cut if I expected to have an employee anytime this year. And I had the last employee tax bills due.

February overhead bills will be 25% less than January, because I no longer have any payments related to having an employee.


So, 10% down. Normally wouldn't be something to celebrate, but looking outside my window, and reading the news, that ain't bad. I spent most of December with minimal reorders, and the last two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January without any reorders, so the results are actually pretty good.


Books were two and half times higher than last year.

Comics and graphic novels seem to have stabilized, down a little less than 10% after falling for several months.

Games were up slightly.

Card games were down slightly.

Sports cards were down slightly. Card box buyers come, card box buyers go.

Toys were way down, but it's dangerous to read too much into one month. This could be an anomaly, or a sign that the general public is cutting out playful things.

DVD's continue their slide into oblivion.


Clearly I made a good choice to invest in board games and new books. Even the massive order I made in Mid-January was justified, I believe, by the results. I'm going to defer a third of that order into March, because most of it was 'evergreen' material and basic inventory. Investment, if you will.

Board games have been really interesting. I could easily have sold way more Settlers of Catan, but I had shipping problems (being shorted several times) which kept me from really taking advantage.) Frustrating, but not a darn thing I can do about it.


If I can match January sales in February, I'll be very fortunate. I went ahead and budgeted that much, because I can see that the worst isn't happening and because there are several events that should influence sales (the new Magic release, the Watchmen movie) and because the store is much better stocked now than at the beginning of January.

But matching January is a full 25% drop. I sort of expect it. And -- well, I took the first day off, and it's a short month, so even matching January might be difficult. The only reason I think I can do it, is that the I'm on top of the store right now and letting few opportunities go by.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Being a Writer.

I've always had the nagging thought that I should've kept trying to be a full-time writer.

It's been 20 years since I finished my seventh and final book. I liked it quite a lot, I was very fond of it. But I barely marketed the book, before I shelved it.

My first three books were published, and it's startling to google Duncan McGeary and find more than 200 listings -- not about Pegasus Books, or The Best Minimum Wage Job a Middle Aged Guy Ever Had or anything else I've done for the last 20 years-- but about STAR AXE, SNOWCASTLES, and ICETOWERS.

The books are still percolating, thanks to the internet; still selling, in places diverse as Australia, Sweden, and England. They've even been put online.

So I wonder.

I tend to be relentless in anything I set my mind to. This blog is an example of that. Daily postings for 27 months straight, often more than one a day. Pegasus is another example, getting close to the oldest survivor Downtown under the same ownership and in the same location. Married for 25 years. Living in only two places in the last 30 years. And so on.

So....I might have been able to make it work.

I thought of three reasons why I didn't continue.

1.) I was disgusted with the publishing process and the publishers. Long, long waiting times; editors who changed their minds; hot and cold agents; etc. etc. Whereas, when I bought the store, my creative decisions were immediately rewarded. I got instant feedback. (Much like this blog.)

2.) I could see that MOST writers made very minimal livings, if at all. It would have been a gamble, and I would have spent the requisite time living in the garret, living hand to mouth, pursuing my 'dream.' Again, the store immediately paid off for my efforts.

3.) Biggest reason: I got married, had an instant family, and bought a business.

Turns out, I wasn't one of those writers who could work on my writing in the off hours; a few hours in the morning or evening, while I worked a job, dealt with the family, etc.

Oh, I could write something. This blog is proof of that. But my mind had to be totally into the 'fictional dream' of what I was writing. I was ALWAYS thinking about my books when I was writing them. Daily life was a distraction from my real life of writing.

But age and wisdom has taught me a (4.) reason that I didn't become a writer, and I wasn't ever really tempted to go back.

It wouldn't have been personally good for me at all.

I tend to be an isolated person. A loner. Isolation breeds isolations. What would've happened is that I would've relied on Linda almost solely; every couple of weeks I would've gone to writer's group where I would've been so intense I would probably have scared people.

I would've had very high highs, such as when a book was published. And most of the time I would have been terrified and depressed by the slow progress. I would've had a hard time marketing myself, after spending hours and hours in my room every day.

I was still very phobic back then, and I probably never would've broken out of that.

The store forced me to get out, everyday. Meet people. Talk to them. Tell stories, jokes, exchange experiences. While I may not be terribly socially smooth, I'm no where near the klutz I was 20 years ago.

In other words, my life has been much more enjoyable and entertaining and -- despite the years of debt and toil -- more stable and satisfying.

I've lived a real life, so to speak, instead of self-absorbed fantasy life.

That said, I do enjoy the creative process of this blog. It isn't a chore to write, and I'm happy to find that a few people actually read it once in a while.