I originally set up this post on December 13, 2015, which was over a month ago and since then, I have tried several times to get back to it and give it the due it deserves. Perhaps this time, I will make it through.
Like for so many others, 2015 was a really rough year. Backing up a bit, in December of 2014, I acquired a computer sales and repair business. It operates out of Denio’s Farmer’s Market & Auction, which is a swap meet in Roseville, California. A man with whom my husband, Eric, worked at the time owned the business and did well with it, but due to his wife’s illness, wanted to let it go. He had two other businesses and this one is only open on Saturday and Sunday, so he was looking to have his weekends free for the first time in years.
I went into the process knowing a good bit about computers and a reasonable amount about computer repair. For the month of December, I went to the shop every weekend and got a crash course from him and from Phil, the resident technician who left early in the year. They taught me a tremendous amount and for that, I am eternally grateful.
I formally took over the shop the first week of January 2015. The shop has no heating or air conditioning and it was bitterly cold. At first, my sons came to the shop to work with me, but they soon lost interest and stopped going after a couple of months. Eric often came along, if only for one day of the weekend since he was also working full time as a Veteran’s Service Rep for El Dorado County.
When I acquired the shop, the previous owner assured me that he made around $60,000 net each year from the business, which is why I agreed to do it. What I did not have the experience to understand at the time is that a good bit of that came from the work he did for people outside of the shop (not an option for me due to the incredible distance) and that the shop’s inventory was only sustainable through his e-waste and data destruction part of the business, which did not transfer over with the shop itself. It did in theory, but then just did not happen. It was through the data destruction and e-wasting that he acquired the laptops and desktop computers that he would refurbish and resell. In absence of that, inventory had to be purchased outright, with is a heavy investment for a product that will usually sit on the shelf for weeks or even months.
This meant that I sat in a freezing shop watching my inventory gradually dwindle and if I replaced it, I had to invest heavily and have a narrow profit margin. I also learned quickly that people are uncomfortable having their computers serviced by a female. I thought we were past that but trust me, we are not, at least in my part of the country. “Is your husband here?” with a constipated look was a very common customer reaction when I would smile and say, “What can I help you with today?”
Occasionally, someone would come into the shop to have their computer cleaned of viruses or to have Windows 7 reinstalled. I changed out a display on a laptop here and there and upgraded RAM for customers.
The other vendors in my area could not have been more welcoming and supportive. There is no gift like that, but the truth is that the business was sinking fast and rarely made enough money to cover the rent and the gas for me to drive two hours one way to get there. Then and now, I get up at 4:00 AM, leave at 5:00 AM and have the shop open by 7:00 AM.
In late January of 2015, we began to realize that my husband would have to leave his job as a Vet Rep with the county, which was our primary source of income. He was excellent at what he did and helped literally thousands of veterans receive their benefits, but the emotional stress of the job was taking a horrific toll and after exploring several options to try and solider through (no pun intended), he turned in his resignation and his last day of work was March 21, 2015. There were no other county jobs available to him.
We did a lot of deliberating on whether the shop was an asset or a financial liability and decided to stick it out. One of the biggest challenges is that the venue, a 40 acre swap meet that is more than forty-years-old and steeped in history, is not really conducive to high end purchases such as computers. If someone purchases a computer there, they want it at yard sale prices. “Retail” does not have a place there. Likewise, if someone wants their computer repaired, they generally do not want to pay $3.00 to park and then haul their computer to a shop deep inside the swap meet. They also likely do not want to wait until Saturday or Sunday, which are the only days we are open.
The business model definitely had cracks that I could not see or even adequately interpret until I was well into it.
By March of 2015, I was sitting and freezing, literally shaking with the cold, in the shop on my third week of making less than $20 in the full weekend. Eric received unemployment eventually and that helped to bridge the gap of his lost income, along with the cashing out of his savings plan. I had the thought, “If only this were a magic shop with items that felt spiritual to me and that others value…” Then I realized that within reason, I could pretty much do whatever I wanted with the shop as long as Denio’s didn’t care. I ran it past them and they approved the addition of the new items and by April 1, I transitioned the computer shop to a computer shop and a botánica. It underwent a lot of phases as it became what it was to ultimately be, but I am happy with the result and now, at last, the business is in the black. We still do computer sales for the time being. We have two desktops left and then will convert to service only unless an opportunity comes up we cannot refuse. The primary success, however, is with the botánica.
Now it is a year after I took over the business and ten months after Eric left his job. Unemployment is depleted and there are no more financial rabbits I can pull out of my hat. My bag of tricks is empty. The holidays came and went with our family being wonderfully supportive and understanding of how little we had to contribute. In the interim since the botánica launched, I have worked harder than I ever have in my life. I make most of the inventory in the store, so my world is an endless series of candle making, incense dipping, loose incense making, oil mixing, labeling, accounting, and working to figure out what sells and what doesn’t. Cumulatively, I have never been more exhausted in my entire life.
The results are rewarding and enjoyable, although not yet financially sustaining for the family in the least. The meager profit I make is growing and it does work as the mortar between the bricks that hold everything together. I get a bit each month for royalties on the books I have written and I am grateful that every month since I first published through Amazon in 2013, I have received compensation. Eric’s VA medical pension comes in every month and I pick up website work and readings now and then. It all comes together month by month to keep the lights on and the mortgage paid. No luxuries. Not in the least. No months of breathing a sigh of relief because we have enough to cover our necessary expenses, but we manage to squeeze by…usually.
Many things that could have “saved” us and made life more comfortable bloomed steadily into what appeared to be solid promise and then evaporated. It was hard not to feel thwarted and cursed sometimes with the number of things that went wrong that could easily have panned out. Often, it was well into the carefully crafted process that everything derailed and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it, just that it turned to sand. After a while, the theme was too prominent to be denied and began to feel personal, which is always a dangerous place to be. It put me in mind of the countless projects and opportunities over the years that I threw myself into heart and soul, gave all I had to bring to fruition, only to have it avail…nothing. Nothing at all. All hope and any illusion of financial security was just…gone. It felt like there was nothing but long, hard days of constant work with little return and constant struggle to cover all the bases.
It was very hard not to get discouraged. Poverty is no stranger to me. I have lived in the worst of it. I have been homeless. I have gone hungry so my children could have something to eat. I have worked three jobs to not make ends meet. I have felt that trapped, hopeless feeling before. It is a ferocious beast to manage and can eat you alive if you let it.
And I did for a while. I was sure *I* could save this family if I just worked hard enough or came up with some new and fantastic idea. The pressure was unreal. I applied for countless jobs, at least 30-40. I applied with a staffing agency, only to be told that because I was a small business owner, I was the kiss of death for employment. It seemed to be true because for all those applications, I did not receive even one single call back. Not one interview. Not one ping, despite follow up. “You are in our system.” “We will contact you if we find a job that is a good match.”
Eric now goes to the shop with me every day we are open. He handles nearly all of the computer work because I grew tired of trying to overcome the stereotype dynamics and he was there anyway. If he has questions, he brings me into the loop, but otherwise, he handles that side of the business. He also assists on the botánica side. He speaks Spanish and I do not, so as our Hispanic client base has grown, he has become much more involved. I was shocked by how welcoming and warm (and grateful) they all are. Because I am called strongly to the Guadalupe spiritual work, the healing, and the energy practice, I worried they might feel uncomfortable with me appropriating their gig, but they welcomed their Gringa Bruja with open arms and have been so supportive and loving. Each time we work the shop, we come away feeling appreciated and fulfilled. The people who come through our doors are vibrant, magical, and delightful. I keep up strong wards and a lot of brick dust, so we avoid most of the potential problems. If the financial reward matched the personal reward, we would be millionaires.
I spent most of 2015 feeling like Sisyphus, as though all I did was work oppressively, only to have it avail me nothing. That theme pulled up so many fears and insecurities over past failures and it took a lot of time to work through them. Some still haunt me and there are still times when I want to give up. Primarily, what I ended up doing was letting go of what I could. Instead of giving all my effort toward pushing that boulder up the mountain, I just stepped aside and let the thing roll down to the bottom and stay there. I just do not have strength, patience, or time for the extra weight. I can’t save the family. We will make it or we won’t. I will do what I can and beyond that, I can no longer be consumed by obligation and fear. All I can do is what I can do and that part I do to the best of my ability. I still have my good cries. I still occasionally feel the sting that I am always in a crowd. Dylan is 18 and takes college classes online. Nathan is homeschooled. Eric is usually here. I am never, ever alone unless I go to heroic measures to make it happen.I had to give up my Patheos column for several reasons, the primary one being that it is no longer wise to spend so much time and energy on something that yields no return. I had to cut back on my fiction writing time, which I really miss. The one gift I do give myself is that for the first time in years, I read voraciously. It is my luxury when there are no others. Others have given more than I have, but that does not change that for me, 2015 was a year of tremendous sacrifice, far beyond what I would willingly offer.
I have not updated in a long time because I did not trust myself to discuss what is going on with a positive attitude. Just the thought of putting it to print was oppressive. It made what is happening too real. For now, I continue to focus on creating store inventory and working 24/7 to keep my perspective clean and clear. It cannot be contaminated by hopelessness, fear, resentment, or anxiety. As much as I want things to be different, I have to work with how they are and believe the Wheel will turn and the way will be presented. Meanwhile, I will continue to tread water with legs that are sore from the effort and to believe that some day, if all of this is never better, I will at least not wasted the life I had on regret and frustration. I will have lived. So that is what I try to invest in every day; just some form of living.