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  Updated Dec 28, 2016 | By Bob Fugett

    Start-up

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[  That Town  |  Candle Maker  |  Breakers  |  Four Step  |  Jon Baugh  |  Too Much   |  Startup   |  Cut   |  Art   |  Community   ]

The candle maker had just attacked the musician and was tearing his red t-shirt to shreds.

The crowd of a hundred or so milling around the center of Sugar Loaf (a light traffic day) had frozen in their tracks in wide eyed hushed shock.

The musician merely stood there with his arms dangling at his sides as if nothing was going on while the tirade onslaught continued to ebb and flow.

Or so it appeared.

What the crowd could not see was the apparently passive musician was ever so slightly leaning into the attack while one corner of one eye was focused with that special give it your best shot taunt made famous by any number of OK Corral westerns.

The aghast crowd also had no way of knowing that the musician had only the moment before walked past the candle maker's shop and spit, "Say, Peter. Take your 16 years and shove 'em up your ass."

Pete vaulted himself (pre-parcours mind you) off the ground and over the patio railing he was seated beside repairing, and the fun began.

The musician was a great performer and was now miming his best poor little me passion play while controlling the situation each time it simmered by the slight quick raising of an eyebrow firing off another come hither glance.

It could not be seen from even a few feet away, and everybody was certainly staying back further than that.

Until the stained glass artist jumped in between them, pushed the musician aside, and started yelling at the candle maker.

It was quite a dance under a warm blue noontime sky, and the Sunday tourists were enthralled as the church bells began to peal, probably talk about it to this day what with it having happened before YouTube and all.

The fight was over signage.

Here is the setup.

In 1976, Jerry Ableman, the toy maker, was standing across from his shop in Scott's Meadow watching people file past his door without going in.

I was high on a ladder under the eaves with a power drill, avoiding the wasps while cutting out the holes that would furnish the path for our new electric line.

No more borrowing a line from neighbors, we were getting our own electricity!

Maybe someday we would have water and would not have to walk over to the tiny spring behind the south building and crouch knees to chin into the low out-shed with buckets.

Maybe walking up the hill to the red barn on main street in order to use the bathroom and shower (where theatre performances were held) might someday be a thing of the past as well.

Mary and I had already built a front door, a wall, patched the roof waterfall, installed windows and a stair, then spread the rolls of insulation we had piled up as a little cave around the wood stove out into the perimeter walls.

We had to admit that an art gallery with the paintings nailed to studs between insulation while only two emergency lamps were dangling at opposite ends of a 30 foot space for lighting was rather extreme, so next would be sheetrock and more lights.

Thankfully we had a friend with the finest hand who calligraphied a sign for over the door, and it was already hung.

You know this wasn't the 1800s, this was 1976 so things were possible.

But at the moment, I noticed Jerry's worried face and came down from the ladder to ask what was going on.

He said, "I have been watching this for some time. There are lots of people going by, but they don't go in my shop."

"You don't say," I said, and he painted his door red.

A few weeks later when I stepped out to take a break (from watching tourists who were stepping over sheetrock and tools while I sat dusty on a ladder and waited in marvel until they grabbed their paintings for purchase and finished paying Mary), Jerry was back outside telling me the door's new color had not helped much, so he was upgrading his window display.

Then he tried some flags and banners.

A few years later he had moved his shop up to main street and into Romers Alley.

He still complained he was not getting enough traffic while people who did come in would mention that they were Sugar Loaf regulars, had been coming here for years but never noticed his shop before.

His comments were merely symptoms of the Sugar Loaf Four Step Process, which in his case did not prove fatal, probably because he made great wooden toys.

I only commiserated and tried to do no harm.

I knew that what he saw in Scott's Meadow was mostly customers of Endico Watercolors (called Fantasy Factory at the time) who were coming down the hill for the specific purpose of buying some of the special jelly beans (momentarily available only from us) and maybe a watercolor or two (forever available only from us).

By the time Jerry was in Romers Alley complaining about the same thing, Mary Endico and I had ourselves moved onto the main street and smack dab into the middle of things, so I knew for certain his complaining was misguided.

When in Scott's Meadow, it was often said to us, "When did you get here? What a surprise."

Despite hearing such statements regularly, we were still doing ok, so much so that I had taken possession of a key for every business in the Meadow, just so I could let customers into any shop they wanted, any time, any day, in an effort to show the weekend shopkeepers, "Look...we are open every day, and there is street traffic and people buy things (your things)...even on a Tuesday."

People would ask, "Why are so many of the shops closed?" and I would answer, "They are all open. Which one do you want."

Then I would hand them their items, collect the money, and give it all to the shop's owner, knowing, "If they do well, I do well."

We only moved up to main street because we couldn't get a reasonable lease with the owners of Scott's Meadow, so we could not be assured of our long term right to be there if we poured blood, sweat, and tears into the place of our business.

Still, when we got onto main street, never mind into a building that would snuff candles when the wind blew (no joke), we did expect a distinct upward tick in traffic, but it never came.

After a few months we had to conclude that being in the center of town probably did make a difference, but it was so slight that it was impossible to tell.

Now almost 40 years later not a week goes by when somebody doesn't come into our studio and say, "When did you get here? We've been coming to Sugar Loaf for years and never knew this was here. It is wonderful! Who does this work? No...really...these are all your own paintings!?"

Might make one wonder how Mary has succeeded in selling nearly 20,000 of her own original watercolors right from her own studio worktable.

Therefore, I fully understand when somebody thinks their location is their problem: people are telling them it is.

Being understanding of such things, I went out of my way to allow the photographer who took over our space in the Meadow to post a sign on the tree in front of our house after he complained of the same comments and thought a sign would help.

I had already seen this nonsense with the toy maker and our own studio, so I had no problem letting the sign go up and telling the candle maker to shove his "been here 16 years" right where the sun don't shine after he had used it as part of his rant against the sign.

Didn't much mind the tussle afterwards either: just spent the next two weeks making a big deal about not coming close until he apologized.

Somebody had to stand up for the little guy.

I knew the sign was temporary, would be there just long enough for the photographer to realize there are more important things for a business than continual pop-up reminders.

I also knew there would be a story in it someday.

The sign eventually melted away, the photographer never did much to help the town or his own business, and the candle maker remains Sugar Loaf's main central focus and anchor store.

Public Service Announcements

If you have a new shop in town the problem is not your location—there are no bad locations in Sugar Loaf.

The candle maker attracts enough people to saturate every nook and cranny.

Keep doing good work and the people he attracts will be pleasantly surprised when they finally seep through your door.

There used to be two locations that were questionable, but the artisans living there made it work anyway and those places are no longer "out of the way" due to the development on the corner of Woods Road.

Don't get mired in the Sugar Loaf Four Step Process.

As for me, I do my best trying not to help anybody with anything anymore.

These have just been some stories I remember when people start throwing up banners, flags, twirly-gig reminders, and excuses about why their businesses are not doing as good as they would like.

People seem to prefer anything as the cause for their failure over their habit of keeping irregular hours, treating their customers like crap, and wasting time in meetings (or bars) instead of doing the opposite which would be producing world class product.

The simple fulfillment of those obligations (keeping posted regular hours, treating everybody coming through your door like the royalty they are, working your butt off making something different and the best it can be made) defines the difference between businesses that last in Sugar Loaf from those that go nowhere, then elsewhere.

If somebody tells you differently it is likely they hope you will fail as badly as they are, so ignore them.

I guess there is one addendum.

It is about those jelly beans Jerry Ableman was watching everybody filing down the long hill, past his front door, all the way to the very back-end of Scott's Meadow, just to buy a quarter pound or so.

When we finally couldn't take the aggravation anymore and got rid of the magic beans, we were very nervous about losing our "loss leader" (that was bringing in people to see the watercolors and music) and what it might do to our business.

Immediately we realized people coming for the beans never even saw the paintings or music studio, and our good customers had never noticed the jelly beans.

Two totally separate crowds.

The lesson?

More important than location, location, location is focus, focus, focus.

Other than that I can't even bring myself to state the absolute honest truth about being in business for yourself that nobody ever mentions.

Ok, just this once, and just here, because it might save somebody from wasting their time and mine.

It illuminates a widely held myth about the attractiveness of being self-employed.

There is a large lucrative industry based on selling people on the romance of owning their own business so they can avoid coming into work every day and being told what to do.

Therefore, I'll put this in quotes so you can remember I said it.

"When you work for somebody else, you have to answer to a boss, but when you work for yourself...everybody's your boss."

Note to Self: Bob, now that you have held the brakes on long enough to make certain most of the dead-weight has been whittled from the Sugar Loaf rosters, it is time to start things up again, but this time try not doing such a wonderful job as last time so that all those clueless mercenary assholes get attracted right back again.

Maybe if you charged people a lot of money for all this information, they would listen to it.

 


above is Bob Fugett playing outside the toy shop in Romer's Alley

"Bob, come play by my door. You always attract a crowd."
- Jerry Ableman, 1976

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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