20 March 2008

Decisions...Part Two

Even with business slowing as we finished the first year in our new gallery, I was trying to be optimistic. We knew that traffic would slow in the winter. Our first winter was hell. Everything that happened was the worst the coast had seen in more than 25 years. Or so all of the locals said.

They had never seen that much rain, or that much snow. It had never been that cold. The wind had never blown that hard. They had never seen it flood like it did. In January of our first winter we got trapped on highway 26 for more than 24 hours. Trees had blown down across the road. Hundreds of them. We were close enough to a place called Camp 18 that about 40 of us spent the night. The owner said he had never had to keep people over night before. Of course.

We made the best of it. An adventure like no other. Since the staff was trapped also, they kept the kitchen open so we could eat. Several of us had kids and pets with us. Even with the freezing cold and being trapped they would not let anyone bring their animals inside. It was against health codes. I was so pissed. But that's another story. Everyone helped each other. We played with one another's kids. Took turns on dog watch. I helped in the kitchen and we all bussed tables. As being trapped goes, this wasn't so bad.

The next morning a few loggers had cut a path through a side road back to town. Most of followed them back. At times they had to stop to cut trees that had fallen in our path again but we made it home.

The second summer was coming. Our second shot at "The Season". The local business owners kept referring to The Season like it was the be all end all. In a way I suppose it is. You have to make your money for the year, in a six to seven month period or you're screwed.

We tried a few new things to help business. We were still unsure how things needed to be done in this strange new world we were in. The rules of business we had come accustomed to did not apply here. Summer was lackluster at best. We had not made our years gaol by summers end.

Our second Season was in my opinion, a bust. The only saving grace was that we had negotiated a decent guaranteed salary. We were supposed to get paid so much, no matter what the gallery did. Our partners put up the money. We put up our time. We gave up some of the ownership for a larger guarantee and we didn't have to put in any cash of our own.

Only a couple of months in to our second winter, the gallery was behind. It wasn't bringing in enough to cover everything. I called our partners and told them it was time for them to honor our agreement. We needed some cash.

My messages and emails went unanswered. It became apparent that we had been abandoned.
The partners were not willing to put in any more money and eventually told us we needed to take a cut in pay. We had taken a cut when we left our old gallery. The coast of living was, we were told, much lower in Oregon than Californian so we should still come out ahead. Wrong again.

It ended up costing us more to live in Oregon. Even without sales tax, they made up for it every where else. Everything was more expensive. Food, gas, insurance, utilities were outrageously high.

With our partners not holding up their end of our deal we had to make a choice. If we wanted to stay and keep our gallery open it was going to be up to us. I had already become very attached to our gallery and wasn't willing to give in just yet. Say good bye to our life savings.

We started paying bills out of our own pockets. Taking a check when we could. The things that helped the most were my paintings selling. My work was all profit. No artist to pay. If I could only sell more of my work we would be alright.

Business stayed slow. We were paying rent equivalent to something in Downtown San Diego. Aside from Precious and I, rent was the galleries biggest expense. The landlord had become a friend. They are good people. As much as I didn't want to do it, we had to move to a cheaper space. He understood and even offered to help us move. That would have never happened in California.

We found a space just across the street. More space, half the rent. But upstairs. Usually death for a retail business, but this town had a different dynamic. We decided it would work for us and we made the move.

Our second winter would begin in a new location. I was still holding out and being optimistic. Or stubborn, I'm still not sure which. The first month went really well. We exceeded our new adjusted goal, and the bills got paid.

Then winter showed up. Again, the weather was the worst they had ever seen. Even worse than last year. More rain, more snow, more cold, more wind and my personal favorite, more power outages.

The coast of Oregon is unlike any where I have ever lived. During the winter the coast losses power every few weeks. This year the coast was hit by the storm of the century. Hurricane force winds along with heavy rain, flooding, snow and hail. The coast came to a halt for almost 9 days. We were trapped again. We could not get off of the coast. The highways were covered with water, fallen trees, sink holes, mud slides or a combination of them all. We had no power, no phones. Even the cell towers were down.

Another adventure. This time were were at home, which helped a bit. We moved the bed out in front of the fire place to stay warm. The fire place was our only source of heat. We had enough supplies to last a week. I cooked over a Coleman stove. Along with heating water to bathe. It was sort of like camping. Every morning we would listen to the local ham radios to get a report. On day four we heard that one of the highways to Portland was partially open. I looked at Precious and said, "How fast can you pack?"

In under 30 minutes were were on the road. Portland had no idea the coast was hit so hard. I had enough gas in the car to get us there. None of the stations could pump gas with no power. A few stations were pumping by hand. A five gallon limit at $10.00 a gallon. People were lined up for miles. New family rule: Never have less than 3/4 of a tank of gas in the car. A spare can might not be a bad idea either.

We made it to Portland, only having to stop for a land slide once. The next five days we would try to get reports about the coast. Did the power come back on? Did the phone works? Was our gallery still there? We stayed day to day waiting for some good news.

Aside from the power outage, the flooding and the downed trees, the coast was doing alright. no major injuries. We had heard the power was back on in places and should be up all over soon, so we decided to head home and look around. The devastation was unlike anything I had ever seen. Entire hill sides had been blown down or uprooted. A 750 year old tree, the Sitka Spruce was gone. Once the largest in the world was now just a big stump.

The next week we got back to the gallery and tried to go back to business as usual. By this time the entire country had heard about this storm. No one was coming to coast. No one. They were all afraid. The weather reports didn't help much. The news shows spreading their brand of fear mongering and doom.

Now, three months after the Storm, business is still slow. Peoples fears have gone back to the economy, the war, the elections. Consumer confidence is very low. Even lower here. The few people that are coming to the coast are still not spending money.

This is the first place we've had a gallery that was affected by the economy. In the major cities, there are enough wealthy residents that it doesn't matter. The rich will always have money and always spend it on luxury items. The coast doesn't have that kind of wealth. We have to struggle for every sale we make.

With spring approaching, we are hoping and praying that the tourists will begin to return. Even more we are hoping they will start spending money. Consumer spending can save the economy.

Now is when the decisions need to be made, and we have a lot of them to make. If we go there will be trouble. If we stay it will be double....

No comments: