So it's been exactly 3 months - a quarter of a year - since we opened. I mean it literally: from 9/23 to 12/24. It's Christmas Eve as I write this, and I'm finally getting out of Dodge to be with family. So it's a perfect time to reflect on the Fall that was - and what this all promises to become, going forward.
SOME HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Last I was in retail was 25 years ago. I got out of it in 1992 - after 6 years, 4 of them self-employed - and having had 2 stores! I promised myself I'd never go back. We were always at the whim of the weather (people find every excuse not to go shopping sometimes); we ended up being crushed by our suppliers opening shops down the street; and we were negatively impacted by major new retail developments (like the Prudential mall in Back Bay, which drained Newbury Street of a lot of its business).
Roots International was open in Harvard Square (#1206 Mass. Ave.) and on Newbury Street (#302) - selling international clothing & jewelry (some African art and Reggae music as well) for a total of 4 years - though the latter, our Back Bay "branch" - kept going after I left for other pursuits, for a couple more years.
After my time, my old business partner weathered a lawsuit from a careless, tripping customer. I remember being called in for a deposition about it (not fun). Oh, and Roots of Canada challenged us for trademark infringement, a case that never went anywhere.
It was hard to keep in stock all that we needed to - you really had to have tens of thousands of dollars sunk into fresh merchandise to stay looking stocked - and neither of us owners was particularly savvy about fashion or even display technique. I won't say it was a total failure - in fact we were making money fist over elbow at first - in the heady end-days of the late 80's. Then the first Iraq war came at the start of the 90's, and the economy softened.
We started to make only just over what rent was, in terms of gross revenues, and I told my partner to go on without me. There was only enough money for one of us. Our glory days had passed.
There was glory though - more than just making money - great customer interactions (I'll never forget Newbury Street in the Spring!); shopping the Boutique Show at the massive Javitz Center in New York City; choosing and buying quality, fun products.
But enough was enough. Until now, two and a half decades later! Having gone through a few more lifetimes - marriage and children; a music publishing and performance career; returning to my passion of working with Crystals - it somehow became time again.
I've written about the process leading up to acquiring my current shop (in an earlier blog), but I haven't shared what it's been like - since opening - in terms of what's surprised me about the whole experience (and some of the lessons I'm learning). So here goes...
IT'S NOT DRUDGERY (I love my job!)
I was dreading the time commitment - being stuck behind a counter for days on end - and I decided to be open 7 days a week (who does that?)! What I noticed was that people come in - good people - every single day. Even if they don't buy, they might get on the mailing list, or we'll have a meaningful interaction of one sort or another.
Ultimately, we are in business to stay in business, and to grow. But it's important to enjoy the ride. Much as I maligned my previous retail experience, it was pretty fun while it was happening.
BEING AVAILABLE IS NOT A CHORE
It feels like our community connection is snowballing, and turning folks away during one or two days a week doesn't seem to make any sense. That being said, being present for all - around the clock - is no good for me. It so happens that I also noticed there ain't much foot traffic till noon (and lunchtime surprisingly doesn't generate any spike in business from area employees). So decided to open at 12, and get a LOT more done in the mornings (albeit under some time pressure) than I ever used to.
HAVING A LIFE
On the other end of the day - some people wander in before or after dinner in this "restaurant ghetto" of Arlington - renowned for its varied array of eateries. But it's not really enough people for me to justify my missing dinner with family. Yes, I'd like to be there for folks after hours (and over the Holidays it was worth being open till 7, particularly during the last week before Christmas), but that's why they made weekends.
I'm also available for private showings, if people want to call and schedule something with me. But I need a life too (beyond the store). My first choice is to shepherd people into coming in during the 42 hours a week we are open.
THIS IS MY LIFE
Apart from safeguarding my private life (which is important for someone dealing with the public all day), I actually like my job. I like it more than any other I've had. I'm okay coming to work every day because it feels like what I was always meant to do. Part of me wishes I'd gotten back on track with this livelihood decades ago (I was first turned on to Crystals in 1987), but I suppose I had to go through whatever to reach back here.
I enjoy all aspects of my responsibilities and...
I'M GETTING THINGS DONE
I thought I wouldn't get any "paperwork" (computer time) handled, but I'm getting plenty done in the lulls (or at home, before I come in).
My big idea here was to take what I was doing anyway (pricing, online promotions, etc.) in my hidden showroom - and open my office up to the public - so anyone could come in and check out my extensive offerings, any day of the week.
Having done all this - with a well-lit display - blows everything away that I've done before (in a shop or at an Expo).
My private life world has become more of an open book, I've opened up my living room, and that's fine with me.
KEEPING MY OLD SPACE WAS BRILLIANT
Not my idea at first - the landlord anticipated my wanting to jettison my old space (given the size of this one's basement) - but the wisdom of keeping it was that I could easily stage my "out-shows" without interruption, downstairs. This further enables me to really plan for - and to bring up only what I need - for the shop itself.
Plus - my other location, what I call the Portal Annex - has become home to a steady practitioner who receives clients there. We have such a congenial relationship it makes having another's business in my midst a pleasure (not ever irksome). She's also quite accepting of the disarray I sometimes (lol) leave the place in.
MY TEAM IS AWESOME
More than ever before, having a team has begun to make sense. I have knowledgeable and responsible help behind the counter - thanks to an eager soul who joined us just at the right time - enabling me to handle behind the scenes issues and projects unhindered. I'm always a text away - with regards to pricing or customer needs - and I can always bring up back stock to impress buyers with the range of options I have (of any given stone variety).
On top of having this store and wellness center, I'd like to focus on my bigger Vision projects: a website stepping stone to a phone app; and my Crystal Meditation & Affirmation Card Deck (volume 2). I've sold out of the first deck, I need to publish something new, if not a book. I also want to increase my online sales, which I think I will need in the long run, to supplement my income. So having still others (also on my team) - who are able to help me with our website, online stores, posting events, tracking attendees and payments received - is a blessing.
Although she's doing events at
the store monthly, my wife Nina Manolson has stepped back from the day to day operations of the store. I can't thank her enough for her aesthetic input into setting up the store - making it look as it does - and also spearheading most of our graphic design projects.
Having a willing and creative designer to pitch in as needed - and at key junctures - has also been instrumental in moving our operations forward.
And although he's off doing a gap year before college, birthing the store has become an important life memory for our son Kobi, who was a key asset during those weeks leading up to (and following) our Opening.
There are more folks I could thank - my parents and our "CTO" - but this blog isn't meant to be all about Thank You's (per se), deserved as they are!
ALL THE EXTRA LENGTHS WE WENT TO WERE WELL WORTH IT
We basically invested in this place as if we owned it, which we unfortunately do not. We're leaving our lessors a tremendous asset. It's light years ahead in modernity and look than it was under the previous tenant's dozen year tenure. Still, it allows us to do what we wanted to do - provide spaces for wellness events and accommodate a very credible art gallery - while offering one of the widest and best quality selections of superb rocks I could possibly imagine. I'm not sure what more I could ask for.
Other spots I could have gotten simply couldn't deliver all the above - they were too small or oddly configured - and they would have required a comparable outlay to be brought up to level (never mind the fact that their landlords were problematic to deal with). This is our bed. We've got to lay in it. And a mighty well appointed bed it is!
THE THINGS PEOPLE SAY (are all good!)
I've caught a few on video (duly posted to Facebook) - and some written quotes - but so many comments people make are not recorded for posterity (or promotion!). Mostly people note how bright and welcoming our space is - what a wonderful selection we have - and how good they feel being immersed in it.
Harking back to my assertion above, I'm pretty sure they would not say (or experience) these positive emotions had we not put down new flooring, redone the bathroom, changed all the lighting, etc. etc.
MY NEW AUDIENCE HAS SURPRISED ME
The complements keep flowing - and that's reassuring - but now repeat customers, or even just visitors (not buying, but drawing near to behold) are letting us know that we're doing the right thing in the right place.
So many have said they're glad we're here - not just as a replacement for what was here before - but as an enhancement to what Arlington Center has to offer. In the words of one visitor: "I'm so glad you're not another cell phone store." It seems many would love to see us stay - it's like they can't believe we will be actually be lasting here - we'd certainly like to fulfill that hope.
I made the calculus that - given the business I was doing off street, and at shows - I could afford the rent on a storefront, and that anyone new coming in would be icing on the cake. Our overhead is such that it's not quite like that, in reality. It is expensive to have a big space, but I've made a LOT of new friends, and they'd never have found me if I weren't right on Mass. Ave.
NEW TERRITORY, NEW FRIENDS
Even though my new store is literally around the corner from my old off-street showroom, I'm dealing with a totally new population. Previously, folks only came to me whom I'd met at shows, or online. Now I'm welcoming mostly who walks in off the street, because they happened by, or to've noticed our window display.
Some folks have heard about us by word of mouth, and driven miles, from other towns. They generally know what they're looking for. Or they're primed for the Crystal experience.
As wonderful as they are, many members of my new audience are not that knowledgeable about Crystals, and even less so about their metaphysical qualities. So I'm having to start from square one more often than I'd like. Questions like "how did you get into this; where do you get them all; how do they 'work'?" haunt me daily. These are not unreasonable questions. Sometimes I have more patience than others, due mostly to how sincere the askers are.
I tire easily of people who ask questions simply to ask, without actually caring about the answers. And sometimes (especially at the end of the day), I haven't the energy to "start from the beginning." What I hope and suggest - is that people who really want to know, come to our classes and meditations - that's where we can more properly "deliver the goods." We'd like folks to have some "skin in the game" - by setting aside part of an evening - to not just listen, but also to go within.
I'd been somewhat spoiled by Expo attendees, who already have a lot of experience with Crystals. There's something refreshing, though, about some people's unfettered curiosity. Sometimes folks who think they know it all - and have everything figured out - are actually a lot less fun to hang around with than total newbies.
l really had no idea who my audience was going to be - nobody knew of my showroom around the corner, because it was open by invitation only (to folks on my mailing list, from shows) - and I've been pleasantly surprised to see old folks, young families, professionals and enthusiasts walk in, who never would have known we exist.
I was not prepared for the wonder - people are genuinely blown away by what we've done - and I've been particularly impressed with how at ease with the Crystals and well behaved the children are! Few are those who touch everything - I learned that lesson early, to discourage such behavior gently - mostly kids look with their eyes, and sometimes they even ask before touching.
SOME OF MY FEARS WERE UNFOUNDED
Based on some of the flagrant thievery I experienced in the Back Bay - and the broken window I had to babysit in the middle of a winter night in Harvard Square - I was concerned about robbery...people simply taking stuff. But aside from a possible loss during Town Day (while I wasn't in the store), I don't think it's happened. We do have 3 cameras going - and a full alarm system - but nothing untoward has happened, to my knowledge. But I think the main deterrent to misbehavior is that we put it all out there, we trust people. They can see that we've put a lot of care into our offerings - so they naturally rise to the occasion - demonstrating all due respect.
As mentioned above, I was truly afraid of kids breaking stuff - but only one fossil's been scratched out of it's million year perch by prying hands (unintentionally), and all of this with glass shelves - not one of which has been cracked!
Another concern I had was the irreverent teens - coming in, mocking - or worse. But we've had quite a self selecting audience of people truly interested - the occasional teenage girl - but no high school boys. Occasionally I hear one express interest, outside the window, then their buddies hasten the on.
IT ISN'T JUST ABOUT THE STORE
Here's a really deep fear I had - a way in which I'd been waylaid (badly) in the past - where you start something for one reason, and end up not doing that, but something else completely different. Specifically, I started a music magazine as a way to pursue my general interest in world music, and my specific interest in advancing the career of my own band. It ended up being all about publishing - cranking out that next issue - and not about about the music, ultimately. My reaction to that could explain what propelled me more fully into the music business for another decade.
Remembering that, I had a visceral concern that opening the store I would lose myself (and my vision) in its daily operation. What I'm realizing is that the store itself IS my vision, and though I don't want to be distracted by the art and everyone else's classes - to the detriment of my own personal goal of sharing what I know about Crystals with the wider world - I'm optimistic that somehow this wider, community vision will in itself be the fulfillment of a dream, a unique dream with its own mission and direction.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE PROCESS, NOT THE PRODUCT, PER SE
My biggest hope is that this project will be the "right" dream in the end - a true fulfillment of my higher Spirit's true function, or Will for me in this world - not just another nightmare (or a flash in the pan, to the world). I don't want to hang such an albatross on my earlier ventures, as if that's all they were - flashes in the pan or miseries - I'm sparing you some of the horror stories from my musical career.
Everything I've done has been a learning opportunity, with merit and value, regardless of its longevity.
The same is true for the store - I may not be doing it forever, assuming I can ever retire - but for right now it feels right. The way we've set up the space - the way it feels to me and for those who spend time there - it seems to really provide the context for allowing new branches grow, and for creativity to breathe and evolve!
I can't know the outcome of this venture - long term - but I have faith that (as always): putting one foot in front of the other, avoiding pitfalls where possible, will get us wherever we're meant to be, in the end.
It's all about the journey.
Don't they say that it's truly the process that matters most?
I had no idea what foot traffic I could look forward to, but I do think it's meaningfully less than just two block down into the Center. At the same time - and I looked (mentioning this a few times above) - we couldn't do what we're doing in our current spot, down the way, or anywhere else that I looked into (including adjoining towns). So while I could always use more business, I do feel like more and more people are discovering us, and we're starting to get repeat business even just a few months into our lease. Plus, if I were any busier, I wouldn't have time to think about developing my online business, or cultivating some of the publishing resources I want to make available to the world at large.
Having a storefront requires a LOT of attention. No duh?! I knew that, but I guess I'd forgotten. The cleaning - it's always necessary; the wear and tear - it's unavoidable; the restocking and pricing - it's never ending. Although you don't get your hands dirty or sweat in the noonday sun, it's a bit like farming. The field needs steady tending.
Having a staff and not being the only one to represent the product, I've had to methodically go through and price EVERYTHING, which is no mean feat. It's actually taken 3 months for me to price every item on the shelves, which I have pretty much completed just this past week. And that's not counting the display cases - jewelry we priced first, before Opening - I guess I have my work cut out for me next year (pricing those specimens in the central display towers)!
We have now hosted 3 Artists in 3 months - that's pretty impressive - but I got a bit more than I bargained for. Being "a gallerist" is a bit of a throwback to the music business - big personalities, accommodating sometimes conflicting expectations - and being responsible for putting on events, and promotion...which I do anyway for the rest of the gallery...but not in the mold of (which this medium seems to call for): cajoling press, uncertain ROI on advertising, and trying to balance the compensation packages for both venue and talent.
I'm facing the new year energized, and ready to take on the challenge. I've been heartened by the quality of work being brought to us - the attractive showcase we've created for these individual artists - and the possibility of new buyers (both local and further afield) discovering this gem of an art space.
It's a lot of work, but I'm also...
I'M BLOWN AWAY BY OUR COURSE OFFERINGS
Just the list is inspiring: free Reiki Clinic; Shamanic Solstice Circle; Crystal Healing Meditation; Portal Alchemical Sounds; Organic Cosmetics; Shifting into Body Love; Mystical Healing; Zentangle; Intimate Puja for Couples.
We're adding ChakraDance, play reading, more art classes, etc. - plus we have 3 class and session rooms we're renting - people are loving Portal as a healing space.
Our Art Gallery doubles as a perfect classroom space, whether folks are seated in chairs, or gathered on the floor on backjacks - it can be brightly lit - or dimly lit...and the quality of privacy and safety created is unique and specific to this venue.
In January (the 21st) we'll shut down the store again on a Sunday (like we did in October) and take over - using the space for movement, meditation, learning, and breaking bread - check out the Crystal Wisdom & Wellness Gathering event page here to learn about that.
So as I wrap up this blog - and this first 3 months of operation - I feel pretty good about what it is that we at the Portal have created together...our cup runneth over!
Write Kyle@PortalCrystalGallery.com with questions or interest...