About this time a year ago I was preparing to move into my first solo studio/brick and mortar space, Press Shop.
I had found the space by calling a leasing number on sign in a window in Virginia Highlands. That person told me they didn't have anything in my budget, but I should call the guy who leased The Jane (for you Atlantans - that's the home of Octane Eastside). The landlord at The Jane called back and told me that again, I didn't have the right budget - but he might have something else that would work for me. I met him two hours later at an abandoned warehouse off Dekalb Avenue.
His pitch was simple, "You'll have to have some imagination." He wasn't kidding. I walked into the abandoned-looking building to find that it was, indeed, abandoned on the inside as well. Piles of old, broken cabinets littered the interior offices. Graffiti covered several walls. Dismembered light fixtures hung by fraying cords from the ceiling and the two garage/loading doors in the front boasted a couple of broken window panels taped up with cardboard. The whole warehouse was probably about six-thousand square feet, and he was willing to rent me a four-hundred square foot corner of it.
Apparently, that's what $800 a month gets you in Atlanta.
Despite delivering the least appealing sales pitch in history, Landlord was in luck. I actually do have an imagination. He was willing to set up a meeting between myself and his contractor so that we could discuss clearing debris from the front corner of the building and constructing new walls to define my "suite." He would cover the cost of that basic build-out, but I was supposed to let him know if I had any additional desires so that we could negotiate whether or not he'd cover those too. I promised him that I am one simple, no-frills kind of lady and that I was sure my needs would be standard, if not less than.
All I cared about was getting a climate controlled space with level, smooth floors and doors that made an opening wider than 40 inches. That's all you care about when you have letterpresses.
I told Landlord I'd think about his offer, and my husband and I left for a three-week vacation to Europe. I feel like that's a critical part of this story, because there's a good lesson in it: Anything seems possible when you're traveling.*
*I think it's worth noting that this statement directly contradicts the advice I once got from my former boss: "Don't make any big decisions on an airplane." Somehow I keep doing exactly that. Oh well.
We walked into dozens of teensy European boutiques and cafes in ancient, cracked buildings with dirty concrete floors and broken plaster walls and it all seemed so charming. The decay was part of the ambiance. The ability to thrive in tiny spaces seemed like an enviable virtue.
I stared existentially out of the windows of taxis and trains and thought to myself: You determine your future. You can do it. You can make it work.
I sent Landlord an email at the tail end of our trip, from an Airbnb in London, telling him I was in. And that I would need that meeting with his contractor as soon as I got home. When you live your life on the bi-seasonal schedule of baseball, you only ever have three (maybe four) months to get your home life in order before it's time to leave again.
So it happened. I met with the contractor, designed the space, told him where I'd like my outlets and requested a giant window be cut out of the brick facade of the building so that I could properly color-match and mix inks. Oh, I'm sorry, does that sound like a dealbreaker? Yea, it did. So Landlord and I went twelve rounds in the ring about whether or not I could cut into the front of the warehouse (my argument was that nothing could possibly make the building worse) and somehow I felt like the victor when we walked away agreeing that I could get the guys to cut a window, but I would cover the cost myself - a bill upwards of four thousand dollars. But I don't have to tell you creative folks that ample natural light is worth a lot more than four grand, yea?
Before construction even started, I moved my then-homeless letterpresses into another corner of the abandoned warehouse - just to chill until their home was ready. The freight company brought them down from North Carolina, wrapped up in plastic and sitting on pallets, plopped them in the warehouse and left. They told me I could move the presses with a pallet-jack when I was ready.
Then, I waited.
I spent about two months watching construction slowly chug along at the warehouse while I worked out of a spare bedroom in our house. I had lots of time to plan what kind of furniture we'd build, what kind of light fixtures we'd order and how we would organize all my stuff. It was wonderful and terrible. I had made a very large, very expensive decision very quickly and then was left to spend eight weeks pondering whether or not I could actually pull it off.
Could I make rent? What if I got robbed? Did I need insurance on the space? Were there secret city permits I had to apply for? Why didn't anyone at the Secretary of State office know about permits for printing businesses? Should I call again? What if we lifted the presses and they broke? Did I know how to fix a broken press? How do you lift a press again?
That's when it hit me, late one night in mid-sleep. I was terrified of moving the presses. There were lots of things I was scared about, but I fixated on that one. I kept imagining the guys who work at Home Depot, driving around on their lumber cars (whatever they're called) moving piles of wood around the store. Was I supposed to drive the lumber car? What if I crashed it? Where do you get one?
As we neared the date to move into the space, the knot in my stomach about moving the presses slowly grew. Collin (my husband) and I made plans to set everything up before he left for Spring Training so that I could have his help. I asked him a million times if he was sure he could use a pallet-jack and he assured me it would be okay. I had my doubts.
The day of the move, he left to go to Home Depot to rent the pallet-jack and a truck to bring it to the studio. It was only when he showed up with the machine that I realized I had made a mistake. I saw the pallet-jack and asked, "What the heck is that?"
"I thought a pallet-jack was like the lumber cars they drive around at Home Depot."
"No babe. That's a forklift."
Oh. There you go. I was half right: it would have been very complicated to rent a forklift, put it in a truck, bring it to the warehouse and drive it around inside a 400 square foot studio. The good news was that I didn't know what the hell I was talking about. All I needed was a pallet jack - basically a glorified scooter.
That's really the funniest thing about starting a business and becoming even marginally successful - it looks like you know everything.
It seems like you must have figured out the recipe to the secret sauce because MAN, you found a space and had it built-out just for you and bought equipment and ordered furniture. Only smart, prepared people can take those risks, right? To that, all I have to say is LOL. A big old LOL.
Y'all - I didn't even know that a pallet-jack isn't a forklift.
In the year since moving in, I've learned that I really did have bigger fish to fry than simply moving my presses. I had a lot to learn about being an artist, a boss, a wife, a friend and a mom. I had to let a lot of my expectations go. I had to move backwards in a lot of places because I had moved forward so fast in getting my space. It's been paralyzingly stressful at times and also a lot of fun. I'm incredibly lucky that making and fixing my own mistakes is my job.
Now, when I'm stressed about something looming in my future, I sit for a moment and ask myself, "What if this is just a forklift problem? Maybe you think it's huge and it's really just not. Maybe you just don't know what you're talking about." I've found that most problems (save death and taxes) are forklift problems.