Sunday, December 25, 2011

reflections on Christmas eve and beyond...

Timely gifts  “Nice chairs,” said my neighbor, when he spotted my pair of yellow art decos I’d placed at the tuxedo rental section of my store. We had passed by the chairs on our way to see where I’d planned to build a rear entrance with a steel door near the back of my store. “Let me know whether you can use some help with that,” he’d said.

A month before, a painting job I’d offered him at the building my partner and I were renovating next door was canceled due to a communications glitch. This time I was clear; I told him I knew how to do the work on the door and its opening, but I’d trade him for a painting job next door for the two yellow chairs. “Take ‘em,” I insisted.

That pre-payment sealed our agreement; he would paint office doors on the first floor. This time, I was sure there’d be no misunderstanding. I felt good about that, in part because it seemed an inadvertent wrong had been made right. I knew my partner would be pleased. Like me, she’d been upset about the earlier misunderstanding.

She’d also been concerned about unexpected costs due to new demands issued by the building inspector. Worried that our expenses were getting out of hand, both of us questioned whether our investment was getting to be too costly.

While pondering that, I returned to work at my not-so-busy store on Christmas eve. To each of our customers, I extended holiday greetings. I suspected many who would have been shopping were at home watching professional football games that had been switched to Saturday due to Christmas on Sunday.

Rather than grumble, I worked to ensure that my few customers were exceptionally well treated. One of them was a basketball coach at a high school in the county. Each year, his Mom would buy him a suit at Christmas. This time, he was looking at two, two he had picked out while I was called away to help answer a question about another purchase.

When I returned, I anticipated that he would tell me which one he wanted. “This one’s less than half price,” I told him when I was close enough to identify the suit. Although it had been altered for a customer the week before, the customer had returned it for another suit. Knowing that an altered suit might not fit anyone else, I lowered the price so that he was interested enough to try it on.

The coat fit perfectly. “Now the pants,” I said, with my fingers crossed. Again I was called away.

Minutes later, I returned to find him wearing the pants, staring into our three way mirror in disbelief. “I’ll take it!” he exclaimed. The trousers seemed to have been tailored for him; they fit that well.

Feeling good that he was happy with a suit I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to sell, I thanked him and his mother as a couple from nearby South Boston sauntered in.

They were friends I hadn’t seen in almost a year. “Just came by to say hello,” he, C.G. said. “What’s new?” he asked, as we shook hands.

I told them about my amazing daughters, about living upstairs at the store, and about selling my house.

“How’s the insurance business?” I asked.

“It’s O.K.,” he said, “but I think it’s time to return to real esate. Within one to three years, it’ll be stronger than ever.” He spoke with confidence. “I may do it soon,” he said.

Until the real estate market crashed, he’d been successful with mostly commercial sales. I asked whether he would like to see my project next door.

When I was called away, just as he said “Yes!” I knew he understood. While in high school more than thirty years ago, he’d worked for our store on Saturdays.

I tossed him a key. A woman who’d been in the store earlier had returned. Although she’d decided to buy a leather jacket she’d considered a few hours before, she had questions about our return policy. Until C.G. returned, I attended to her.

Leaving her “for just a minute,” I’d said, I retrieved my key from C.G.. “How’d you like it?”

He quipped, “unbelievable! Great space!”

Hearing that, I couldn’t resist asking him what it would cost to duplicate that 7300 square foot building with land enough for parking. “And a freight elevator,” I added.

It didn’t take him long to answer. “About 1.2 million,” he said, “at least.”

I couldn’t wait to tell my partner. We’d spent about ten per cent of that, in total. Smiling broadly, I thanked C.G. as we said goodbye.

“Could you gift wrap these? In separate boxes?” My customer had decided to buy two leather jackets and a hat. I fetched wrapping paper and a tape dispenser.

Since she’d called to ask me not to close before she arrived from showing a house for Prudential Realty, I asked how she did. “They were definitely interested,” she answered. “Since there’s no power on at the house, they brought flashlights!” Suggesting that she thought that to be a good indication, she continued, “I’ve sold seventeen houses this month,” she said, without boasting. ”I’ve been blessed.”

I agreed. And I told her about the difficulty I’d had selling my home. “It took almost three years,” I said, then told her what I’d sold it for.

“Are you kidding?” she asked.

I assured her I wasn’t. “I had no choice,” I said.

She seemed stymied. “But your home was beautiful,” she told me. “I showed it myself,” she said, as she handed me her business card. “You may remember this. I left it on your kitchen counter.”

I did recall that, just before I sold it, my realor had told me about another interested couple and their realtor.

“I had a couple that loved it. At least she did. He wanted to be closer to Ridgeway. But that’s changed. They want to be near Danville now,” she said. After she explained why, she told me that they were in the market to buy a house, that they were thinking about mine, that they wanted to pay for it in cash.

Although I had no regrets about having sold my home, the thought of the extra $40,000 I’d taken off the price to make the sale shook me. It took its toll; the package I’d wrapped looked lousy.

“Allow me,” she insisted. She finished wrapping her packages. I was asked to hand her pieces of tape. As we put on the last pieces, I thought of tieing up loose ends, how I’d been doing just that all day.

I told her what I’d been doing next door. She was interested. “I have a client who may be looking for a place like that,” she said.

We agreed to meet after Christmas. And that was reason enough for me to feel merry about all of the good news the holiday had already brought, and, I hope, for us all, will bring in months to come.

B. Koplen 12/25/11
   Have a merry, merry Christmas!                                            

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