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Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, February 02, 2007

Possible Future 5: Exile on Main Street

I’ve saved the hardest of this series for last. It is simultaneously the most logical thing to do, and the least likely to happen.

High Boston-area rents are the main deterrent to moving Curio City out of the house. Whichever future I choose in 2008 must produce a huge leap in sales – at least quadrupling my 2007 plan – in order to cover even a modest rent expense...not to mention a monthly debt payment. What I consider decent gross monthly sales right now would not even cover rent alone. As long as I live in this metro area, I have to concentrate on making huge sales gains – in the medium run, a full order of magnitude more than I’m doing now -- because it’s impossible to cut costs any further.

Future 5 would break that requirement by moving Curio City to a low-rent environment. Right now, CC is portable. A web-based business can run equally well from Boston’s Back Bay or the slums of East Boondock, as long as convenient and reliable shipping/receiving services exist. Only personal ties keep me in the Boston area.

Every summer, Anne and I vacation in the beautiful, sophisticated, liberal arts college town of Williamstown, Mass. In fact, one of Curio City’s original inspirations was a store in Williamstown called Where Did You Get That?!? Someday in the next few years, the Fates willing, we will buy a summer home near Williamstown.

A few short miles from Williamstown lies the depressed mill town of North Adams. The Mass. Museum of Contemporary Art keeps a pulse going in North Adams, but that’s far from being a revival. North Adams is a perpetually depressed town populated by lowbrows and lowlifes.

Laughably cheap rents and real estate are a corollary of North Adams’ condition. A small retail space in their attractive but forlorn little shopping district can be had for a few hundred dollars a month. (equivalent space in South Braintree Square goes for $3,000+) In Future 2 (“Curio Metropolis Online”), Curio City just needs a basic office with good shipping and receiving facilities. Any over-the-counter retail sales only help offset the major expenses of rent, telephone, internet, insurance, utilities, etc. In high-rent Braintree, OTC sales rapidly grow in importance to the point that Future 2 inevitably compels Future 1 instead (Curio City Offline”). And, as I type this, I realize that I prefer Future 2 to Future 1.

A sales counter located on Main Street in North Adams would be under very little financial pressure to perform. A dozen OTC sales per week would almost surely produce enough revenue to cover the whole operation’s small rent. A store in Braintree, in contrast, would need to turn about 100 transactions each week just to cover its own expenses. That’s really quite a lot.

Objectively speaking…if OTC sales are beside the point, as in Future 2, then moving CC to a low-cost environment is the logical choice. We are already serious about living part of the year near Williamstown. North Adams, then, is a very logical low-cost home for Curio Metropolis Online. I could easily live in our Williamstown home and commute the few miles into North Adams every day.

The drawbacks are personal:

  1. I’ve lived in Braintree for 20 years. I have friends here. There’s a lot to like about the town. Although I don't go into the city often, I'm accustomed to having Boston nearby. I am rooted. I don’t want to move away entirely.
  2. I lived in a low-rent backwater (Elmira, N.Y.) once before for several years. It was boring and depressing – possibly the low point of my adult life. In too many ways, North Adams reminds me of Elmira. And even Williamstown is probably too small and isolated to satisfy me year-round. It could easily become stifling in the winter.
  3. I’m married. She could move out west with me, but she doesn’t want to any more than I do. Neither of us wants to have a commuter marriage again, so I’m not going to move without her (besides, I’ve grown accustomed to her).
  4. Our Williamstown house is supposed to be a summer getaway that we can rent out when we’re not there, and that Anne can use as a base for her classes and seminars. It loses those qualities if I’m living out there permanently.
  5. Wherever CC ends up, I’ll be tied to it full time – even more so than I am already. With no employees, I don’t get any days off. I could theoretically make it nomadic and truck my merchandise from Braintree to Williamstown and back again once a year, if we were really living out there for months at a time. But that would be a difficult and expensive logistic to perform every year…particularly as my business, and my inventory, keep growing.
  6. North Adams is even more seasonal than most of the Berkshires. AFAIK, its paltry summer tourist trade depends entirely on MassMoCA, and disappears the rest of the year. Even my extremely modest OTC sales expectations might not pan out. There’s got to be a good reason that most of their storefronts are deserted. I can easily imagine going days between customers during the winter.

If I were 25 years old again, I might consider this an adventure. But I’ll be 50 in a couple of months. I don’t want to uproot. I’ve lived here for over 20 years, which is longer than I ever lived anywhere else. This is my home. Despite all the sense that it makes, I don’t think Curio City will undergo an exile on Main Street.

Forthcoming Topics:

  • Startup Phases Reconsidered
  • Credit Card Processing
  • PPC Advertising Update

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