Twenty-six years ago we were still spending most of our time at work running a thriving business we had created. Financially everything was great… the store we owned and operated was in a wonderful location, it was an attractive and newly renovated space, and the comfortable, extra large office made our store feel that it was “almost” a home away from home for our entire family. Unfortunately, our success meant we had little time or energy left for anything other than the business… and it was obvious that we never were going to have that time and the freedom we yearned for as long as we had the store. Still, letting go of the store was almost unthinkable because we had worked so hard to get to where we were.
But life doesn’t stand still. One day we received a certified letter notifying us that our very likable, but rather disorganized landlord was being forced to file for bankruptcy and that the entire plaza would soon be sold at auction. A few anxious weeks later we learned that the new owner intended to completely renovate all the stores (again) and that demolition and construction would start immediately. And it did. A crew of carpenters moved throughout the plaza, ripping out walls and changing the location of doors and windows, with the person directing the action often changing his mind in mid-operation. We discovered that this person had a violent temper and that it was better to keep out of his way. We saw him in horrible rages, sometimes losing control completely and screaming and throwing things at his crew. The chaos went on for weeks and weeks and then suddenly one day before anything was actually finished, we (and all the other tenants) received notice that finishing the renovation would now be the responsibility of each individual tenant. Materials would be furnished… labor would not. A terse statement at the end of the letter said that any tenants not liking that arrangement would be released from their leases and should leave immediately. Like the others, we really had no choice… we stayed because we had so much already invested in that location.
It was now early summer and our busiest time of year, and the only time we could do the renovation work was nights and weekends. We worked on “rebuilding” our store all through the summer months. And then it was September and most of the stores were finally back to normal. Strangely, the couple who rented the store next to us finished their rebuilding the same day we did. They came into our store that Thursday afternoon and we spent over an hour commiserating with each other about what a terribly difficult time the last several months had been, and about how we all yearned to be able to spend more time at home and have a life outside of our workplace. I especially remember the woman’s enthusiasm and determination that this very day would be their first step towards a less harried life… they planned to close their store early, pick up their children at school, and have a relaxed family evening for the first time in months.
That night as I was preparing our dinner with the television news on in the background, I was stunned to hear that this couple had been involved in a horrible accident less than forty-five minutes after they had left our store. The woman was killed immediately and the man was critically injured. All I could think about that night was that just a few hours earlier I had been listening to this woman’s plans for a future that now would never happen for them.
For us, the accident was a sad reminder that sometimes there is no tomorrow. It was also the impetus we needed to make our plans and dreams for a less stressful life a reality. It was not an easy decision, and it still took us a few more months to plan out what we were going to do, but slightly over a year after that terrible night, and just days before we would have had to sign another ten year lease, we sold off the last of our merchandise, closed our store, and never looked back. Everyone who knew us thought we had lost our minds, because we are not normally impulsive people, and at the time we made the decision we had no other income. Everyone thought what we were doing was totally out of character for us, and it was, but we both felt strongly that we were doing the right thing. And because we had savings and were completely debt-free… and had completely paid off our mortgage and car loans and pared down our expenses as much as we could… we had already greatly simplified our life and made this change in lifestyle possible.
We have no regrets. A few months after we closed the store, we started working from home, and that work has grown to provide us with a comfortable income. Our life has regained its balance, and our time is our own again.
I only wish our friends could have lived to have the same opportunity.