Promote or Die (Part One)

I spent a ton of time today promoting my alter-ego’s new ebook release. It sucked the life out of me. I can’t stop promoting, pushing, searching for new and innovative ways to make it happen – it’s like a sickness. A lot of it revolves around the lack of cash principle: I have no cash to advertise or hire promoters, therefore, I must do it myself. This is a recurring life theme for me.

I’ve always had my own businesses, in one form or the next. When I say “always”, there is very little in the way of exaggeration there. I figured out when I was a kid that random strangers would buy my old crappy stuff if I threw it on the lawn of my parents house, and hung up a few “Yard Sale” signs. And so it began. How can I get people to give me money for stuff? There really should have been an intervention for me somewhere along the way. Or possibly a complete college education. Taking unrelated college courses because they look interesting, doesn’t necessarily add up to the coveted  diploma.

When I was around 22 years old, I began my first real business. There were business licenses and sales tax filings; I even went to official city buildings that made you do official business-like things. This brick and mortar business was located in the city of Tujunga, in Southern California. I opened it  with a friend who had more of an “if they give us cash that’s ok, but I just think it’s cool we have a shop” sort of attitude, whereas I had more of the “I NEED MORE CASH” way of thinking. I soon spotted an opportunity.

Our landlords were two eccentric gay men who were more sexually turned on by antique furniture than they were each other. Possibly it was the way they dressed (70’s polyester brown plaid bell-bottoms with bright orange and pink Hawaiian shirts – or some variation thereof) that made broken up Victorian sideboards appear so much more appealing, but it’s hard to say. All I knew was that they had an amazing shop filled with all sorts of interesting and mysterious objects. However, said shop was hardly ever open.

“Why is the shop closed all the time?” I asked landlord one – let’s call him Larry.

“Oh, well, we have no one to run it. The girl that was supposed to be running it never shows up. We agreed to let her have the shop for no rent, all she had to do was open for regular business hours, and we would give her ten percent of whatever she sold. So we closed it when she stopped coming in.”

“I see,” I said, my mind threatening to explode from all the visions of entrepreneurial greatness that were sprouting up. “What if I did that for you, and you also allowed me to sell my own stuff – no furniture, don’t fear.” (I could see his face pale at the mention of me hocking my wares.)

We came to an agreement. I would be the new proprietor of the Old Country Store. Now all I had to do was learn all about antiques and collectibles – of which I had zero knowledge – and tell my friend and partner at a Boutique Unique that I was abandoning her to loll around with the increasingly questionable merchandise she saw fit to bring in.

I was sort of a bitch when I look back on it. I suppose if we had been more of the same mind-set, it would’ve helped. It’s just that she was happy to strip the thorns off of $5.00 a dozen baby roses at 4:00 in the morning, and  offer for sale weird old used plaster clown statues that she would mark at $2.00. Then we would sell a piece of restored (their real talent I believe) antique furniture that we had on consignment from the landlords for $500, and pocket $50; well it just made more economic sense to me to go the antique route.

There was a little bit of a Lucy/Ethel moment when for the first month we had a “Who has the best deal at their shop” war – since the shops were right across the street from one another – but we eventually went back to being buddies. Probably the fact that we also lived across the street from each other and our husbands and kids were friends, well, what can you do? We had to kiss and make up.

I absorbed all that I could about antiques and collectibles. I became a dealer. I was voracious at the weekly yard sale and estate sales. Other dealers began to recognize me and say “Let’s move on, Wren is here” if they saw me when they pulled up at a sale. They would assume all the good deals had already been snapped up by me.  They were right.

Something in my brain triggered into overdrive in these heady first few months. I have to succeed, I have to succeed, I have to succeed. It was like some sort of perverted mantra that I couldn’t control. It would be humiliating and unacceptable if I were to fail. If a day went by – and frequently did – when no one came in, I panicked.

To give you perspective, this was  – and primarily still is – a sleepy little town deep in the foothills of the San Fernando Valley of the Los Angeles area. When I had my shop on Commerce Ave., the freeway that connected the Valley to Pasadena – the 210 – had just been open only four or five years. Prior to that, you had to drive a little highway to even get there at all. It’s history was as a tubercular and asthmatic destination early on (“Mountains of Health”), and a resort hangout for some of Hollywood’s finest. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard had a ranch nearby in Shadow Hills.

Here is a great link to Old Towne – where my shop was located: http://commerceavenuetujunga.com/historic-olde-towne/

My shop was on the left, about where the car is parked. If you go to the above link, my shop would have been one of the meat markets - I used the old locker for storage.

As the years progressed, it lost its value as a resort.  In the sixties, the bikers and hippies took over. The famous stone houses that were built there from the local river rocks began to crumble – one was used as Dennis Hopper’s home in “The River”, and was destroyed after filming. Families tried to build year round homes on oddly misshapen lots, but it was years before subdivisions were put in. The first neatly parceled neighborhoods could only find room in the upper foothills overlooking the mish-mosh of residences below. One of those first subdivisions was home to E.T. Hollywood loved Tujunga, but antique buyers, not so much.

From the MCA/Universal Film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

This meant – with no advertising budget whatsoever as I was making up this whole business-owner thing as I went along – that I had to be creative. Fortunately, this was something I knew about. My acting lessons, singing, story writing and performing were more conducive to creative than practical thinking. I had to think outside of the box, since I couldn’t afford the damn box.

That was when I met her.

(To be continued next week)

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4 comments on “Promote or Die (Part One)

  1. Oooh, oooh, what’s next, what’s next?

    This is such a great memory to share, I love knowing this about you. You’re very creative anyway, so it doesn’t surprise me that you would have been drawn to a collectibles type business opportunity that gave you a chance to use your saavy to make money.

    Also, of course, good luck on the promotion of the new book. I know it must be very hard work, but keep at it.

    P.S. I should really be asleep right now… gosh it’s 3:15am here on the East Coast. Yipes.

  2. Antiques, wow, you and my mother would have a great time together! Her house is filled with antiques, and like you, she taught herself all about them, the difference between the genuine stuff and the junk.

    I really like this memory, not only is it interesting and fun to know this about you, but you also wrote it very well.

    Thanks for sharing.

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