Archive for April, 2013

The Horror of New Shoe Day

The morning had gone well so far, but my wife and I were nervous. It was new shoe day. My kids were receiving new shoes that they had not picked out themselves (my wife bought them), and there were no guarantees that it would go well. A week or so ago, we tried to introduce new shoes to my son, Bronco, and it didn’t go well – in the end, he insisted that the shoes were too small and hurt his feet, so we retreated to his scruffy old Chuck Taylors. But, this was a new day and we had high hopes – in part because my daughter, The Little Miss, is generally agreeable, but we also had new, larger shoes for my son.

The first victim, I mean, child to receive new shoes was my daughter. My wife put them on The Little Miss and then gently set her on the floor. Usually, whenever her feet hit the floor, my 17-month old daughter begins immediate locomotion – she doesn’t always know where she is going, but she is usually in a hurry to get there with her arms waving all around. This time she just stood stock still in the middle of the kitchen with a funny look on her face.

In retrospect, I should have distracted her or played with her, but I was stunned to see her motionless, so all I did was watch. After a time, she began to cry. Then she began to stomp her feet and reached down to undo the Velcro straps.

Bronco, now almost 3-years old and wise beyond his years, was also watching this scene carefully. He looked at me and explained, “Daddy, she doesn’t like her shoes.”
In response, I picked her up, gave her a hug, and carried her into the living room. I re-attached the straps and placed her back on the floor. She looked at up me with a huge, heart melting smile, and trundled off in search of something to drool on – all shoe-related problems apparently forgiven and forgotten. Of course, by this time my son had stopped paying attention.

Time was wasting, and all of us had places to be, so I called over the boy and sat him on my lap. He seemed agreeable as I began putting his shoe on, and everything was going well – until it wasn’t. My attempt to put Bronco’s foot into the shoe was hampered for just a moment by a small piece of elastic that keeps the tongue attached to the sides of the shoe. From what I can tell – keep in mind that I’m no shoe designer – the sole purpose of this elastic is to make the shoe more difficult to put on.

So, because the shoe did not slip on as easily as his ratty old Chucks, Bronco freaked out. He began to shake his foot and refused to participate in putting the shoes on because he claimed they didn’t fit. I am unsure how he knew this without actually putting the shoes on, but my further attempts to put the shoes on led to a meltdown. I tried to tell him that the new shoes would make him run faster and jump higher (promises made to me by my parents), but he wasn’t buying it. My wife told Bronco that it was the elastic that made the shoes not fit and let him help her to cut it out of the shoes, but he still wouldn’t wear them.

I then hauled out my old friend, bribery: “If you wear the shoes today, you can watch Buzz Lightyear when you get home.” Usually movies are not watched during the week, so this was a major concession for a kid who would like to watch the Toy Story movies all day, every day. Bronco had to lie down to give that some thought, but he eventually agreed – that is, until I actually tried to put the shoes on. Then he changed his mind and had a little tantrum that led to a little break in the action. Meanwhile, his sister was happily clomping around the house in her new kicks.

After his enforced vacation, Bronco still wasn’t interested in the shoes. Minutes were ticking away in a morning that was already off to a late start, so I resorted to an empty threat and told him that he wouldn’t be able to go outside with the other kids at daycare if he didn’t have shoes. The idea that he would have to stay inside the whole day got him back into my lap.

I somehow managed to work the shoes onto his feet, despite his continued whining protest. Once they were on, I noticed that they were a bit too big. Unbelievable. His old shoes were a size 8. The last new shoes were a size 8, and they were too small, his current new shoes (different brand) were a size 9 and his toes weren’t really near the end of the shoe. Unbelievable (I have since gone to and found that their kids’ shoes run about a half-size large). I went to take off the new shoes, but before I could do it Bronco stole a couple of gummy vitamins and made a break for it – his shoes flopping a little as he ran.

Floppy shoes or not, Bronco did seem to run a bit faster, as my wife and I had a hard time catching him. He weaved around furniture and used his sister (still apparently fine with her shoes) as an unwitting blocker. When he was finally corralled, I told him that he could once again wear his beloved old Chucks. He looked at me as if I had potatoes growing out of my ears and pouted, “No, I want THESE ONES!”

So, he wore shoes that are too big to school and he gets to watch Buzz Lightyear tonight. You have to pick your battles and a deal is a deal.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 26 Apr 2013 No Comments

Young, Carefree, and Getting Away With It

These days, I am a bit of a worry wart when it comes to travel. I want to make sure that everything is all set before we go, and I worry over small details to the point that it drives my wife crazy. I wasn’t always that way, however. There was a time in my life when I ignored silly little things like details, planning, and responsibility, and that time was called college. A perfect example of this was the time I was supposed to fly to Missouri to attend a seminar for my national fraternity.

First, a bit about my fraternity – when I was in school, fraternities were not recognized by UMass-Lowell, and my fraternity in particular had started up on campus just a couple of years earlier. So, instead of a grand, old beautiful house full of a bunch of jocks named Todd, we had a dirty, rat-infested house with a mishmash of guys who wouldn’t be cast as frat guys in any movie (it’s funny how you can feel nostalgic about a place when you had to wear flip flops in your own shower). I was entering what I think was my third junior year when I was elected president of the local crew.
The fraternity’s national office puts on an event called President’s Academy every year to help people figure out how to go about being president. It was important that I go (especially since my local group was considered a “colony” at that point in time and we were trying to make a good impression so that the national office would make us a “chapter” or permanent member).

In the morning in question, I woke with a start. I had a hazy memory that there was something important to be done. After my eyes focused, I remembered that I had been meaning to check the fraternity’s post office box to retrieve the plane tickets that had been sent by the national office. Those tickets, which had been languishing in that post office box for some time, would remind me which day I was to fly to Missouri. A responsible person might have called or otherwise checked the dates, but I didn’t get around to it (I’m sure I was very busy with important stuff).
At the post office, I saw that the tickets were for a flight leaving Boston that morning – in about 2 hours. There was no time to stop and panic, so I panicked while driving back to the house, and while throwing various clothing items (clean and otherwise) into a bag. During this process, I realized that I needed 2 things – money (I had almost none), and a sport coat (it was the one thing we were supposed to bring with us, and I didn’t have one – nor had I made arrangements to get one).

I ran upstairs and banged on the bedroom door of my friend Kevin, waking him up. I explained my predicament and begged the use of a sport coat (I was much thinner then, so he was a likely match). He explained that he didn’t own a sport coat, but offered me a suit coat. I took it. It would look ridiculous with my non-matching dress pants, but there wasn’t time to worry about it. I then asked him very casually about a short term loan of a hundred or so dollars, but Kevin (like me) was perpetually broke, so that was a dead end.

There was now about an hour until my flight was going to leave Boston.

I called Joe. Joe worked regularly after school and was really good about saving his money. His good sense should probably have prevented him from lending money to someone like me, but he was a fraternity brother and a friend. When I explained the problem, and my time constraint, he agreed to swing by a bank machine and come over with the dough. Lucky for me, he hustled, because I had 45 minutes left to drive from Lowell to Boston and get on a plane.

These days, what with the security and all, that sort of thing isn’t even possible. And even back in the mid-90’s, in the days before the Big Dig, the traffic should have prevented such an accomplishment. But somehow on that day I was able to powerfully weave my Nissan Sentra (purchased for $1) up Route 495, down Route 93, and to the airport. I leapt out at the terminal (a friend had volunteered to drive my car home), and rushed to the gate. I got onto the plane just as the doors were closing, popped my bag in the overhead compartment, and flew to Missouri (where I rode a mechanical bull for the first and last time).

There is no question that the entire experience would make my head explode today.

Postscripts: I paid Joe back. Also, I did look like an idiot in my non-matching suit coat/dress pants, but no one really cared.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 12 Apr 2013 No Comments

Small Business Done Right

Pam Eaton opened Pam’s Place, located at 382 Water Street in Clinton, six and a half years ago and, despite an economy that could best be described as “lousy,” her business has managed to succeed. It’s inspiring to see a little shop bloom, so I decided to interview Pam to find out more about her background and what it takes to make a small business work these days.

First, some background: Pam is from Clinton – she grew up in the section of town known as “The Acre” and stayed in town to raise her family. Prior to Pam’s Place, she worked at Dunkin’ Donuts for 15 years, and before that had a restaurant called The Sugar Bowl in Clinton. Pam’s Place is a hybrid of the two previous businesses – serving coffee, made to order breakfast sandwiches, and 1 pound coffee rolls in the morning and fresh roasted turkey, chicken, sandwiches, and special soups for lunch (in my opinion, they have the best clam chowder in the area – it’s available on Fridays). Pam’s Place is also a destination for people who want lottery, cigarettes, trash stickers, newspapers, milk, trash stickers, and other convenience items.

What were things like when you first opened?

“It was really slow the first year, especially when compared to the fast pace I was used to at Dunkin’ Donuts. People had seen businesses come and go [in this building], so I don’t think they wanted to come in and see the new business and watch it fail. But, little by little it rolled and rolled and got bigger. I call it my little snowman, although I’m still only at the middle part of the snowman – I still have to get the head on it.”

How important was your family in helping you to get started?

“[I’ve had] a lot of family help. When we came in here it was a mess – it was a disaster – but I had a vision, and [my]family came and helped me do [the store] over.

“The hardest part of running a small business is when someone in the family takes ill. You’re taking care of family and running the business, so if something happens you have to close. For example, in the beginning my Dad was going to run the business with me, and then he took ill. But the family fills in and has been a big help.”

And if you close for something like that, people may get out of the habit of coming to your store?

“You have to be here for them. [That’s why] I’m adamant I open every morning at about 10 of 5. If [a customer] came here at 5 o’clock and I wasn’t open – I understand that frustration.

“You worry. If you have the same customer for 2-3 years and then they leave you wonder, ‘What did I do?’ Talking to many business owners, it’s a common worry – ‘What’d I say? I didn’t mean to say it. What’d I do?’”

Speaking of getting overwhelmed, how do you deal with the constant grind of the day to day?

“Now that I hired more people, I can finally take a day off, so that’s when I take a day off and cut back.”

“Being a small business, you’re spending 60-70 hours a week at work so you don’t have time for other things. You’re just spent, but you have to have a family life, too, especially [my] 4 grandchildren. That’s where I set my priorities as far as my time.

“But, along with running a business, I’m a firm believer in vacations and time. I put in 3-4 years of not [taking time off], but now we have enough staff that we can probably stay open in July. In order to get a vacation, I have to plan out the whole week. I’m already planning for July – what I need to do to get ready.

Wow, you’re planning for July already?

“Some people don’t understand that owning your own business is constant planning. Like keeping change in your register – you’ve got to be constantly on that. All of those little things add up to a snowball – lottery for example. Lottery is definitely worth the time, and it’s not a whole lot of paperwork. It’s probably 45 minutes for a week’s worth of lottery, and I pluck away at that. Saturday mornings are slow in here and I get a lot of that kind of stuff done, but that’s all in planning, too. You can’t backlog yourself because the next thing you know you have a pile this big of things to do. [That’s why] if I get overwhelmed, I make a list to help me remember. In this business you can’t forget. If I told you that tomorrow I was going to have pot roast, I have to have it.”

It’s like I’ve always told my sons – ‘Delete it from your mind, get it done. Don’t procrastinate, get it done.’
“Also, being in this business, you have to know how to make just enough but not too much because you have to have the rotation. There isn’t a lot of profit on individual thing, so every little thing adds up. It takes a lot of 30 cents here and 30 cents there to pay people.”

When you were first getting started, what brought people in first and what helped you to grow?

“The lunch crowd grew first. Then the lottery drew people in and they saw what else we have. Lottery, coffee – everyone has their thing. We didn’t have cigarettes when I came here, and I knew nothing about cigarettes. With bringing in cigarettes, I had to spend a substantial amount of money to stock them, and then [I had to] learn them and the prices.”

But it’s all about being a convenient destination for people.


Changing gears a little, I find that there’s a very friendly atmosphere here – do you think that’s an important part of the business?

“It is important. I have a lot of laughs. If I come in and I’m having a bad day, I get five customers into it and I’m not [having a bad day] any more. If I [worked at] a factory and worked on a machine, all I would do is sit there and brood, but here I’m busy having different conversations and talking to people so I just forget all about what’s bothering me.

“That was one of the biggest things I noticed [about working here]. It’s more head on and I have more time – I see a lot more and hear a lot more. I never realized how busy I was making a living for other people, rather than paying attention to life.

“Someone would tell me that her father was sick and that translated to me as ‘Great, you’re going to be out.’ I lost me. Then I was like, ‘Wait a minute, what am I doing? She said her father was sick.’ That is one of the reasons that I left – I got so wrapped up in the buck, and I had so many people working under me that I lost touch with their feelings.”

Do you have any funny stories about customers in the shop?

This one time a little boy came in with his mother around Christmastime. I asked him if he was being a good boy for Santa, and he said, “Yes, but Mommy says I have to stop saying %^$#@ ^@#.” The color just drained right out of his mother’s face.

What’s next for Pam’s Place?

“I change the menu board every year with different grinders and things like that. And wherever we go on vacation or wherever anyone in my family goes, they’ll bring me a menu and I’ll pick a sandwich out of it for my special board. I’m always trying to think of different things to add, but I have to bring in stuff that’s quick – I can’t have something that takes ten minutes to make.

“Now I’m talking to a company about doing bubble tea and smoothies, so we’ll see about that.”

Last question – if you get here before 5 in the morning, what in the heck time do you get up?

“I get up at 3:30 AM every day. I’ve been getting up at that time for 25 years now, and sure, I get sick of it, but there’s a lot of prep work to be done.”

The Day to Day Grind Tim 08 Apr 2013 No Comments

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