Sunday, February 25, 2007

Deli Bookkeeping


Joy and Michael bought the deli from Derek. They had never owned a deli before. They had only worked in a deli somewhere in the East 60's, where their customers enjoyed gourment coffees, French chocolates and Scottish shortbreads. But they were confident they were ready for the next step, a deli in Blissville.

Over the next days I watched them clean. They removed the products that had grown stale and dusty and brought in fresh fruit. They expanded their cereal section, and added instant soups, too. They invested several thousand dollars for lighting under the awning, hoping to attract the early morning drivers revving their trucks before the sun was up. And for good measure, they installed an ATM machine.

They had a vision different from Derek's. They wanted an airy, bright space, and so they stripped the windows of their tinting so that sun could shine in again. And it did, all the way across the linoleum floor.

But with that single move, their problems began.

They received their first ticket for selling cigarettes without a license. Derek didn't have a license, but he had friends. Joy and Michael didn't. They didn't know anyone in Blissville, nor beyond.

The next day the police dropped in to issue another ticket, this time for selling beer without a license.

But Joy and Michael got their heftiest ticket the following day, for letting customers drink beer there. Because without the tinting to obscure that after-hours custom, they'd left the police no choice.

Now they owed the loan for the awning, the price of the tickets (a thousand plus), and the price for the lawyer (many thousands).

But they weren't going to give up. They cut back on what they stocked. They inched up their prices. And they doubled-brewed the coffee.

Many laughed, shook their heads and wondered who would own the deli next. But I didn't. I knew that their success was our success, and their failures, our loss. And in the meantime I would wait and switch to tea.

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