The best and worst decision I ever made.

Gather round folks, its story time.

I took over an existing brick and mortar vintage consignment store 5 years ago. Owning my own business was a dream of mine. I had looked into buying a similar business the previous year but the figures were not good so I passed on it. The store had a good reputation, was rather large and had a lot of stock, so I started the process of applying for loans, borrowing from my parents and writing up business plans. During the take-over period, there were a few warning signs that the woman I was taking over from was not 100% honest, but I forged ahead. The huge sum I was laying out covered all stock and fittings in store, the name (actually her nickname) and reputation, all online presence and all existing contacts and consignees. She was to work with me for two months to go over paper work, taxation and general running of the store. I was to be introduced to all the consignees and contacts. When the sale of the business went through, she spent less than 2 weeks (with days off sick) working with me and then disappeared.

She went to the bank branch that ran my EFT and told them my first weeks of trading was actually her last week, and they withdrew my first weeks takings from my account and put them  into hers without consulting me, despite my hard copy of paperwork which showed the takings were mine. I was gobsmacked that she had the nerve to take a weeks’ worth of sales from me when I had just transferred a huge sum of money to her for the sale of the business.

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She was a woman gifted with the art of talking until she got her way. She threatened with a smile, bull-shitted her way through every situation and I firmly believe she is a pathologic liar. Despite my asking many times in the lead up to the sale to have a closer look at all the paper work for stock and consignment, she always had an excuse or told me “that’s not how businesses are sold.” Being naive and eager to prove myself, I let this pass. When I did finally get my hands on the paperwork after I took over, I realised how disorganised, messy and incomplete her books were. What’s more, Many items that were supposed to be in store were not. Many items sold to me as ‘store stock’ actually belonged to consignees. She was stealing off a charity, off her staff and her customers.

Over the next year I dealt with person after person coming into what was now my store, looking for her because she owed them money, or they had items in for sale, which disappeared before I took over. I had no record of these people in the books, or they were crossed out with “finished” and some illegible signature which they claimed were not theirs. She stopped answering her phone when I started giving it out to these people whom I had no answers for. I was not liable for her debts- it was in my contract of sale with her, but these consignees and people couldn’t separate me and my business from her and her business. As far as they were concerned I had to pay out for her infractions and I had more than a few threaten, yell and insult me. One even tried stealing from me.

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But while I knew her true self, many people still knew the name and respected the business. I kept trading under her name- re-branding is costly! But it came at a price to my sanity. Three years on I still got people coming in looking for her, for good or bad. People would constantly bring her up “Oh I saw her on the weekend shopping here!” People wanted to talk about her to me as if I was a friend of hers. I feigned a “I didn’t really know her” and tried changing the topic.

The four years I had the store I lived in her shadow. She opened a new store and I know she’s turned some people against me. I stalked her non-existent online presence every three months. I had arguments and conversations with her at 2 am entirely in my mind. I had arguments and monologues with customers inside my head where I was finally able to say what I really wanted about her. I eventually had to block her name and search terms from my computer for my own sanity.

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The weight of my mistakes at the start, her presence lurked in the corners of the store it settled under my skin like a flu I could not shake. I could function normally, but the ache in my limbs lingered to remind me that not all was well. I had started my new venture on a sour note and over the next four years the bitterness did eat at me. Every time I tried to move on something popped up to remind me that I’d trusted a woman that wasn’t worthy of that trust. I developed phone anxiety from dealing with consignees who didn’t believe that she was the one who stole off them and thought I was withholding their money or items. My relationship suffered, D* did say to me “You are not the same person you were before the business.”

My depression took its usual route and give me a stagnation, unmotivated to do more than turn up, open up and serve customers. All the amazing plans I had for the store were forgotten. I made small changes over the four years, clearly. If I hadn’t the store would not have survived to the end of the lease. I could have done more. I started to take simple questions from well-meaning people as judgement. I took ‘How is the business going?’ as a sign that they secretly wanted me to fail. When the lease was up, I took it as my chance to break out. With freedom on the horizon I planned a re-branding, packed up everything and moved the store online.

That failed too, but the post-mortem is still out on that, so I’ll save that story for another day.

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