The Rumba Store

The Rumba Store

A serial novel by David Hutchison

The key didn’t slide easily into the lock, but with a little jiggling and fiddling she pushed it in and turned the key, the lock released and with her shoulder pressed against the door, it reluctantly gave way.

She found the light switch and then as the bible said ” there was light!” Still it seemed dreary. She walked over to the store front window and ripped off some of the paper covering it. The effort caused a cloud of dust to fill the air, but the sudden stream of morning light gave life to the old room.

She could smell the must of stagnant air. It’s been a while since anyone danced here she thought to herself as she surveyed the room. The large hardwood floor would be big enough, but the hardwood itself required a significant investment in wax and application. And maybe a good sanding to recover it’s original sheen.

It didn’t matter, it was hers and this was the first day of the rest of her life. And knowing that Maria Anderson stood alone in her dream, her own store, well hers and the bank’s. As the light gave the room shape and the dust began to settle, she saw it, her dream, her dance studio that in no time at all would be full of music and dancers strutting across the floor to the sound of rumba.

They say for a dream to really happen you have to see it and at this moment she could see it clear as a bell. The room would be filled with men and women dancing the evening away. Their twisting and swaying bodies teasing each other with sensual motion responding to the vibrations of the music, rumba music.

For several minutes she allowed the dream to take hold, to carry her away to her future. A smile spread across her face like a ripple on a lake searching for the edge. The sound of the door opening chased the image away and brought her back to reality as she turned to see Kathy Charlton, her real estate agent coming through the doorway.

Time to go to work she thought, “Good Morning Kathy” she said making her way across the room.

_____2_________

She could feel the fatigue in her bones as she leaned back stretching her arms as far out as the chair would allow. Like a boxer, she rolled her head around her shoulders trying to loosen her neck muscles. The picture of Peter, her late husband smiled at her from the corner of the desk. “I miss you Peter” she said to him as if he were still available to her, he wasn’t. The dance studio had been his idea as much as it had been her dream. Even his passing couldn’t diminish the heart felt togetherness of the project.

A hard copy of the business plan lay in front of her, the notes for tomorrows meetings and the accompanying days schedule beside it, like today, tomorrow would be another long day. The chair rolled back and away from the desk carrying her with it. She stood and stretched again before leaving the small office in the back and turning out the lights as she went.

Walking out into the studio area she continued to be surprised at how amazing it looked in less than a month. The hardwood floor shone brightly, the new track lighting system made it bright and warm. She gave a quick pirouette as she made her way across the floor to the control panel. As she did she caught of her reflection in the window, now clean, clear and visually stunning with Latin styled painting framing it.

Oh my god Maria, you look like a tried old grandma she said to herself as she critiqued the silhouette reflecting back at her from the window. “But I am a tired old grandma” she answered herself rhetorically ” still not bad for 59.” Her dancers body had keep its shape even after two children and 30 years as an administrator with the provincial government. Thank god for dance and yoga she thought completing the physical review of herself.

Turning away, Maria continued her established rounds of shutdown and lock up, which in the last month had become an everyday routine. The night air still fresh with the scent of spring invigorated her as she stepped out on to W4th in Kitsilano. She inhaled filling her lungs with it as she turned and headed up the street to her condo, a late night snack and then off  to bed in preparation for tomorrow. Only three more weeks before opening.

______3______

At my age they all seem so young she thought to herself as she studied the young man sitting across from her. Atan Tan, may have been only 20 and a recent graduate of BCIT, but he presented himself as  a smart and tech savvy young man with strong creative and design skills. As her son Donnie, who recommended him pointed out, he graduated at the top of his class in marketing. As well he had worked his way through the program while in the employ of a major advertising agency.

“I’ve got the site set up as a working model, Mrs. Anderson, so today we can do a complete walk through. The blog is ready for you to begin your daily review. I’ve set up your Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin accounts with everything tied back into the website and along with a Goolge analytics account allowing you to evaluate and track use , what do you think?

“Atan, you have to stop calling me Mrs. Anderson, Maria will work fine. And as far as this all goes, to be honest, I’m a bit overwhelmed. I’m not the most technical person on the planet and as a life long administrator, marketing was not something I did a lot of, if you know what I mean?

He smiled at her, she was so much like his mom, a few years older maybe, but the similarities were all there. She would be just fine and he and Vania, his sister would have it all working for her by the end of the week. “Don’t worry Maria, you’re going to be great” he told her confidently.

She smiled at him. “Ah the confidence of youth” she said, “but I believe you, everything looks so great.” Maria moved her chair over and gesturing with her hand said ”Atan, bring your chair around to my side and we can play with my new toys together.”

Yeah, just like mom he thought as he moved his chair to sit beside her. He felt like a family member not just because Donnie had got him the project, mostly because of the respect she gave him. And so they began.

3PM arrived just as her ever punctual account rep Susan from the Courier Newspaper stepped into her office. Ah, newspaper, something I understand thoroughly Maria thought to herself as she shut off the computer screen.

 ____________4_____________

 Her middle finger hit total button on her old IBM calculator revealing a $8,019.23 deficit in her first months set up budget. She knew she had gone over budget, but not this much. Renovations never come in at what they’re budgeted for and the flooring and plumbing repairs killed it.

 While loath to do it Maria accepted the fact that something would have to be cut or dip into her savings again. It wasn’t that she didn’t have the money, more the fact that wise management, prudent spending, discipline and judicious adherence to the plan were needed . Prudence demanded she draw a line in the sand, there could be no more over-sites from this point forward.

 Her own exuberance for perfection shore most of the blame, estimates are what they are, just estimates.  Overages must be planned for not accepted. Fortunately the store would open on time. All the day to day costs were under control and there should be no more surprises from here on in. That is, unless everyone walked by instead of walking in.

She heard a knock on the side of her desk. Maria turned to see her three year old granddaughter Elena poking her head around the corner. She abandoned everything “Elena” she whispered, “Elena, my little beauty, come to Abuela.” With that little Elena jumped to Maria’s waiting arms and the world brightened immediately as she hugged her.

“Okay mom, I’ve got all the shelves loaded, what’s next?” Maria looked up at her daughter who had taken some holiday time to help her mother with the opening. Maria, still holding her granddaughter stood and walked over to her and kissed her on the cheek.

“I’m so glad you took the time Alicia and I’m not sure what’s next, lets go have a look.

Together they all went back out into the studio area. “Mom I’m so impressed that you and dad had this great idea, a dance studio with accessories, wow. It’s like Lulu Lemon with dancing” Alicia gushed as she hugged her mothers arm.

“Thank you dear, now let’s hope we can make some money at it” Maria replied.

“You will Mom, you will” Alicia promised confidently.

Looking around the store, everything seemed in place and two days from now they would get the chance to find out.

_______________5______________

“Okay mom, the banner is up, it looks great, time to go to work” Donnie said as he walked into her office.

Maria looked up from the computer “Thank you Donnie” she said. It was so nice to have all the family around her as she prepared to open the store. She saved the file, stood up and made her way around the desk and over to her son. Taking his arm Maria looked up at him and said “ Let’s go open the doors and get this business started.”

There wasn’t a big grand opening, just the banner saying “Now Open.” She had decided to open without a great deal of ceremony and give herself a few days to work out the kinks. The dance classes would start on Wednesday night, this way she would have a few more days to work on the retail side and get some more people registered.

She and Peter had agreed that full classes would create the atmosphere they wanted. Full classes would be more fun, have a better mix and get the feel of success right from the beginning. She had been teaching dancing at community centre for a year giving her a working group to start with, but now people would have to pay and that always changes the relationship.

The roll out would be slow, the first ad in the Courier would be in the Wednesday paper, her first newsletter, using the new Mambo emailing program had gone out at 7AM. Each night she would write a daily diary on her blog, no more than 200 words, about the events of the day. On Thursday, the first dance class pictures would show up on her face book page and she begin to twitter to about the event. Saturday night they would hold their first dance party.

As she made her way across store she saw a young woman waiting at the door for her to open, “this is a good sigh” she thought.”Good Morning” Maria said “come in and welcome to The Rumba Store.” She was in business.

_____________6___________

At exactly 6:30PM Maria clapped her hands for the class to come to attention. The group of 30 people, 17 women and 13 men made up the class. Fortunately both Donnie and her son in law Caleb were there to balance it out.

“Okay everyone, if you could break into 3 lines of 10, with the tallest to the back, we can get started” Maria instructed.  The group moved into position and then she began, “Stand tall everyone, dancing does not allow for slouching.” Then sensing she had their complete attention said “Watch me” as she took them through the initial steps.

There is a precision and discipline to dancing that she loved and as she moved through the steps the class watched intently. They all saw what they wanted to become and as with all classes there are those who think they can, those who are unsure and those who are asking themselves ” What was I thinking!”

“Now remember ladies the man leads, did you hear that gentlemen, you are to lead. And just to help the men get a feel of how that looks like Donnie and I will demonstrate.”

She looked around the room and then nodded to Alicia to start the music. The music started, Donnie took her hand and they began. As they danced Maria gave the instructions “Men start with your right foot, ladies with your left and you will notice the rythem is 2, 3, 4 only at the beginning do we start with one.

The hour and a half flew by and then the class was over. “That’s it, so give yourselves a hand” Maria said “and congratulations on your first class.” It had been a great start to the lessons and a terrific mix of people. The first class produced all that she had hope for. Outside people were watching through the windows, some had been dancing on the street.

Peter had been right, let the people watch and build on them.  She could hardly wait for the next class.

____________________

 It was the start of her third week in business, but it was different today as both Alicia and Donnie had to go back to work and she still hadn’t found enough staff. From the beginning Maria had been searching, placed ads on her website, at the community centre, in the courier and had a sign on the window. And for all of it, she had only ten applications.

In her original budget she had planned for $10 per hour part time, $12 for full time with a 5% bonus on quarterly sales and $20 if they could teach dancing and so far she had just hired one person, Lara Patterson, who had started last week. She was a nice woman, separated with two small children who had to leave at 3PM each day to pick them up and couldn’t work weekends.

Her HR experience was limited to having coffee with a friend who worked in a government office. Hiring is a challenge and for Maria an almost fearful one. The kids told her to relax and go with her gut feel. Maybe it was true, but for whatever reason it just wasn’t the way she had imagined it.

 Lara poked her head in and said “Maria, there is a young woman here to see you. Thank you Lara, send her in” she said. A moment later a pretty young girl came into her office “Good Morning Mrs Anderson” she said, I’m Sonika Nand. She handed Maria a file folder with her resume.

Maria opened the file, everything was well organized and neatly prepared. She took a few moments to review everything and noticing the emphasis she had placed on her dancing classes in school. “I see you are a dancer” Maria said looking up from her file. “Oh yes, Mrs. Anderson, it is my first love and it is so hard to find the opportunity to work in an environment where dancing is involved” Sonika reply enthusiastically.

Her gut feel was this was the girl she was looking for, “Well Sonika, when can you start? Maria asked.  “Oh today if you want Mrs Anderson, today would be good!” Her enthusiasm was contatagious. “Well that’s good Sonika because I need someone today. To start, please call me, Maria, come lets do a walk through and we can discuss your package as we go.

“I have a good feeling about her Peter” she thought to herself as they began to work out the details.

_______________________

Today was the start of her second quarter in business and she was tired. Sitting in her office looking at the numbers, she felt the bitter taste of disappointment. After all the work she had only made $101.51. She hadn’t recovered any of her start up investment and thought she would be farther ahead by now.

Still things were taking shape; both Sonika and Lara were working well together. Sonika was the star of the dance classes and she had two young girls for the weekends. The sales margins were okay, but not strong enough to make any significant profit, however the dance classes were making up some of it.

Maria has the nagging suspicion that there was something she was missing and couldn’t put her finger on it. Peter had often said to her “sometimes you just have to look at problems from the other side of the road.” With that thought in mind she pushed her chair back, stood up, grabbed her sweater and walked out telling Sonika she needed some think time.

 Sitting in the coffee shop across the street looking back at her store she felt lost. The store had a good location with lots of street parking and street traffic, good local population density, but not enough business. She could feel her Latin blood rising. Her married name Anderson hide her maiden name Gomez and its Cuban background.

It wasn’t the margins themselves that were the problem; it was the lack of volume. She was happy with the lines both in clothes and shoes, but sales we soft. Most people liked the store, but they weren’t buying. Sales had to come up or she would lose staff, because they needed to make a living wage. The store itself needed something more, but what? ”What’s missing?” she asked herself.

Then she saw Sonika standing in the window looking out, standing still. Then she knew, the store needed energy, it needed music, it needed jump, and it needed to build some momentum. Inside needed to match the colour outside.  It needed some … Salsa!

_______________________

 A better music mix had stimulated the daily store sales. The addition of speakers over the store entrance had the store front packed at night to watch the dancing lessons and for the first time the Saturday night dance party had been a sell out.

Her blog had a dozen great comments during the week and a reporter from the Courier had done a weekend story on her experience in the dance class. For Maria, everything was going perfect. That was until the moment a police officer arrived with a court order to remove the speakers.

Maria looked at the officer, “What do you mean, causing a public disturbance, those people watching were having fun. There was no disturbance that I could see. How can dancing and fun be bad for a community?” Maria demanded to know.

“Mrs. Anderson, those people were blocking the sidewalk, which is a public thoroughfare and that constitutes a disturbance. If you don’t remove then, we will be forced to shutdown your evening dance classes” the officer advised her. He handed her the order and left.

Sonika and Lara came into the office “What are you going to do?” they asked. “This is wrong” Sonikasaidin an angry voice. Lara, her eyes filled with tears demanded to know “Why would they do this?”  Maria for her part remained calm, almost stoic.

 After a moment she looked at them, then comically put out here arms and said ”Group hug!” They did and started laughing. “OK, ladies lets go to work, I’ll call my lawyer and as John Paul Jones once said “I have not yet begun to fight!”

As she sat at her desk dialing the lawyers number she looked over at Peter’s picture ”I never thought I would have to use that silly quote of yours.” A woman’s voice answered “Anderson, Fillipoff and Wilson, how can I help you?”

________________________

After Maria spoke to her brother in law and lawyer, Paul, regarding the court order, she called an equipment supplier and arranged for barrier posts and called city hall for a permit. Then she went on line to write on her blog.

“Fun challenged by the law” was the title. It was only 250 words, but those words did directly challenge the position taken by the police. She also spoke to the people who stopped and asked, that if they wanted to stop and watch the dancers, please stay inside the banner and allow people to walk by.

It was simple enough she thought and hoped that people would understand. It just seemed that business to this point was a one step forward and a two step back scenario. Even at that she saw a silver lining in the exercise. She was going to play the press card on this.

Her next call was to her rep at the Courier, she had a new ad campaign to place. Then she called Atan to attend the meeting. She needed creative. This ad was going say something more than come and buy. Maria decided to become an attraction.

The permit was for a street closer. Like film companies, she wanted to shoot a dance video for her dance school. It would be a Saturday night shot, the night of her next school dance party. She would have a big sale on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday as a lead in to promote the event.

Dancing in the street was going to take on a new meaning!

_______________

Sometimes you get the feeling that no matter what you do, it’s just not going to work. At least that was the way Maria felt after getting off the phone. The city would not all allow her a permit to close down 4th Avenue for 3 hours to shoot her video.

The second shot at her store was that due to congestion in front of the store they wanted the speakers removed and the blinds to be drawn to stop people standing on the street to watch. It created in their opinion “unsafe conditions” and therefore was a hazard to public safety.

What was she going to do? The key to the dance school was people stopping and watching. They were her new customers. The dance classes had become so successful; she had to add an extra day to keep up. Now they wanted to take it away. How could they do that?

All her plans were dashed or where they, there must someway to take advantage of the situation. She had her newspaper and online campaign ready to go next week and she certainly wasn’t about to quite. She hadn’t spent all this money and invested all the effort to just go quietly into the night. No, she was going to fight back. She was going to be the little store that could!

Maria knew that she would have to do something unorthodox to create public support. She would create an event in support of something new and important to capture public interest. Dancing for support, but of what?

_______________________

Sonika had become the diva of the store. She loved the people, the selling, the dancing and Maria, who had become like her second mother. Maria had encouraged her to become active in the community as well and she did. And as she suspected, Sonikatook the store with her.

There was a tap on the door, Maria looked up and there was Sonika. “Yes dear, what can I do for you?” “Maria, I wondered if I might ask a favour” Sonika said. “Ask me” Maria replied. “As you know I am a member of Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society of BC and we are having a peace education event at the Kits War Memorial Community Centre.” She hesitated, and then she asked. “I wondered if I might put a poster up on the front door. It’s about child soldiering.”

Maria paused “I’m not sure, can you let me think on that for a while? I have always seen the stores without posters, you know what I mean.” I know Maria, I’m the same, but this is really important. Anyway, here is the poster for you to look at and I’ll get back to the store” she said.

Maria looked down at the poster lying across her desk. It showed a young boy, maybe 14 or 15 at the most, with a rifle slung over his shoulder. It caused a shiver to run through her. It brought back a memory of seeing a little boy in Cuba running down the street with several men carrying a rifle during the rebellion. There was a shot and he died in front of her and her mother who were hiding in a door way. Her parents left for Canada a week later.

She pickup the poster and tape, walked out of her office heading for the front door. Maybe this was the campaign she was looking for. Maybe she needed the store to stand for something more, like peace. Dancing is a celebration of life; war is a celebration of death. She chose life!

___________________

Maria had never been involved outside of family, work and of course dancing. She had always had the dream of teaching dancing and now she had it, but making it a success was harder than she had ever imagined. She was still spending her money to keep going. The store was covering its operation, but not her.

She had done all the right things, got a great store lease including an escape clause, good location, created multiple revenue streams, created a strong marketing strategy, had great staff, but still success was eluding her.

How she was about embark on another adventure, one she was unsure about. Peace education, how much more obscure can you get. But, when she thought about her grandchildren, it seemed to make sense. Now all she had to do was make it apply to her business in an affluent community where war had never impacted on it.

Dancing for Peace would become the campaign. It would be a community campaign, a campaign to take the store outside into the community.

Maria called Sonika into her office. “I have a plan” she announced. Sonika smiled “And what is that? she asked. “Dancing for Peace is how. We use your community event to kick off a fund raising event.” Maria said.

“How would that work? Sonika asked. “At your event, children are making Peace Art and teachers talking about peace education, where is the fund raising value for the society?” Maria asked. “We will put on a Rumba demonstration and announce that a percentage from every dollar earned in the dance studio would be donated to the society.

We will shot our video there. We will put it on our website and Youtube. We are going to use our window to announce it and get people and the media to attend. We’re going to get involved. Now let’s go to work!” Maria said defiantly.

_________________

Dancing for Peace read the banner that ran across the front window of the store. Within the store were posters and announcements about the up coming event. At the dance classes the dancers were encouraged to join them at the community centre on the Saturday and take part in the video.

Maria had arranged for Donnie and Alicia to work the store so she and Sonika could attend and direct the dancing. The video crew had been hired, the media had been solicited, and even several city council members would be there to speak in support of peace education. Atan had set up links between www.wartoystopeaceart.com and the store. Global News had sent a crew to interview Maria and one of the teachers from the society Susan Johns about the event.

All of this had created an excitement in the store. Cindy and Alexis, the young high school students from Kits High who worked evenings and weekends had taken posters and put them up in the school.

All of a sudden the store was busy. Whatever had happen it seemed to be capturing the community’s imagination. People were phoning to see if they could help or contribute in some way. Traffic on the site was increasing almost daily.

For her part Maria was exhausted. It had been a lot of extra work, but the results were gratifying. Only three more days and it would be done. That familiar knock on the doorframe announced her, without looking up she said “Yes Sonika.”

Maria looked up and there she was, smiling “Guess what!” Sonika exclaimed. “What?” Maria asked. “Three of our neighbor stores want to get involved and there here in the store to see you.” Sonika said full of excitement. “Oh God” Maria thought to herself “I thought I was done. Still smiling she said “Well let’s not keep them waiting.” And off they went.

_________________

The Travel Store, MTI Electronics on the westside of her store and to the east Wilson’s Sporting Goods were all interested in supporting her. The owners told her more things had happened on their section of W 4th since she opened than had happen in the previous 10 years. They wanted to help, because they wanted her to keep going.

Maria had created interest and traffic and her neighbors had noticed it in their stores. “Well, I must be doing something right” she thought after they had left the store. They had taken most of the posters she had left to put up in their stores and wanted to contribute to the Dancing for Peace campaign.

They would match her dollar for dollar in the Friday Courier. They had left store to get their ads ready for tomorrow’s deadline. She was overwhelmed by their enthusiasm. She now had marketing partners willing to commit to promoting their section of the street.

Peter had always said “It’s not about walk by traffic; it’s about walk in traffic.” She had feeling she was going to get it. She had blown her marketing budget big time “so it had better work” she thought. Just to break even was going to be a stretch, but if she could get some momentum, the next quarter should be good.

She looked at the clock in her office; 5:45PM it read. The day was just about done, well at least the retail day, in another 45 minutes she would be dancing. She was tired, so tonight she would let Sonika lead, she would watch and tomorrow she might even sleep in.

_____________________

It was 9:30AM when Maria entered the store. She had slept late and it felt great. Lara was in at 9AM to get the store ready for the day and Sonika was right behind her. It was Friday, one more day to their Dancing for Peace event.

Maria and her neighbor stores had their two page spread in the Courier today promoting the event and supporting their Saturday and Sunday sales. Maria had promised herself, she wouldn’t get into the open Sunday routine, but this was special.

Maria hoped today would be a nice and easy, regular kind of day. Nope, wasn’t going to happen. Just as she walked in and sat done, Lara walked in and announced that the credit card system was down. She had called the TD, only to be advised that they had a crash on their end and it could be some time before it was up.

Maria let her head fall back and looking up silently asked “Are you mad at me?” Then calmly asked Lara what was in the float. “We have $250.00, $200.00 in bills and the rest in change. It was 9:50AM, she stood up and said “I’ll walk over to the bank and get some extra cash and you see if you can find that manual thing to get us through the morning.

As she was walking out the door, George Wilson from the Sporting goods store came in. “Good Morning Maria, our system is down, do you have any extra Visa blanks?” he asked. “No” she replied. Then talking his arm said “But you can walk over to the bank with me.” He smiled and they left the store together.

Lara looked over at Sonika and with a big smile asked “New romance.” A smiling Sonika replied “You think?”

___________________

It was 9AM when Maria and Sonika walked in the Kitsilano War Memorial Community Centre and like most Saturday’s at the centre it was already busy. Almost immediately Susan found them and led them to the gym area where the event would be held.

“This is your table area here next to our’s” Susan said as she pointed to the plain 6 foot table sitting in the corner. ”We have this area beside you and will hold our Peace Art workshops in the middle” she said pointing out an area set aside for disassembling war toys and making the peace art. There would be a debate later in the day between to student teams from Kits High on Peace Education.

At 11AM they would have one hour for dance lessons and demonstrations. Maria looked around the room then said to Susan “Well I guess Sonikaand I had better get organized.” And with that they headed out to the car to get all their display materials.

Within the hour they were set up. Atan and his video team had arrived and begun to set up their equipment. Their plan was to shoot five, 2 minute videos. The videos would be for the store website, www.wartoystopeaceart.comand youtube. They would be rotated for the next three months.

To her surprise George Wilson walked in “Good Morning Maria” he said. “Well Good Morning George, stop by to watch or can we throw you into the mix of volunteer’s” she asked. “Well I have to be back at the store by noon, but until then I’m all yours” he replied. Sonika smiled to herself “I think he’s hitting on her.”

____________________

At exactly 11AM Susan took to the stage to announce the Dancing for Peace, Rumba dance demonstration and lesson. With the video crew and their cameras in position, the show began. The dancers, all of whom were from the dance classes were on the stage; Maria had her head set on and with her cue the music started.

Almost like square dancing Maria called out the steps and the 10 pairs moved like a synchronized swim team. All those in attendance watched and applauded each movement. Then as a change of pace Maria had them all stand, find a partner and prepare for a free lesson. Maria herself left the stage to find George and dragged him reluctantly to the impromptu dance floor.

It turned out to be an outstanding event. It was well attended, had great participation and everyone went home exhilarated by the experience. As they were packing up Susan found Maria to thank her for the support and the continuing fund raising.

“Oh don’t thank me, I should be thanking you” Maria said. “Why” Susan asked. “Well the video’s we shot are going to be used as a support mechanism to get our street dance” Maria explained. Sonika’s head snapped to left to face Maria in a bit of a shock, “You mean your still going after the street dance” she asked excitedly. “Yes Sonika, Maria said, ”you don’t think I was going to let that slide away, now did you?”

“Well yes, City Hall isn’t big on it.” Sonika replied. “Sonika, what’s life if you can’t fight City Hall?’ Maria said as her smile continued to grow. “We’re just getting started.”

__________________

Maria’s first event marketing adventure had done quite well she thought. Even though the money was still not great, it was up 15% over the previous month and they had made a donation to the society of $1,000.00, still she wanted to do better.

As she reviewed her business plan, she was surprised how many changes had had to be made since she opened the doors. How much more money she had spent to get it off the ground. It still wasn’t a sound ship, but for the first time she hadn’t had to subsidize it.

It was much harder than she had imagined. The pressure was relentless and much of that pressure came from herself. Each challenge brought a new drive out in her, a drive to succeed. The business was constantly forced to adapt to the market, to the circumstance of emotions within the community. Almost every crisis seemed to make people withhold expenditures. These feelings were confirmed by her neighbours who had their stores on the street for more than a decade.

Peter had always said “For small business to grow, you had to see the growth long before it happens.” So what did she see? What was the vision? Where was she going? “Well the first thing is to make this ship prosperous” she told herself.

Even the limited success she had experienced, created a problem, the dance floor wasn’t big enough now. She needed more space. What to do? If she reduced her retail area, she would lose revenue. She could expand into the parking area in the back, but that would cost thousands of dollars and it would take years for the dancing school to pay for it.

Building and renovation were very expensive; she had already gone through that. First, add more dance nights. She was at two nights a week now, it was time to add a third. That meant she would have to find a new teacher and an assistant. Best place to look was amongst her students.

_________________

The idea of having her own street dance had become an obsession, but the more effort Maria poured into it the more of a frustration it became. So she decided it was time to give up trying to do it on her own and join the KitsilanoBusiness Improvement Association and work with them.

George sat on the board and suggested she be part of the up coming festival. They had approval from the city and they had a street festival. After the meeting they walked back to their stores. She felt better, yet she felt a sense of failure.

“Maria you’re an independent business women, but that doesn’t mean you have to do everything on your own” George told her. “Is that the voice of experience talking?” she asked him. “Maria, the reason for my divorce five years ago, I was trying to hard” he told her. “Make the business fun, just the way you had envisioned it in the beginning” he continued.

“You’re right George, I haven’t had enough fun” she replied. “Good” he said, “I’ll see you at dance class tonight and we can have some fun.” You’re taking lessons” she asked a bit taken aback. “Yes” he said “I registered at the Dancing for Peace event shortly after you dragged me out on the floor, it was fun.” He smiled and left her at the store entrance.

“Well” she thought, “if that doesn’t beat all.”

__________________

“There you go Daphne, all set for a night of dancing” she said handing her the bag containing the shoes. “You know, Maria, the dancing has made such a difference in my life. I feel better since I started the classes, thank you.” ”You’re welcome Daphne, but I should thank you, because what you have just told me is what I wanted to hear since the first day I opened this store.”

“Well, in that case, you’re welcome, see you tonight” and with big smile she turned and walked out of the store. “Ah” Maria sighed. And it was true, she did want satisfied customers. It was part of the dream and for her maybe the best part.

The pleasant thought was interrupted as the phone rang. Good Morning, The Rumba Store, Maria speaking, how can I help you?” she said. “Hi Maria, its Sonika” the hoarse voice announced, immediately followed by the sound of a harsh cough. “I’m not going to make it in today, I’m worse than yesterday” she confessed. “It’s OK dear, get some sleep, stay in bed and don’t bring your germs to work. Maria instructed in her most motherly tone. “OK, by” came the reply and then the click of the phone as she up hung up.

Well, she was on her own today as Lara had a day off to take the kids in for an annual check up at the doctors, so here she was alone in her store. As it was Wednesday, she could handle it, but the dance class tonight on top of it would make for a long day. ‘

“I need more staff” she thought to herself as two young woman walked into the store.

__________________

Anyone who has ever hired staff knows, its’ a challenge. There is always the anxiety of “Is this the right person?” Which, many times it is not the right choice, and then there is the fall out from the decision. In Maria’s case the hiring was two fold, one for the store and one for the dance classes.

Both elements of the business were staff challenged as was her budget. She had not envisioned it being this hard, but it was and she had some major decisions to make on how she wanted her business to run and how she wanted her life to be.

From the beginning, she knew neither, Alicia or Donny would join her as they had their careers. Alicia was a lawyer as well as a mother so her life did not allow any participation and Donny was an instructor at BCIT and being a teacher was his only dream, so she had to build a new family. So what did she want her staffing practices and policies to look like?

She already had a number of applications on her desk, but to be honest, none had created any excitement. Maybe it was her Cuban blood, but all the decisions were made on gut instinct and first impressions. She wasn’t ready to turn staffing over to anyone yet, she knew it had to be her choice.

So what to do? She pulled out her application file, picked out her little hiring sign and headed for the front door to hang it out again. Not the most sophisticated strategy, but it was the way she had found everyone so far. Next step was to put an ad in the Courier and go back to work. Sometimes you just have to let fate take its course.

__________________

It was Friday and Sonika was still sick. Maria had still not found anyone to work in the store. Maybe she was just being too picky. Even as she chastised herself, she knew it is either the right one or no one. Cindy and Alexis would be in at 4PM so that would help over the weekend, but next week, she would have to get serious.

She had found a young man from her dance class to help. Raphael Chavez was a young teacher who had come to the classes to learn to dance. He was shy, but he thought that learning to dance would help him met girls. He had become a very good dancer and it turned out he was also a natural instructor. He was in an environment where he didn’t have asked girls to dance, so it worked for the both of them.

Money was still a problem even through the dance classes were full and more than paying its end, the store was still behind schedule according to her business plan. It was a plan that she had stuck to religiously. It had changed, because the business was changing, but over all it was still intact.

As she walked around the store doing her last minute walk through before opening, she wonder, what was missing? The shoes sold well, but the rest, tops, dresses, hose were not where she had thought they would be. What was wrong?

On top of that George had asked her out for dinner after work, was it too early for this. It made her uncomfortable to be attracted to a man so soon after Peter’s passing. It would be two years next month and she still missed him. Even the thought brought tears to her eyes. Oh what the heck, they would just talk business.

She turned the lock and another business day began.

_____________________

The waiter set the two glasses of wine on the table. “Would you like to order now?” he asked. “Later, it’s been a long day, thanks” George said. “Well, how was it today?” he asked Maria. “Could have been better” came her reply, “could have been better.”

He sensed her disappointment and trying to change the mood, picked up his glass and said “Here’s to a great Saturday.” She pickup her glasses and touched his, and with a smile said, “To Saturday!”

“I take it, the week has been a grind” he said trying to lighten the conversation a bit. “Yes” came a one word reply. “How’s you blog doing?” he asked. “I don’t really know I haven’t had much time to write. I never thought it would be so time consuming” she said. ‘Got a sense of what’s wrong?” he asked.

“Yes” she replied, “me.” “Oh come on now, where is that street fighter, we all know?” he asked. “I don’t know George, I just feel a bit lost. I thought my business plan was well thought out, but I’m beginning to doubt it” Maria said.

“Maria, they never work exactly the way we plan, they change and you have to change with it” he said. “I’m trying” she said, “but I need more time to make the changes and I don’t have enough staff. Sonika has been away much of the week, which hasn’t helped and to top it off, I’m tired” she said.

“On Sunday, take a book to bed and read until you fall asleep and do it all day, Monday will be better” he promised. Then he nodded to the waiter “Let’s order, nothing like a good meal to make one feel better. She smiled at him “Just like a guy, food conquers all” Maria thought as she pickup her glass had a sip and began to read the menu.

____________________

Maria had taken George’s advice and spent much of Sunday in bed with a good book and he was right, she had slept much of it away. She looked up at the clock on the wall of her office to see it was 8:30AM. Sonika and Lara would be in at 9AM for a brief meeting before opening the store at 9:30AM.

She had already written an announcement of an up coming sale on her Blog, sent off several emails to supplies, one telling she was closing out their line and another telling them she would be taking them on. She was in the dance business and anything that wasn’t related, was going. You are either what you are or you’re not.

In two weeks the street festival would be happening, it was a chance for more press and coverage. When she was promoting she was growing, when she wasn’t, she wasn’t. She had three employee interviews today and from them she would hire one.

Store banners were going to become more themed. Sonika would get her wish, twitter and face book were going to become her responsibility. Lara wanted to build a children’s line and promote to mothers, she would have it. Maria had decided she had to make better use of the talent around her. It was the one area she had not taken advantage of, but that was going to change.

George was right, you can’t do it all by yourself. She felt more inspired as she looked over at Peter’s picture, “I’m OK honey” she said. She turned her chair back to the computer and zipped off a quick email to George telling him she would attend the opening of the Canadian’s baseball season with him on Thursday.

It was funny she thought, going to her first baseball game at her age.

______________

Margarita Sanchez was a 45 year old mother of 3 teenagers. She had no degree, but she had worked at Sears for 20 years and as Maria was beginning to learn, there was no substitute for experience. When hiring someone, sometimes a graduate in life is more important than any degree.

Her real strength was the last 5 years with Sears had been in promotions and Maria felt this is where she needed to improve. As the street festival was drawing near, she wanted this to be a big time success. She wanted to clear all her old stock and introduce some new lines.

The goal of the new lines was not to get smaller, but to bring more focus to dancing and what to wear when out on the town dancing. She was also going to begin bring some presence to men’s shoes as well as women’s. She needed men out there dancing to attract women or as her friend Linda called them, “eye candy.”

As they sat in her office Maria asked “If there was one thing about the store you would change, what would it be?” “I would start with the windows, a variety of banners and fashions to match” Margarita replied, your suppliers always have great photography, good creative and it reduces you costs.” “I have thought about it, but I was worried it might take away from the store brand” Maria said.

“The store has its own signage, the window is more about what people can buy in The Rumba Store” Margarita explained. And the window should support all the things you are doing on the website and Blog, co branding so to speak.” Well, where do we start?” Maria asked. “With the windows” Margarita replied. They had a bit of a laugh as they left the office.

____________________

As Margarita had said “Make better use of the window” and had they ever. For the first time they used manikins which really showed off the clothing and shoes. They actually used just leg pieces alone wearing shoes as they surrounded the two clothed forms.

For the first time people were stopping to look at what was in the window. They were really shopping in the window. Margarita had given the ladies a lesson in window sales. There were large images filling both sides of the window framing it in. The window came alive and so did the instore traffic.

The image that the window created inspired the viewer to action and any promotion should be a call to action. In support of the window, Atan had shot a short video of the window and called it “Traffic Stopper.” And within an hour it was up on Youtube. He  made a few tweets and almost immediately it began to draw site traffic.

Maria was delirious with joy. The store had never been busier; the Courier ad featured a picture of the window which drew immediate response. Suddenly “The Rumba Store” was the store de jour on west 4th. And having Margarita allowed her time to plan for the street festival. She felt refreshed and energized.

The phone rang, “Good morning, The Rumba Store, can I help you” Maria sang into the phone. “Good Morning to you, rumba lady” it was George, “any chance I can take you out for dinner tonight?” Maria blushed, “Well that would be lovely George, where would we be off too tonight? “How about Bishop’s” he suggested. “Win the Lotto” she asked. “No, but is nice place to take a nice lady” he said, “how about I pick you up at 7PM.” “That would be lovely George” she replied. “Great” he said “see you then” and hung up.

As she put down the phone, she looked over at the picture of Peter and wondered where this thing with George was going.

___________________

Sonika was sick again. She had not been herself since her return. There was no energy in her and her exuberance was forced, not natural. Lara came in to the back office and with a voice filled with concern said “I’m very worried about Sonika, I think it’s much more than the flu.”

“I know Lara” Maria said, and “I’m very worried about her too. She has lost weight and she doesn’t have any to lose. I’m just not sure what to do.” “Maybe you should go over and see her” Lara suggested. “I don’t know if that would be right” Maria replied. The concern in her voice was obvious. To her, Sonika was like a star pupil, but she still had to respect her privacy.

For Maria, there was a fine line between being her employer and being a friend. At what point did she become involved? “Lara, give me a few minutes, I’m going to go over and talk to George. I’ll be back shortly.”  “OK, Maria” she replied. She seemed relived that some action was going to be taken.

As she sat in his office and explained the situation, he listened patiently with an understanding of someone who had run his own store for 20 years.

When she finished he said “You’re not the first store owner to experience this type of situation. When I started I had a young fellow working for me, hired him when he was just 16. He was a student at Kits High. Beautiful young man, top of his class, a year later he started missing work and became difficult to work with. I called his dad and I found out he had developed schizophrenia. It was a very sad day for all of us here. Make the call Maria, it never hurts to ask.”

It took a moment, he saw the tears forming then she gathered herself “Thanks George, I appreciate it. I’ll make the call.”

__________________

After speaking to George, Maria had made three calls during the day, but got no reply. The next day she decided to take matters into her own hands. She called Lara and let her know that she would be late.

She drove to Sonkia’s apartment in the westend, found a parking spot and began to make her way to the apartment when she saw someone leaving the building. From behind that someone  looked just like Sonika. Not wanting to yell out she hurried to catch up. By the time she got close she knew it was her.

“Sonika” she asked. Like a deer caught in headlights, she turned. They were both shocked to see the other, Sonika because she didn’t want anyone to see her and Maria because of what she saw.

Sonika was a ghost of herself, pale, drawn and disheveled. “Maria, what are you doing here?” Sonika asked. “I’m here because I was worried about you” she replied. “You haven’t returned my calls and now I see you, I don’t know what to say. What’s wrong, you look awful?” “I don’t know, the doctors don’t know and I’m scared” and with that she threw herself into Maria’s arms and began to cry uncontrollably.

The mother in her took over and held her waiting for her calm down, then taking her arm began to walk her back to apartment. “Where were you going?” Maria asked. “I don’t know I needed to get out. I have been in bed for three days, I have no energy and I’m sick all the time. I’m afraid Maria no one can tell me what’s wrong” she said sadly.

“Come with me. I have a friend at St. Paul’s and she’s on today” Maria said.

________________________

As they sat together over a glass of wine Maria gave George the results of her day with Sonika. “I was luckily Phyllis had time to see her. It turns out Sonika has Mono. It will be a month or more before she can come back to work. I’ll miss her, she has been our little energizer bunny.”

“That’s always the problem with people you employ, if their good and bring something real to the table, you love them and want them there all the time. If their not that is the other side of the table and you don’t want them. The real key is to find good people and you have, but they will come and go as their personal lives are outside of anything you can control. Don’t become too attached just enjoy, that’s the secret.

“Well at least I know she’s going to be OK” Maria said her relief of the day’s event showing in her voice. “How are the plans for the street festival coming?” George asked. “Very good, you know that Margarita is a natural born promoter. We have some real interesting stuff happening.”

“Like what?” George asked. “Oh George, you know I can’t tell company secrets, if I did I’d have to kill you and we wouldn’t want that now would we?” she said her eyes full of mischief. At first George was taken a back by the statement, then let go with an enormous laugh. “Maria, when you let your hair down, you’re a wild woman. I’ll wait”

_______________

It’s Monday, but not any other Monday, it’s the Monday before the Kitilano Street Festival. It will be blocks of tables full of merchandize all along 4th Avenue. And for Maria, her staff and twenty five volunteers from the dance classes it will be the madness of dancing all day on the street and in the store front window.

For the visitors and customers of the day it will be exciting and fun, for those working the event it will be a long day of dealing with people and keeping all their plans on track. For Maria and her team, today was the planning day in preparation for the festival.

The weather man was projecting a sunny day of 25 degrees. However, on the street it would be hotter still as there nothing quite like standing outside in the sun all day as it reflected back off the pavement.

They had the whole section of the street in front of the store for 2 one hour blocks, 11AM – Noon and 3 – 4 PM for the dance classes. They already had 100 people sign up on the website, but the expectation for a lot more came from the twitter campaign they had just started. In the first hour they had 10 more commit and that’s how these things start.

In their block, five stores had street events  planned including Wilson Sporting Goods with their annual 3 on 3 basketball tournament. George had 8 teams signed up with the championship game at 6PM. It was going to be crowded. Three radio stations were having remotes in different sections of the 12 block long event. July and street festivals are the bailiwick of cities across the country and this was theirs.

Maria looked at her team “Well, are we ready to Party?” The gathered responded with an excited “Yeah!”

___________________

When the day started Maria had been a picture of calm and serenity, but it was 11:15AM and they dancers were still getting ready. Tension had become her companion. Then, she felt a tap on her shoulder “We’re ready” Margarita said. “Thank you Margarita” she answered and headed for the stage. Within minutes everything was underway and the crowd loved it.

The street was packed, blocked from Burrard to Arbutus. She had three girls in the store and two more managing the street merchandise, plus Lara, Alicia and Donnie. No matter what happened tomorrow, today was going to be great.

After the first one hour dance session, she had 30 people sign up for lessons. It could have been more, but she couldn’t write any faster. There was a bizarre factor to what was happening. By 3PM she had already been interviewed by two television stations, two radio stations and asked to be on the City TV Monday Breakfast show. It was crazy, but she had to admit “it was fun.”

The second session was just about to start as George took her hand “You ready?” he asked.

“Oh I’m ready” she said “and you just better have your best basketball legs under you, because we’re going to dance!” He sensed her excitement as they lead the dancers out to the centre of the dance area. The music began and with perfect timing so did they. “You’re such a good teacher.” he said giving her a twirl.

“You’re such a good student” she replied. The smile on her face told him everything he needed to know.

The moment carried her thoughts away “We made it Peter, the store, the kids and the grandkids, thank you for loving me.” And thanks for George. He’s a good man and he can dance.

The crowd of dancer’s swrilled around them, the music captured the crowd and success was in the air.

The End