Stress Level, Small Business Owner

Late last week I received a photo via text message of the bathroom in my cafe. The bathroom had been vandalized, and the caption on the text read, “this just happened”. Someone was either eerily tall, or standing on the toilet, had written an illegible and unsightly tag with permanent marker on the bathroom wall. This text message was the start to my day.

Two days later I woke up expecting to enjoy my second Saturday off in more than fourteen months. Within the hour, I receive a text from my manager asking that I call her. She wanted me to approve a last minute schedule change. I would have been fine with the change regardless, but the notion of a work-free day was instantly tainted by this work-related discussion. Work was on my mind.

The following day, Sunday, while summing the weekend deposits, I encountered a suspect hundred dollar bill. It was a 1988, the last year before the Benjamins started getting fancy with security features.

Monday at the bank the teller pulls the hundred. It’s fake. It’s confiscated. It’s lost. Bye $100. Bye money.

I continue to the cafe. Having not yet eaten, I throw a ham and cheese croissant in the convection oven and reach for the timer–broken, for the umpteenth time.

Coffee, I need coffee. With my thoughts on the hundred, the broken timer, the vandalized bathroom, I select a coffee to brew and start pouring whole coffee beans on the scale.

The scale fails to register the coffee beans. Typically when this happens the scale initiates at around one tenth of a pound, but I keep pouring. I hit the tare button and the problem is temporarily fixed, but I wonder how much coffee we have given away. Our previous scale worked perfectly, but it suddenly stopped working a couple months prior.

I take a look at our cold case and realize that the stock of one our key products is dwindling. It has been since the previous Friday. The vendor has an issue and might need to close his business, which will affect my business. The issue has been festering for months and seems to have finally reached its precipice. Bye bye product.

At some point during the day I went to use the bathroom, the same one with the vandalized walls, and noticed that the door handles were loose. This seemed to be happening weekly.

Either that day or the day before, my “check engine light” had turned on, only one week after fixing my tire gauge warning light, which for months had been turning on and off repeatedly.

At home I try to distract myself on the computer with a mix of work and escape, and my laptop dies. It’s the battery, which hadn’t held a charge for months but the laptop could still function if plugged in. No longer. No computer. Bye bye.

Tuesday is a new day, but only if Monday’s were my only problems.

Sales are down from the previous year. It’s not just my shop–several business owners in the neighborhood have shared similar or worse sales comparisons. We all work in food, in retail, and we have each had a competing store in our respective niches open near us in the previous twelve months. But as objectively as I can say, all of our businesses have since improved. Something is amiss. People are broke, they are being pushed out of the area by high rents and revolving six-month leases. More people are buying Keurig capsules than they are coffee beans. I have no idea what’s caused the decline, but it’s stressful. Either I did something or I didn’t. I have control or I don’t. Perhaps I just need to focus on my business.

So I focus, or I try, but I’m constantly facing personnel challenges. Constantly. Amidst the broken equipment, the non-customers who steal from me, vandalize me, insult me, and unmet sales goals, I constantly face personnel challenges, but I won’t get into details (I won’t get into details, but personnel issues might be the biggest, most stressful, most psychologically draining challenge I discuss).

Then there is family…I have a wife and a two-year old…

and my health…I’m nearly two years out from cancer treatment and the thought of recurrence is constantly brought to my attention by quarterly oncology check-ups and scans.

I own a cafe, and in the last fifteen months I’ve encountered more than I can imagine. An attempted break-in, during which the frame to our aluminium bronze encased glass doors was destroyed. I’ve been locked out of the cash register for hours at a time. Our Internet has gone out, as has our electricity. The espresso grinder has stopped grinding. The espresso machine has shut down. Breakers have tripped. The ice machine has momentarily gone to sleep (this shouldn’t happen) and the door on it completely fallen off. The milk fridge has repeatedly leaked. The display refrigerator that showcases our cakes has flooded. The main fridge has stopped cooling. The scale has died. The hand sink has leaked and needed plumbing. As has the three compartment sink, and the bathroom sink, and the espresso drain. The timer has broken more times than I can count. The oven gasket is currently torn. The neon open sign has  never stopped working but its switch has. The toilet seat lid has come off, as has the entire toilet seat. The modem has broken, as has the router, and the office telephone. Our coffee servers have leaked in various places.

Tills have been short. Milk has been rotten. Customers have been enraged. Staff have broken down. Ants have tormented us. And Starbucks has opened across the street.

This isn’t a positive bit of information, but I’m a positive soul. All I can say is that I’ve remedied all of the above on my own and I feel good about it. But I continue to encounter new problems while repeating the old. I do my best to maintain our equipment, but we have so much, and it’s difficult for me to maintain when I know so little, have limited time, and have no clue what will break next. Sometimes I take bets by myself. I wonder, what else could go amiss and if I’ll be prepared.

For months I received late night false alarm calls from our security provider. The alarm was accidentally being tripped by one of our vendors. Eventually a pattern arose, I lost too many nights sleep and complained enough that the vendor finally learned the alarm system. In hindsight, I helped to resolve the problem, even though it took months.

Eventually I will learn to treat my stress as one of these problems. I’ll start to exercise more, to take better care of myself, and to find balance. It might take me years, but I’ll figure it out.

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About Emerging Environments

Thoughts about environmental policy, sustainability, cancer, and more.
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One Response to Stress Level, Small Business Owner

  1. Pingback: The Grass is Always Greener, Part I | Emerging Environments

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