I recently had to make a critical decision about my antiquarian bookselling business. The decision was critical because the consequences of the decision could mean the opportunity to grow my business or the misfortune of putting it in a vulnerable position.
About a month ago, I came across a small office space in the downtown/shopping district of my city. It was the perfect size for a business of one - 425 square feet. The location, near a couple of restaurants, antique shops, the main library, and another bookshop seemed perfect. Even more perfect was the inexpensive rent. Because the space was small, it was difficult to rent, so the asking price for the one-year lease seemed more than reasonable.
I went home to think it over. That's right. Home. I currently work out of my home, and I do not have a room dedicated solely to my books. The books are to be found in bookcases throughout my house. My "office" is in a corner of my dining room, and my dining room table serves as a worktable during the day and is cleared off so my family can use it as a dinner table at night. Renting the office space on a street full of shops might provide me the opportunity for people to sell me books, for me to sell books to more people than I currently reach, and for the rest of the trade to consider my business a credible one.
While I was taking a few days to consider whether my business currently produces enough money for me to consistently pay the rent on the office each month and buy new stock and participate in book fairs regularly, the American economy imploded. In addition to thinking about whether my own business could sustain the commitment to a monthly rent bill, now I had to think about whether I would still have customers who want to spend money on fine and rare books. Fine and rare books are wonderful, but they are a luxury item, and if one must choose between food and shelter or fine and rare books, only the truest of bibliophiles will choose the books. I wondered whether the economy would be bad for as long as the "professionals" were predicting.
If I moved my business out of my home to an office and my sales slumped, I would still owe monthly rent. Working at home, I can have a bad month or two or take a month off, because my overhead is very, very low. Additionally, if my sales are good, but not great, I would be able to pay the rent but unable to purchase new inventory. A bookseller who can't add new inventory on a regular basis stagnates and goes out of business. I don't want to be that bookseller.
I couldn't decide. Was the serendipitous find of this space an opportunity to grow my business or would it, like many other shops for many other sellers, be the siren song that lured me to business bankruptcy?
After talking it over with a couple of other booksellers I trust, I turned down the opportunity to rent a space at this time. I may pursue it in the future, but I decided that now just wasn't the right time. In light of the performance of the stock market and the rest of the economy the past few weeks, I think my decision was justified.