After listening to Obama’s speech last night, it made me begin to think about if I have been one of the people really affected by the current economic situation. As it turns out, I have. As I began to think back about starting Element One, I realize that the effects have been very progressive. I have decided to write my thoughts, long and boring as they may be.
I had it really good growing up, and I knew it. We moved around a little, but I pretty much always had my own room. In fact, for the most part we moved because we wanted to, not because we had to. I went on family vacations normally about twice a year. My parents were happily married, which was a very rare thing. Up until my late teen years, I never really went without not only the basic necessities, but had much more than I would ever need. I went to a private school from preschool all the way to the end of my freshman year of high school.
I began my sophomore year at Chatfield High School, a public high school. I loved it! I was able to take elective courses, such as photography and foreign language. After having 11 years of private schooling, I found public high school to be a breeze. I did not challenge my self and coasted through the next 3 years with ease. A few of my fellow students would ditch school often, not show up for tests, and ending up graduating with me. I really noticed on graduation day, as I saw those people collect their diploma, that there really was a lack of leadership, and responsibility in the public school system.
My parents, instilled in me a sense of responsibility in my late teen years that motivated me to put myself through college. I began working at a portrait studio when I was 17 and starting saving. I decided I wanted to see the world, and set out to do just that.
Only 2 months after graduation from high school I participated in a month long cultural immersion program in Rwanda. It had been only eight years since the genocide and there was still remnants of the war everywhere you would look, from bullet holes, to even body bags which were being filled still weekly, when gardeners would find them. The level of poverty that I saw while I was there was like nothing I had ever seen. I saw how much they live without, yet how they don’t even know it. The conditions of the hospitals there were unbelievable. You think we have a healthcare problem? It pales in comparison. There wasn’t even running water. They crammed as many people as they could in one room.
Over the next couple years, I put myself through college earning an associates in Theology. I attended school in Hungary for 3 semesters, and Mallorca for 1. This gave me the opportunity to travel to many warn torn, and communist effected countries.
I visited Kosovo only 2 years after the bombings and talked with many people still torn by deep prejudices. I visited a women who had a 1 room shack with nothing in it but half of a foam pad they would sleep on, and a small stove. No windows, no clothing, no water, no electricity, and no food. She had recently had twins and decided that if she was going to feed one of them, it might as well be the boy, since if he survives, maybe one day he can get a job and take care of the family. I spent time in Romania where there are so many abandoned babies due to the hold the church has over it’s women. They are not allowed (at least weren’t allowed when I was there) to use birth control. There are thousands of babies throughout Romania on the streets and crammed into hospitals. The Romanian government closed the door to any international adoptions in order to look good to the EU. It is saddening. We really don’t realize the freedoms we have. The fact that we don’t have orphanages sets us apart from the rest of the world.
While I was living in Hungary I got a phone call from my mom. My dad had admitted he had an addiction to prescription drugs. He had had several minor surgeries over the last few years and it had finally caught up with him. My dad had also lost his job. When I returned home everything was a mess. They had gotten into into some major credit card debt, and not to mention all of the medical expenses. After a couple of years of my parents struggling to make the mortgage, having a car repossessed, and my dad getting deeper into his addiction, they filed for bankruptcy.
I had never carried any kind of debt of my own. I would work for 4 months, go to school, work for 6 months, go to school and so on until graduation.
In November of 2006 I decided that I wanted to start a new life for myself. I had been working in the photography business for almost 5 years at that point, and saw much of what would be required of me if I decided to go out on my own. I was only 21 at the time. I started looking into what it would take. I used free marketing, such as myspace and an almost free website. Things were not looking very good for my family, and I wanted to make sure that I did something that would get me somewhere.
I officially opened the business on April 16, 2007. I was amazed at how fast the business took off. It was really exciting. I decided that I wanted to open up a studio. I had been driving around like crazy that summer, and needed a place people could come to to view their pictures, and a place we could shoot in bad weather.
I began trying to get a loan. With no luck. I had a great credit score, but no luck. I looked into organizations that were supposed to help women and people wanting to start a small business. I had no collateral. No one could help me. I started applying for credit cards, strangely every card I applied for accepted gladly. I was very careful to pick credit cards that had very low fixed interest rates, so I wouldn’t get stuck in the same position others had been in.
I wanted to buy a building, but definitely could not come up up with the down payment. I decided that I would lease a commercial building for the first 5 years. I decided that there would be no better time than now to go for it. I found a place in Downtown Littleton. It was perfect!
There was one problem, it was a trash pit. We had to do all new electrical, all new plumbing, restore the floors, build walls and on and on.
We got the keys at the beginning of September 2007. I am often unrealistic in my goals, so I decided I had to be open before the ever popular candlelit walk the day after thanksgiving. Only about 2 weeks after beginning the renovations, my dad’s years of prescription drug abuse caught up with him. His heart stopped suddenly for unknown reasons.
It was at this point I really began to see how badly we need reform in both healthcare, in the credit, and in social security. My dad did not have any kind of insurance for the last few years of his life. After being laid off, the cost to keep any kind of health insurance skyrocketed especially due to his medical history, he already filed for bankruptcy, no longer had a house, and definitely could not afford the outrageous premiums. He racked up thousands of dollars in hospital bills. If he ever had to go into the emergency room, even without insurance, he would go. This debt was a debt that neither he, my mom or his children could ever pay, so what happened to all that debt? It gets absorbed in the system, causing other people’s premiums to rise, and the cost of healthcare itself to be even higher. I believe that it is wrong to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions. If I now was to higher an employee who was older, and had a family, I would not be able to afford to give them the health insurance they needed.
Although the death of my dad was sudden and unexpected, it happened at a time when I could barely slow down, I was in the busiest time of the high school senior picture season, and had just taken on a remodel. I had no loans (because I couldn’t get any) and couldn’t just have life stand still. It was extremely difficult and expensive renovation, running into unexpected expenses left and right. Even though I was exceeding all of my goals, and making more than I ever thought I would, the expenses were more than I could have ever imagined. I put more and more expenses on the credit cards, and thank God, they kept raising my limits. I was able with the help of my friends and family, finish the studio and open up on the date that I wanted to, November 15, 2007.
It was a tough first year, but by the time summer came around things really picked up. I wanted to pay off as much debt as possible, so I did. I put into savings the amount that I would need to carry me through my normal slow time (February-May).
I heard everyone talking about the economy effecting them. I always would say, “Oh no, I am not seeing any problems here” because, well, I wasn’t. When November came around, and the stock market really fell, and not to mention all the talk in the media, I finally began to see the effects. Not just the effects of the actual recession itself, but the reaction of scared consumers. A lot of people had not really personally been effected, but decided they should be really careful and not spend any money. I found myself being the same way. I had all of this money in savings, why was I so worried?
It wasn’t until January that I started getting letters from all of my credit cards stating they were lowering my credit limit, or even cutting off the card completely. I had never been late on a payment, I had always paid more than my minimum. I checked my credit score, my credit score was still really good. What was the deal? Every time I would make a payment, they would lower my credit limit to whatever I got my balance to. I know longer had any free flowing credit. So what could I do? Get a loan? Doesn’t seem like that can happen in this lifetime.
It wasn’t until I got my statements at the beginning of February that I saw not one, but ALL of my interest rates raise significantly. I called each of them stating that I had signed up for fixed rates. They simply stated that in fine print on my last statement, they told me that they reserve the right at any time to raise my interest to whatever they want. My only option is to opt out by canceling the cards.
The problem is, when times get tough, a business often will need some form of a loan, or line of credit. Right now, all the lines of credit are dried up, and new loans have come to a halt. This is why so many businesses are shutting their doors. Many of these banks are getting handed money from the bailout, but I’ve only seen interest rates rise higher.
Everyone is afraid to spend, so no one is making money either. I have had very few shoots in the last couple months, and I believe that this largely has to do with the mindset that we cannot spend any money. If we do not spend money, businesses will not be able to pay their employees, jobs will be lost, and we will really continue in a downward spiral. So what can we do as small business owners?
To be honest, I don’t know. But what I will do is continue to advertise, keep putting in longer hours, get creative and try to find more ways to promote my business. I have cut as many costs as I can, but it is still never cutting enough. I am not going to give up even though the world seems to be against me, even though costs keep rising, and income keeps falling. I am a Republican. I believe that everyone has a right to succeed. I believe that if you work hard you should be rewarded.
On April 16th I will have made it over the 2 year hurdle, and am willing to face many more hurdles along the way. I don’t believe in taking handouts, but I will do whatever it takes to keep my employees, pay my rent, and work my way towards the American dream.