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It’s a Small Store

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It’s a Small Store

Adventures in tenant vetting December 9, 2022
Arts and Culture

Mike wanted to open a head shop in a building I own. The storefront was 650 square feet—not big enough for most retailers, at least by my Midwest “amber waves of grain” standards. The best tenant I ever had in there was a plumber who stored PVC pipe and ladders and never opened for business. Mike, 29, was going to sell tapestries, candles, and incense. He was also considering a cookie franchise at a mall.

What if my tenants upstairs—the people living in the apartments above the proposed head shop—smelled incense all day long? What if Mike put up signs in the store window like “vaping,” “smoke shop,” and “CBD”? Mike said that he had $10,200—a full year’s rent (at $850/month). And he wanted to rent the store, like, now.

“I need to check you out first,” I said. Mike had no criminal record and claimed he owned a condo on Lake Erie (though the unit was listed to somebody else), and he said he had $600,000 in the bank. Maybe. And maybe he did have the ten grand. I should have asked to see it. I called my adult children for advice. My older son said, “No way. You always talk about being classy with the stores.” My daughter was more laissez-faire. She said, “Hippies are harmless.”

Mike didn’t seem entirely harmless. He and I sat in the waiting room of a car-detailing shop, where Mike’s luxury SUV was getting spiffed up. I had a flashback to the actual hippie era, circa 1969, and a Columbia Records poster I had seen around my college dorm: “But The Man Can’t Bust Our Music.” Now I was The Man, Mike was The Man as well, and I didn’t see any hippies at the car-detailing place.

Bad vibes. I said no.

I got a call from a restaurant owner. I pointed out that the store was small. No problem, the man said. He said he owned two 500-square-foot restaurants in Brooklyn. (Five-hundred square feet is roughly the size of a two-car garage.)

“Where in Brooklyn?” I said.

“Fort Greene and Williamsburg. You know New York?”

“I know about Williamsburg. That’s where the hipsters live. That’s what I want if you open here—hipsters,” I said. (Down the street, I rent to a bike shop, Beat Cycles, named after the Beat Generation.) I said to the Brooklyn man, “I don’t want you open all night and be selling cigarettes, lottery tickets, and beer to derelicts.”

“Man, we want the hipsters, too.”

“What’s your name?”

“Ezzat, and my partner is Rizzi.”

“That’s a lot of Z’s. You should call your restaurant Z’s. What kind of food? Gyros? Falafel?”

“Tacos.”

“Tacos. Nice,” I said. But restaurants are such a hassle, with their vent hoods, grease traps, double sinks, extra dumpsters, and fire-suppression systems.

I didn’t hear from Ezzat again. I wasn’t devastated. Julie, a former health-care consultant, rented the store. Her husband, who co-signed, works at the Cleveland Clinic, which in this town is another way of saying “the check is good.” Julie is opening a “lifestyle gifts and furniture” store. I hope she isn’t selling couches. It’s a small store.

Photo by Steve Pfost/Newsday RM via Getty Images

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