In November my husband and I packed up our bags and moved to Philadelphia. It has been the best decision we have made and I'm so excited for our new life here. There have been many things that have happened along the way that have led to this point and I wanted to share some of that with you at the start of the new year. As I re-read everything I've written here, I know it might seem sad or downtrodden. I keep thinking of ways to make it sound more uplifting, but these things happened and despite all that, we pushed on and have landed where we are now, on two feet, ready and excited for what's next, because it's only going to get better from here on in. Social media and websites makes running a business look like a piece of cake, but for every beautiful instagram picture, there are a dozen hurdles leapt.
I have been a New Englander my whole life and lived in Boston for twelve years. Over the past few years I found myself growing tired of Boston, but only because I realized we couldn't fulfill our dream there.
Boston is partially water-locked. That combined with the city's boundaries have stagnated any city growth. Boston is surrounded by other towns - Brookline, Newton, Cambridge, to name a few. Both Boston and these towns have strict zoning laws that prohibit most types of high density housing. And by high density, I don't mean 20 story apartment buildings, I mean simple 4 story apartment buildings - there are major road blocks to get things like this built. If new buildings do get built they are "luxury condominiums". Prices everywhere are skyrocketing. It's disturbing that one can look on craigslist and see rental listings for "luxury apartments in the hot exclusive Dorchester market". The terminology that has been coined to simultaneously exclude and entice for the "revitalization" of previously low income neighborhoods frankly makes me sick. How can you make a community if you are excluding people from it? Instead of the city making itself and neighboring towns expand upwards and change zoning laws, it seems we are in an endless cycle of pushing low to middle income families out of their homes. Though I acknowledge that affordable high density housing won't solve this problem entirely, at least it's a place to start.
After saving for a few years, at the end of 2015 we felt we were finally in a position to buy. We lived in our last apartment for seven years. When we moved there, a 2 bedroom condo in our neighborhood would sell for between $280-310K. Today, these same condos are selling for between $420-750K. Ask anyone trying to buy a home in Boston, it's almost impossible. People are waiving their home inspections and there are a ridiculous number of all cash offers. I would never waive my home inspection and I don't have that much money. After house hunting for a while and putting an offer in on a single family on the edge of Roslindale/Dedham (which obviously we didn't get, it went $60K over asking) we decided that was it.
Simultaneously, I was also trying to figure out what to do with my business. I really wanted to open a store, but I really wanted a studio attached to the store, I wanted everything under one roof. I wanted the garments I made to be sold in the same place as they were sewn and I had received such a positive response from the Beacon Hill pop up. I looked at about 6 different commercials rentals in Boston. Some of them could have worked, but as it is with the residential housing market, it is also true to for commercial rentals. The inventory of commercial listings is limited, zoning is difficult to change if the current use is changing, and the landlords want an insane amount of rent that you wonder how your business might ever make a profit instead of going into debt. My heart was broken many times, but the last one was the final straw. The property was at the intersection of Shawmut and Milford Street, previously another wonderful shop that sadly closed it's doors - the property had recently been sold to a new owner. The space was beautiful and would have been a perfect fit, about 500 sq ft on the ground floor and a finished basement with about 450 sq ft. The asking rent was $7000 a month and they wanted a 5 or 10 year lease. I put together a business plan with numbers, etc. and tried to offer $5800 which would increase annually. They decided I was not right fit as they wanted to see if they could get an amount closer to the $7k. I have no idea how any small shop could ever pay that much for such a small space, it's impossible. It was a in a very residential neighborhood with some good restaurants, but it was not a commercial area where foot traffic would abound. To my knowledge the for rent sign was still in the window when I walked by in mid November. I have thought so long and so hard about all of this. It seems you have to either A. be a millionaire, B. have many investors, or C. just know the right people to open a store in Boston. Even then, to have your business continue, it eventually has to make a profit, and I don't see with that kind of overhead how it can ever be sustainable.
So in short, from a long term perspective, Boston couldn't let us realize what we wanted. But unfortunately as we realized this, there were other things holding us back from making a big change. We dealt with an onslaught of medical issues - it is extremely hard to be young people with medical issues. (Not that it's easy being old with medical issues, but I imagine it becomes more socially comfortable to talk about your medication dosages and issues as more and more your peers are dealing with the same things). It makes you grow up faster, but it gives you a certain kind of disconnect with the world around you, your priorities change. My husband dealt with an auto immune disease that lasted almost one year to the day and is now in remission. It made him very physically uncomfortable everyday. One and half months before we moved, it completely went away, we have no idea why. I had a breast lump removed, an anxiety ridden saga that lasted about 2 months until it was removed and found benign (phew!).
I've also continued to battle my Uveitis this year, which had been in remission for about 3 years. I have Punctate Inner Choroidopathy, a rare form of Uveitis. It creates inflammation and tissue damage in the back of the retina in your eyes. This can cause vision loss, blurring, and distortion. My left eye became active again in August and new blind spots started to form. While I have tried auto immune therapies, the only thing so far that seems to help me is long courses of prednisone. There have been periods where I will be on it for months to a year. I've had two month long courses in the fall and I'll be starting another in a few days. While the prednisone helps my eyes, I hate the side effects. I usually gain 10 lbs, my face gets puffy, I feel like the fat in my body gets redistributed in weird places, heart burn and general stomach upset, and hair growth. I don't like having to choose between my vision and feeling like this.
BUT you know what? We moved! My husband's health has improved a lot. And as I kept telling myself after the lump was removed "Hey, I don't have cancer! I can do anything and won't let anything hold me back!" All of these things are true, and despite the things we still deal with, like my eyes, I'm going to keep going. My husband has gotten a wonderful job at UPenn helping with HIV and malaria research and he really likes it, I'm very proud of him. Philadelphia is awesome, the food is amazing, I can buy a delicious banh mi hoagie for $4, and overall, we are so much more financially comfortable. And guess what? I just signed a lease for a store front! Here it is!
And it's the best space I've looked at so far (in Boston and Philly), I can have my studio in the back, it's very big, has awesome front windows, and it's going to have my dream white washed wooden floor! I put every ounce of my soul into what I do, and sometime my husband's too, and I work so insanely hard. I hope this space will be amazing and I hope you will love it, I can't wait to share it with you, it's been a long time coming.
I LOVE when I forget about something I love for a long time and then rediscover it - it's awesome! I first (maybe? or earlier?) found out about Gogol Bordello after watching Everything is Illuminated.
Other things I've been enjoying recently:
- The new Dirk Gently Holistic Detective Agency on BBC America
- Eating lots of good new food in Philly
- Being near some of our best friends here!