I have a recurring…

I have a recurring daydream. It makes no sense at this point in my life, for a multitude of reasons, and I do know that, so you don't have to tell me. But I keep thinking about it, wistfully. So I'm going to describe it here, and you can tell me how crazy it is, but also how lovely it would be, if only life were different. Okay? Maybe describing it will let me put it out of my head for a while.

It starts with me buying a house in Oak Park. Not a big house -- in fact, a house about the size we're living in right now. Maybe a tiny bit bigger. Right in this Arts District neighborhood, but ideally on Harrison Street, to get foot traffic. I'm not sure how much that would cost, but let's say $300,000. I don't, by the way, have an extra $300,000 lying around. That's the first reason not to do this. Neither do I have the money for property tax, or the money I'd need to buy supplies and inventory, or the business acumen to deal with what's to come -- but never mind, never mind. This isn't about the practicalities, since this would never happen. We're just dreaming here.

Odds are, it'll be a little beat up, but I'll have fun knocking down some walls on the first floor, opening it up a little. Making it beautiful, the way we are with our house. That first floor will have a tiny kitchenette, a sunny cafe area in the back, overlooking the backyard. The backyard will have a cuttings garden and a vegetable garden and a few more cafe tables. The rest of the first floor will have an ADA-compliant restroom (and hmm...that also means I probably need to figure out some way to install a small ramp in the front of the building), and a little store space. Not a ton -- just enough to sell coffee, chai, samosas, sweets, maybe a bit of soup and sandwich. Not a lot of selection -- one soup a day, perhaps, changing as the mood hits me. Two sandwiches -- one with meat, one without. Oh, and some fruit -- I so often want fruit in a cafe. Kevin would make sure the coffee was up to the highest standards. We might even serve a little wine and beer -- just a small selection of each.

The rest of the first floor would display and sell pretties. What kind of pretties? Whatever I felt like. So there would be a rack with some beautiful yarns and some basic crochet hooks and knitting needles. There would be a little lovely fabric, and maybe some pretty papers and cards. Hand-made items by local artisans. Inexpensive jewelry. Bookmarks and tea cozies. Favorite board games, like Settlers of Cataan. Flowering houseplants, and in season, some cut flowers for sale. There would be imported Sri Lankan decor all over the place, in hand-carved wood and stone. Elephants and peacocks and flowers. A riot of warm color in winter, and a serene cool escape in summer.

And then there are the upstairs rooms. First, they're lined with bookshelves, selling both new and used books. A small selection of new books, mostly used. And the only books you'll find there are books I've read and loved myself. Books I can personally recommend and go on about at length. There'll also be some art on the walls, by local artists, but again, only art I actually like. One room also has a large round table, with chairs to seat a dozen. That's the class room, and in the evenings and on weekends, we'll have knitting and crochet and other fiber arts classes -- and also writing classes, which occasionally, I'll teach. Maybe some board game sessions too. (Hmm...maybe two square tables that we can push together would be better.) A second room will have a few comfy armchairs, but also a lot of small chairs and other low seating. Plus quite a few secondhand toddler / pre-school toys. The books on the lower shelves there will all be kid books, and while we'll ask that you not take food upstairs, drinks are fine. There's one more room upstairs, but it's just a tiny, cozy reading room. One comfy chair, and a desk that faces the window. When someone else is minding the shop, I might come up there, close the door, and do some writing.

Twice a month, in the evenings, we'd have group folksinging / roundsinging, because yes, I am just that geeky. In the summer, out back, we'd clear away the tables and get a local fiddler and dance.

And that's it, my little dream of a cafe / bookstore / flower shop / arts center / writing studio / etc. and so on. I live in the perfect place for such a thing, but have neither the money nor the time to actually do it. Money could perhaps be found -- I gather banks like to give loans to small businesses. But my time is booked up for the foreseeable future. So it's going to stay a daydream for now. Also, because I'm pretty sure it would lose money, rather than make it. Oh, and I'd hire my friends to work here part-time, so that I'd have interesting people to chat with when business was slow and I didn't feel like writing.

(There's a version of this where the house is bigger, and the third floor has three bedrooms that I let out for a bed-and-breakfast. 'Cause if you're going to dream, why not dream big? :-)

It's never going to happen, but just for the record, I would call it Serendipity.

(That's also the name of my spaceship.)

11 thoughts on “I have a recurring…”

  1. I think it’s a lovely daydream. And perhaps very doable in a few years. You can teach yourself the business end (or hire someone- you certainly know enough people who could help you with that part) and get a small business loan to finance it…

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Now, Kristina, you’re supposed to scold me and tell me how I have no time for this sort of thing. Not enable my delusions by offering practical suggestions for making it happen! 🙂

    I’ll remind the commenters that even after the children are in school, I do already have a full-time job that I love, teaching and admin both, and several books that I would like to be writing. I can’t write all the time — it makes me crazy to try — but 10-20 hours a week is about right, I think. It makes me equally crazy when I don’t get to write.

    I think the only way this project could possibly work would be if I had a partner who actually ran the place and did all the hard work (crunching numbers, manning the register, etc.). I think I could then handle the fun part — designing the space, buying stock for it, setting up fun programming, hanging out with the clientele, etc. 🙂 Maybe Kavi will grow up to want to run a small business?

    Ooh — just thought of another cool idea — showing old sci-fi movies and romantic comedies in the back garden on summer evenings…

  3. I’d come visit, that’s for sure.

    I have a daydream, too, but it involves a renovated barn in Indiana to house writer retreats.

    This is after the other daydream, the one in which I publish a book.

  4. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Ooh, I like the renovated barn one. Saw some amazing decor photos recently, of a house in a barn, where they left part of the hayloft as a walkway around a central opening, so that the main floor had a double-height ceiling. Not sure I’m explaining this well, but it was way cool. Also, writing retreats, way cool.

    The book publishing one is actually going to happen, so I’m not sure it counts. 🙂

  5. I haven’t thought about it in great detail, but one problem seems like that it doesn’t sound like it would make money. In which case: Is it something you need to do while you’re young, or can you make it your retirement daydream? “When I’m old and have saved up a million dollars, here’s what I’m going to spend it on…”

  6. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Heh. That sounds about right, although the odds of my saving up a million dollars is pretty slim, considering we first have to save enough to put the kids through college, which I gather is going to cost about a million dollars by the time they get there…

  7. Well, I did say you could hire someone or get someone you know to handle the business end of it. 😉

    You are still young and who knows what will be possible in 5, 10, 20 years? This isn’t a crazy dream at all, really.

    With a business loan, you wouldn’t have to put up a million dollars of your own money. Plus, if you did something like offer writing/crafting classes, perhaps you could qualify for some grant money…

    Oh dear, I am afraid I’m horrible at squashing dreams. 😉

  8. Lovely. It’s my favorite daydream too, except that in the hippie college town we live in, there are several similar establishments. Ah well, it gives me license to dream.

    I was taken aback by your name choice though–what, I initially thought: like the hokey tea shop in New York or that twee movie with whatstheirnames? But no. Of course, it’s beautiful reference to the land of your birth! May I suggest the older version “Serendib?” It has the advantage of losing the unfortunate string of letters that spells “pity,” while moving closer to the Sanskrit version with the recognizable “dib” (dvipa–island).

    Go for it, Mary Anne.

  9. Instead of making the top floor for bed and breakfast – you live there! Then is would be doable when the kids are off to college. You can write 10-20 hours in your cozy reading room. In fact, why not have an odlfashioned, somehwat steampunky – writers room while your at it!

  10. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Maya, I already have a Serendib Press. 🙂 But maybe you’re right, and I should just go with it. Serendib everything!

    Oak Park does already have a nice cafe with a room for knitters to hang out in, but it’s not quite as multi-purpose as what I have in mind — no classes, for example. I think what I’d like is to teach beginner everything cheaply, like a community arts center, and then send them to specialty places for more advanced classes if they’re interested.

    Andrea, if I still have any energy left in 20 years when the kids go off to college, I’ll definitely think about it. 🙂 I’ll be about 60 then — I know some people are going strong at that point, and for decades afterward, but I’m tired already, so I don’t want to count on it. Although I think exercising more now would probably help.

  11. So cool 🙂 And all the best wishes that this dream might come true one day! I know of two women who had similar dreams who are making it happen – Kavita who runs an upscale Indian restaurant in South Beach called Ishq, opened it after their retirement; Also Michelle who runs a cafe called Map Room in St. Louis – basically bought an old meat processing house, completely renovated it, has a cafe on the first floor and lives on the second. They have an international theme for every day of the week, play movies in the courtyard in the summer, & the place is filled with books! So yeah, I could totally see you open Serendipity! And I will totally stop by to say hello 🙂

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