Hanging up the aprons

After over a quarter decade, my parents and aunt retired from the art supply business this week. It's hard to imagine them not going to the store full time, but at ages 80, 84, and 89, it seems amazing that this was their encore careers.

Kellen was newly born when we heard that my parents had gone into business with my aunt and her husband; they purchased Saylor Supply on Fourth Street in Downtown Long Beach and rebranded it Lyon Supply. They put quite a bit of work into getting the store ready; not only did they have to prepare the premises, they needed to enter into relationships with distributors for their inventory and figure out the whole retail side of the business. They worked long hours, found some floor employees, and dove in with all eight feet.

It took a while, but the store started to turn a profit and their reputation grew. They supplied kits for classes at some of the local schools and started to get into a good groove. At one point I checked their Yelp reviews, and several of them commented on the “two old ladies” in the store. More than once a customer asked if my aunt and mom were twins, and my aunt would reply, “You just made one friend and one enemy!”

The best word to describe the old store is “funky.” It was divided into three sections, each with a door opening to the street; if it weren't for the upstairs office area which spanned across all three sections, the building could have had held three separate businesses. The carpeting was a patchwork of remnants. Shelves were packed with inventory in two of the bays; the third bay was the frame shop in the front, stock and shipping in the back.

A confluence of events several years ago resulted in them selling the business to a small local chain. They moved across the street to a new location; the new store became Lyon Art Supply; the old building is now a music store with a café. The new building is more open, and the way things are arranged, it feels less cramped. There wasn't really room for the frame shop, however, so my dad has been framing at home.

So how did these four people come to own a retail business together? I was certainly surprised they entered into the venture; their backgrounds certainly didn't point towards the store.

My dad was a research chemist until he retired in the early 1980s. He specialized in pavement surfaces. Several of our vacation destinations centered around an installation he went to look at. With all that experience in the petroleum industry, who wouldn't have seen that he would enter a second career doing custom picture framing? Well, that's what he did. In fact, he still is; he's finishing up items which are still to be done, and may do framing on the side, especially since he has the equipment he needs at home.

The other entrepreneurs fell into spots which were more familiar to them. Before I was born, my mom handled the books for a bakery supply company, and it made sense that she did the same in the new business. My aunt was a medical librarian, having brought Memorial Hospital of Long Beach's library into the modern world with a large, roomy space; it was after she retired that most things went digital. She ran the register, where her people skills came in handy. My aunt's husband (I always called him “Bill,” so it seems strange to say he was my uncle) had started businesses before (when my aunt married him he had a testing lab with cool things like temperature chambers and shake tables) so he handled the “business” part of the business.

As far as I know, my parents don't have any plans for a third career. I do know, however, that if I'm not working full time until I'm almost 90, I'll feel like a slacker.