It was a chilly September day and Matt and I had come to Schenectady to have lunch at The Mello Joy Café, the only place around that serves real Cajun food. (Most NY restaurants just slather too much hot sauce on everything and call it Cajun.) The food is great, the staff is friendly and the music - well, anyone who doesn't love Cajun music and Dixieland jazz is too whitebread to bother with. The only downside is it's open somewhat randomly, and on this particular day it was closed for some reason or other. So we headed for Lyle's, where large subs were only three bucks. First we stopped at Orion's, a head shop that also sells cigars, where I bought a fistful of stogies.
After lunch, as I backed out of my parking space, Matt started laughing and pointed to a crude sign over a new store next to Lyle's. It read "Smoke-N-Fish Cigar-N-Bait Shop." I pulled back into the parking space - we had to see this.
One wall was lined with glass cases that had once held beer and soda. These were being used as crude humidors, and were filled with various brands of cigars. The opposite wall was lined with large plastic tubs. They were filled with water and had some aquarium-type apparatus attached, but contained no bait. The proprietor told us the bait was arriving next week. Somehow he thought it would be a great idea to open a bait store just about the time most fishermen put away their tackle.
He had a modest, but decent selection of cigars. One of my favorite inexpensive cigars was on display, priced at $3.50. I had bought a couple the week before for $1.50 at Edleez, the oldest and most respected tobacconist in the area. The proprietor started a conversation, asking what I liked, and as he desperately pressed for me to buy something. I told him I had just spent my weekly allotment for cigars at Orion. "That's a good place," he said "not like Edleez. They really rip you off there." He continued ranking on Edleez, breaking one of the first rules of business: don't bad-mouth your competitors, especially when they're better than you in every conceivable way. He handed me a flyer with cigars listed on one side and various baits listed on the other. The effect was an unintentional paring: Arturo Fuente - Minnows. Partagas - Canadian Crawlers. H. Upman - Crayfish." It was getting harder and harder to hold back the laughter. Matt looked like he was about to explode.
On the way out the owner started pleading with me. "Didn't you see anything you like?" I answered "Yes, but I've spent my cigar money for this week." That was true. "Maybe I'll come back next week." That was a lie. He sounded desperate. "I need you to buy something now," he said, trying to make it sound like a joke, but failing miserably.
I think he lasted a few months. The last time I checked there was some whole-earth something-or-other in the spot and it didn't look like it was doing too well either.
Opening a bait and cigar store far away from any river or lake just as the fishing season and the cigar boom are ending was not the worst business idea I've seen. That honor goes to Euphorious Tubers, a Potato Chip Store that opened on Caroline Street in Saratoga. It featured fifty different kinds of potato chips, made fresh on the premises, and lasted almost two months before shutting down. In the meantime, it provided significant laughs for the people who walked past it, but never into it.
Everyone who starts a business thinks they've got a great idea. That's what I thought in 1994 when when I borrowed some money and opened Electric Avenue, a multi-line subscription BBS. I knew the Internet was on its way, and was confident that people would go to the Internet for global stuff and to local BBSs for the camaraderie. The business grew to 21 lines and became a community of a couple hundred people. It resulted in a lot of friendships, a couple of divorces, at least one marriage and a lot of people getting laid before the Internet came on full steam and kicked it into oblivion. I don't think it was as bad an idea as Smoke-N-Fish or Euphorious Tubers, but I know some nay saysers put it in the same category. It really doesn't matter. Goofy or not, it's just as dead as those other businesses. Meanwhile, Mello Joy, Orion's, Lyle's and Edleez are still open and doing well.
I've almost finished paying off the bills from Electric Avenue. When I do, I'll be ready to start another business. I'm thinking of a store that repairs computer mice and keyboards. For just $50, we'll make your mouse or keyboard as good as new. I'm looking for investors. Interested?
Let's design web sites for the Amish!
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