Monday, October 4, 2010

Chapter 10 - What's A Girl Gotta Do To Get A Dollar?

Early last week Chip, Dennis and I flew up to the property to button up for the winter. We were told that the NCA meeting was going to be on Thursday afternoon. Just in case we didn't get the last bit of funding we needed, we wanted to make sure the property could handle the cold without sacrificing another well pump to the winter gods. The weather was not so great, but it was nice to get out of the Florida heat for a few days.

Monday was a throw-away travel day. Got into Plattsburgh at around 7pm (our flight was late due to the weather). Thankfully, Dolores from Priceless Rent-A-Car was there to meet us. They're our new favorite rental car company. On Tuesday, we drove into Ticonderoga, then through Crown Point, Port Henry and Moriah. We had to stop to get apple cider and apple cider donuts, of course. I think it's mandatory. Dinner Tuesday was a birthday celebration with the family.  Great food, great company AND birthday cake. Can't go wrong!

Wednesday, we took a Sunday drive. All around Keene, Keene Valley, Jay, Wilmington, Lake Placid and up Veterans Memorial Highway. Although it was overcast, rainy and cold, we spent the $22 to drive to the top of Whiteface in zero visibility. What a great experience that was! We stopped at a couple of lookouts along the way and the mist had a great effect on the view. Gave it a completely different look and feel than full on sun, very pleasant change. The stone stairs were closed to take you to the top of the mountain, too slippery in that weather. I've been down those stairs in good weather and had a little trouble. But that's just me (graceful ballerina, I am not). I can imagine that they're slick as ____ (fill in your own colorful adjective here) in the rain.

Up the elevator we went, into the castle and out onto the rocks. Little nippy up there. I didn't venture out as far as Chip and Dennis until Chip told me to go out onto the deck. Standing back in the middle of the rocks the wind was blowing, but not unbearably hard. Once I got out near the edge of the deck, the wind was swirling, whirling and rushing up so hard that I bet it could have held me up if I leaned over the edge. Note: This is not an experiment I would actually try. I had had enough and headed back to the elevator after that.

Dinner was in Schroon Lake, then Thursday we took care of the water lines and well pump, prepped for our next visit. Nice trip--short and sweet. No campfires and marshmallows this time. Too wet. No sunshine and lollipops either. NCA turned our funding application down.

Sheesh! What's a girl gotta do to get a dollar?

Don't answer that.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chapter 9 - *&^%$#@!

The Telephone Call

(ring, ring)
Me:  "Hello, is this Square One?"
Square One:  "Yes, this is Square One."
Me: "I just wanted to let you know we'd be dropping back by for a visit."
Square One: "Oh--Should we make up the bed in the guest room?"
Me:  "No, there's no need for that.  We won't be staying long."
Square One: "Do you need directions on how to get here?"
Me: "No, we were just there a few months ago. We remember how to get there."

In case you haven't guessed, the AEDC funding didn't exactly go as planned.  I think they love us, they really do.  But the well is dry.  They don't have the amount of funds in the pot that we need.  So, we're back to Square One.  We haven't lost hope.  Don't think that.

I'm just really tired of Square One.  The decor there is dreadful, mid-80's mauve and it's just so, well, square.  That's what I get for asking for a verdict on Friday the 13th.  Monday, we're going to work on another option.  Plugging away.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Chapter 8 - Stressful Trip, was the outcome worth it?

Hell YES!

Driving 24 Hours Straight Never Gets Old (I’m lying).

The July Board Meeting of the Essex County Industrial Development Agency was on Tuesday, July 20th. Standard practice is for the applicants to make a brief presentation at the meeting. We left for New York after work on Friday, July 16th and drove straight through, rotating drivers every couple hours. Those that weren’t driving were sawing some serious logs in the back seat. Very sorry we don’t have video.

We arrived at the property on Saturday night around 11:30 and thought we would try to get the well started after being gone all winter. As Dennis was pouring the water into the pump to prime it, it began gushing out from a big crack in the case. All the safeguards we took before we left were for nothing, it froze anyway. So, that meant we were buying a new pump in the morning. Can we say “unexpected cost”, boys and girls?

We got up in the morning, piled in the car and headed to Lowe’s in Ticonderoga. We said hello to our favorite Lowe’s employee, Erin Burke (the best commercial sales rep EVER) and picked out a good pump from the plumbing department.

After getting the pump installed, Dennis spent the day getting the well working. Chip, Renae and I spent the day moving tires out off the front of the property. The day was long and we were sweaty, but at least we could take a hot shower.

Monday morning, Carol Calabrese stopped by the property for a site inspection. We passed with flying colors. That afternoon we had pictures printed for handouts at the meeting. While Chip was making dinner that night, Dennis, Renae and I pasted the pictures into a notebook to hand out for each Board member. Another project I wish we had video of.

Our time slot at the meeting was 9:20, one of the first of the day. We did our presentation, answered questions and waited anxiously for Carol’s phone call to give us the decision. Thankfully it was a yes!

We are very grateful to the Essex County IDA Board, Carol Calabrese and Karen Stehlin for helping to make our dream a reality. The next step is approval for the construction portion of the loan from the Adirondack Economic Development Corporation. August 10th is their meeting.

Wish us luck!

After getting the good news, we were able to relax a little bit. We spent the rest of our time gorging ourselves on ice cream, swimming in the river (brrr!), chilling by the camp fire, and roasting marshmallows which reminded us why we love this place so much.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chapter 7 - Tire Debacle and Funding Hide 'n Seek

Whoever Said This Would Be Easy?

After the gents came home, we worked steadily on getting funding. As a last resort, we decided that we would try applying through the Essex County Industrial Development Agency. They specialize in offering funding to businesses when they cannot get funding through traditional sources.

The application itself is only six pages, but the supporting documentation killed several trees. The business plan alone was about 20 pages. We drafted and researched and drafted some more through the holidays. The process was coming along quite nicely.

And then…disaster struck on December 27. Chip got three phone calls within minutes of each other telling us that the dumpster company had finally come to pick up the last of the scrap metal and in the process, dumped two loads of tires at the front of our property. Holy cow, they’re back. The tires were back. After days of getting those suckers in dumpsters, they brought them back. We didn’t understand why 1) they took so long to collect the last dumpster for credit and 2) why they didn’t credit the metal to our balance before deciding we owed them money and returning the tires.

We tried on our own and through our lawyer to resolve the issue with absolutely no response. At this point, we’ve decided to just let it go. It’s frustrating that they undid days of work and took our scrap metal, but we’re experts at taking lemons and making lemonade. This project has taught us valuable lessons and we’re chalking it all up to experience.

On April 29th, we submitted our application package to Carol Calabrese at IDA. She asked that Karen Stehlin with the North Country Small Business Development Center review it and offer her input. We revised it based on Karen’s observations and submitted the final in late May, too late to make the June board meeting cut off. But we made the July meeting…

Details to follow in the next post.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Chapter 6 - Let's Get Down to Business

The Tires Won’t Jump Into the Dumpster on their Own.

When Chip came up the first time in June, he talked to a scrap metal company that also happened to take tires for free. That was an excellent deal because we had a lot of tires and propane tanks to get rid of.

When we came back in August, now they told us that it would cost $2.00 per tire. Still a deal at $2.00, we had them drop a few dumpsters off for us to start filling. It took them several days to finally get the dumpsters there, and it was a constant struggle always with some excuse: the driver lost our address, the driver dropped the dumpster somewhere else (??). This really should have been our first clue to run away from this company. Mistake #1.

They took two dumpsters of tires away and two dumpsters of scrap metal in early September. We still had two scrap metal dumpsters that were ready to be picked up. Scrap metal = a credit, tires = a debit. We got a bill before the last two scrap metal dumpsters were credited. This bill over-charged us for twice as many tires as they took away and charged us a higher price per tire than what they quoted. We knew we still had credit for two more scrap metal dumpsters coming, so we were waiting for a final tally. Mistake #2.

We chugged along, completing the other trash removal, painting, and roof installation, finishing up in late October. Chip, Dennis, and Kyle (Dennis’s son) came home to FL a few weeks after seeing the first snowfall of the season.

The tire saga continues in the next post.

Chapter 5 - When the Going Gets Tough and the Tough Can't Go

It All Comes Back to #2.

Power? Check.

Water? Check.

Operational Septic System? Not so much.

We’re a hardy group. We can tough out limited power and water supply, but when the septic system started to act up (which we knew it eventually would), that was the last straw. After working hard all day, you need some basic comforts. You know what I mean.

That’s when we decided that it would be better to just rent a house until the big cabin was ready to live in. We called the realtor we bought the property from and told him we needed a house to rent…now. No, really, now. Not next week, tomorrow at the very latest. I don’t think you understand. Can we drop by your office and use your bathroom? That was probably what did it...well, that and relentless phone calls.

We stayed the night at a motel down the road and moved into the rental the next day. It had two lovely, beautiful, perfectly functional bathrooms. I think we all cried a little bit. During this tense time, we discovered that when you can't go, all conversations eventually end up circling back to nature's call. As we are now fond of saying "It all comes back to poop." We can laugh about it now, but at that time, laughing was not recommended.

For the record, nothing has gone according to plan so far.

Chapter 4 - It's Officially Official

Now what?

Now that we closed and it’s officially ours, we’re ready for Trip Three. We’re going to work on it until we’ve exhausted ourselves and our funds. We’ve got a project plan. Plan the work, work the plan. Fail to plan, plan to fail and all that motivational jazz. Rah! Rah! Go Team!

Our convoy trucked up to New York, armed with power tools and a gung-ho attitude. We got to the property and the first items on the agenda are to get power and water. Easy right? We could see that the well pump is cracked from freezing, we’ll just replace that. And we’ll just call the power company and get them to come out and turn the power on. Flip a switch, turn on the juice. But no. Because the power had been off for more than a year, we needed a safety inspection first.

With a 4 year old phone book and no internet connection, finding an inspector proved to be more challenging than we thought. About a week into the project (well off the timeline, I might add), finally we got an appointment with an inspector that actually showed up. He told us we needed about $1000 worth of work before he’d approve us. So, we gave him his $80 inspection fee and sent him on his merry way.

Then along came Don, our neighbor from a few houses down. He offered us a well pump and tank for a heck of a deal and he hooked us up with an electrical inspector that was a few towns away. Although it turned out that we needed to have a new well point driven, the pump and tank worked like a charm. But the electrical inspector, Tony Morette, turned out to be the true gem. He showed up on time and told us to correct a few minor things and gave us an approval quickly. The power company showed up at 9pm that night to hook us up. Finally!

We had the new well point driven a few days later, at twice the cost that was quoted. Gotta love it. At this point, we can only go with the flow and take everything as it comes.

Plan? What plan?

Chapter 3 - Initial Clean Up/Bail Out

Please don't let the "stuff" crush us.

At one point the accumulation of “stuff” on the property got to be so great it started to encroach on the edge of the road. The town cited the previous owner frequently, and after he left, they cited the bank that took it over. Before the bank put it on the market, they removed at least 30 cars from the property. Even so, the town wanted the inside of the property cleaned out, as well.

Because we saw so much value in the contents, we offered to clean it up before we closed on the property under the condition that we could keep anything we removed. Everyone was in agreement, so in June 2009, Chip and his helper drove up to NY and started sifting through it all, separating the good from the bad. It was a two week process just to get it to the point where you could walk from room to room without fear of an avalanche.

After they returned, saving excellent treasures from certain death, we closed on the property in early August and clean-up began in earnest on Trip Two.

Chapter 2 - Definitely Crazy.

The Scouting Trip (alternate title--Cramped and Cranky)

Must hurry, must hurry, must HURRY! DH was afraid to let this opportunity slip through our fingers, although we have 60 of them. Fingers, that is.

Because the price was good and the location was good, we needed to get up there now, or risk losing out. So, we decide that driving up was the only reasonably economical option. It’s a 24 hour drive if you don’t stop to pee or eat. We chose to do both, therefore the trip was extended to about 30 hours.

The “we” that went was me, my DH (dearest husband), my DM (dearest mother) and my DBG (dearest brother’s girlfriend). My DM lives about 2 hours north of us, so we picked her up on our way.

And there we were, piled into the trusty Element at 9pm on a Friday night, all gung ho to get there. Little did we know just how much harder that drive would be starting it after a full day of work. We were just starting out at about the time that we should have been going to bed. It would also become painfully clear that the backseat of the Element is hard as a rock. Being the owner, I don’t spend a lot of time back there, but I did on this trip and it wasn’t pleasant. Let this be my plea to Honda to do something about it.

After a few stops at Cracker Barrel and KFC to soothe the backseat beast, we arrived in Lake George at around 10:30pm on Saturday night, looking for something to eat. A pizzeria was still lit up on the main drag and it was delicious. Don’t remember the name, I was too tired.

We had reservations at some cottages in Schroon Lake to get us through the night, the rooms were fine. It was a place to sleep, which we needed desperately. A good night’s sleep did us a world of good and we woke up on Sunday morning refreshed. Got some breakfast and headed to the property just a few short miles away.

The property was unmistakable. We had pictures, and unfortunately, the pictures didn’t lie. We went into the first cabin, the biggest one, and it wasn’t so bad. There was garbage in there, and it was clear that it had been raided for scrap metal, but not really bad. It went downhill from there. In some cabins, the “stuff” was stacked over our heads. I can’t say it was garbage, it was just lots and lots of stuff. Chairs, tables, Chinese checkers…

And there were tires and propane tanks by the hundreds. I think they multiplied like rabbits. At any rate, we still saw potential in the property and there was some interesting, saleable items among the piles. We didn’t really need to deliberate much, so we picked up the phone and made an offer. And we waited for the realtor to call back, setting a deadline of about 6pm, because we needed to start the long drive back.

At 5:59, the phone rings and the realtor is happy to take a verbal offer over the phone, which we did. We didn’t hear back on the offer for what seemed like months, but in reality it was only days. In the end, they accepted our offer with a little bit of a bump up, and we were on our way!

Scared to death and a little nauseous.

To be continued…

Chapter 1 - Crazy?

Our family’s mission is to create good food and not freeze to death. The End.

When the stock market started its death spiral and took half of our retirement fund with it, we decided that things needed to change. Sure, we could plug along working for the big, corporate machine for limited return, but isn’t there something better out there? Why, yes there is, Billy…self-employment with little or no job security. Now, doesn’t that sound grand? And so, here we are, just a few months later, saying “Why let a stranger gamble away our future when we can do a fine job of it ourselves?”

After making the decision to strike out on our own, there were many stops and starts. But what it boiled down to was finding a business in upstate New York that could sustain our family. At this point I should mention that although most of us were born, and in some cases raised in the Northeast, we have lived in Florida for a very long time. This is where the concern about freezing to death comes in.

Day after day, DH looked for business opportunities and we even thought we found a good opportunity in Wilmington, NY. We spent several months developing a business plan only to come to the conclusion that it was too big for our britches. It couldn’t be done without hiring staff and a huge mortgage. It just seemed like we were getting in way over our heads.

We abandoned that ship and started investigating camp grounds. A lot less staff required, something definitely manageable by a small family, usually owner financed. Yahoo! Sounded like this was it! I was excited and came home one day with big plans for this campground, big, big plans. No sooner did I get the word “campground” out of my mouth and DH says, “No campground, I’ve moved on to something else.” Good golly, I can’t keep up!

He had found this property in North Hudson, and it was a steal. A complete disaster, but a steal…

To be continued...