Saturday I posted this picture of Wanda Jane–originally from Ottawa, originally from Disco Viva, and now of California. She used to shop in my store in the 70s and Saturday was the first time we had seen each other in 47 years. So I decided Im going to put my book about my store online. Im getting older and I want none of you to forget that its okay to be yourselves.. and sending big hugs. Keep the message going..#beyourself
To Dan Webb who got me to write these stories.
Self Employed? Even though I’m a Jedi, I’m Not Invincible!
Friday, Jan 16th, 2015.
“Hi, my name is Dan. I just saw your post on the Facebook Lost Ottawa group. You spoke to my Small Business Management Class at Algonquin College back in 1996. A speech we all never forgot. Just wanted to say Hello!!”
As I read the Facebook message again I was amazed people remembered me. After all, I had opened my business before the internet surge, and most of my customers were on the verge of forgetting everything, like myself. Two weeks previous I had actually found the speaking engagement itinerary from Algonquin College along with the complimentary pen they gave me. As my eldest son said,
“Keep the pen Mum, it could be a collectors item one day.”
I remembered the hour-long speech and cringed. Speaker number 5 was my position between the Second Cup Business Franchise and the students ‘nutrition break’. It was a tough slot to be in. I wanted to be different, so I remember walking in lip-synching to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”. Knowing that Maureen Donnelly would not have done anything similar in her discussion previously about car dealerships; I figured I walked alone. The 50 odd business students sat before me with their mouths open after that entrance, and I immediately told them that if they wanted to hear how glorious owning a small business was that they should have invited Corel’s Michael Copeland. I patted a front row student on the shoulder and told him,
“Honey, don’t think you are going to get rich, as there ain’t no Love Boat dockin’ at the retail port anymore.”
Relentless, I continued to tell them a small business was like a giant Mousetrap game, and to make sure all your balls run smoothly so you don’t get trapped financially. My entrance to life in the business sector began inside the very first Le Chateau store on Ste. Catherine Street in 1967. Again, I asked the bewildered student how old he was that particular year. I told the crowd if I had to do it all over again I would have stayed in school– but most teachers in High School thought I was a taco short of a Mexican Combination Plate. There was no choice for me but self-employment, as who in their right mind was going to hire me. The trail of life had to be forged on my own like Reece Witherspoon in the film “Wild”.
I offered those gullible students some really great business advice like: if your store becomes successful, don’t let your 83 year-old senile Grandfather become the floorwalker, as he is libel to make people nervous. Or, never rent the former premise of Marvel Beauty School, as it’s going to take awhile to get the perm smell out of the place. Remember if a Chinese restaurant next door has a fire, you are most certainly going to deal with a lingering smell, and a wall full of water pockets. Some how I related to them that a burgeoning store owner uninterested in their customers was like a sad mime, and then went off on a tantrum on how I hated mimes. Anyway, the rent was right, and so began Flash Cadilac in 1974 on a budget of $1500.
Who else would instruct these young impressionable business students that making a big sale was like stages of phone sex I asked myself? I believed I described it as, “getting in there quietly, and building the momentum until you get that big orgasmic sale.” Explaining to them that my initial customers were from the gay community, the Rocky Horror crowd, and strippers from Pandora’s Box made their mouths drop. Never become a statistic I said.
I advised one young man that his dreams of opening a chain of stores should be dashed unless he had a relative in each town. The staff in my Toronto Yonge Street store were dealing drugs out of the store at 3 am and even my alarm system wasnt catching them. I lamented how business gets tough, and the only way I could sell things after the Rideau Centre opened, was if people could smell I was losing my shirt on Betsey Johnson apparel.
The most important message I repeated three times: even if you rent from family get a lease, and ads saying “find me behind the yellow line” really means I am truly behind a yellow duct tape line.
No matter what I went through, I stressed my customers throughout the years were my family, and we became a community. I always encouraged my fellow local business people, and never trashed local musicians that made it big like Alanis Morisette. Insisting, after a local backlash, complete with stickers, that said we had to “give the bitch a break”.
I never gave up, never became mainstream, and never looked back. If you can’t be true to yourself and like what you sell—well, what’s the use? Never ever regret what you do! Before they opened a business I said in closing, do research, make sure your finances are in check, study hard and graduate, and always believe in yourself. In my best Yoda voice I smiled at them and said:
“Adventure, excitement-a Jedi seeks not these things.”
Because of Dan and the public response on the Facebook group “Lost Ottawa” I decided to reminisce about Flash Cadilac in words. In years past I would not go near any mention of the store as it hurt too much to go down memory lane. It’s amazing how you get into a mindset that what you did for decades had nothing to do with you, but in reality, it will always be part of Ottawa’s fashion history.