- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

Melissa Taylor had always dreamed of opening her own business. But it wasn’t until she found herself staring down at 40 candles on her birthday cake that she mustered the courage to quit her job as a switchboard operator and do it.

“You know you’re ready when you’re willing to do anything but sell your soul and your children,” says Ms. Taylor, 43.

Ms. Taylor poured more than $35,000 of her life savings into an art consignment shop on 15th and U streets in Northwest that’s scheduled to open Oct. 22. After three years of scraping together a business plan, funding and artists to sell their goods in the shop, she’s eager to flip over the “closed” sign.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Ms. Taylor says. “I feel like a pregnant woman in her ninth month.”

In the days before her store opens, Ms. Taylor spends most of her time dealing with contractors who are finishing up painting and remodeling her space, meeting with the artists who will be selling at the store, attending financial classes at the U.S. Small Business Administration and creating advertisements.

Homegrown Creations will sell area artists’ paintings, jewelry, photographs and books for $10 to $5,000. Artists will pay $200 to become members of the store, which gives them display space and pays for advertising.

Ms. Taylor’s vision is that the shop is somewhere “regular” people can appreciate and buy art. She is focusing on people 25 to 55 years old who make more than $25,000 per year.

“There’s a whole niche market of people who appreciate art but wouldn’t go into a gallery,” she says.

Ms. Taylor thinks she has learned a lot since she started three years ago — when her business plan was 15 years worth of scribbles on napkins and scraps of paper — to her bricks-and-mortar building today.

She has run into problems with artists agreeing to sign on to the shop when they hear about her ideas to hold art classes on Saturdays and hire actors to do live advertisementlike skits outside the store once a month.

“Some of my ideas are too far-reaching for some people to understand. Like anything in life, there are people who get it and people who don’t,” Ms. Taylor says.

In the meantime, she is stocking the shelves with her own work and friends’ artwork.

Starting a business can be a struggle, and a large portion fail within the first year — a daunting thought for some.

“I’m not scared,” she says. “There are things in life far scarier than not having any money. This is child’s play. … Death, now that’s something to be a little bit scared about.”

When Ms. Taylor left her job as a switchboard operator at Union Labor Life Insurance Co. Inc. in the District, she was making $35,000 per year. She’s hoping her new store earns $75,000 in its first year.

Though she is dreaming big, she and her sister and shop manager, Cassandra David, take it one six-month period at a time.

“When you eat the elephant, you take one bite at a time, and you don’t start with his tail,” Ms. Taylor says.

Her business plan has her running a Web site in six months. After a year, she hopes to establish a corporate program in which client offices will receive new art once per month.

One day, Ms. Taylor hopes to move to a larger space and add a full coffee shop to the store.

As opening day approaches, Ms. Taylor is increasingly busy with last-minute preparations such as putting the finishing touches on advertising, but she says the road to opening a store has been a good one.

“When you do what you love, failure and success no longer plays into it,” she says. “When you do what you love, you will do anything possible to continue to do it.”

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