Friday, December 30, 2011

On The Eve's

Fuck I’m tired.

“It’s almost over” the smiling face of a customer days before Christmas, trying to perk me up or let me know that they understood and felt how nutty things in retail get this time of year. I love that they take the time to console or acknowledge how hard we are working. “Very sweet of them” is what I say to myself right before, “But I have one more week to go.”

Yes the Christmas Crazies are over but as the Champagne specialist, my work here is not even close to being done. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is traditionally one of my busiest of the year, as I’m sure you can imagine, but this year, well this year Randy and I conspired to ratchet up the pressure a wee bit. 

This has been a difficult year, for everyone and especially for small business like ours. We’ve seen a frightening number of independent stores and restaurants fold this past year, slower sales combined with visionless landlords greedily hiking up the rent in a time when every single dime is needed to keep those companies breathing. The families that started, sweat and believed in those businesses forced to close their doors leaving one more empty storefront or giving our community yet another, much needed, Rubio’s, Starbucks, Jamba Juice or BevMo. The diversity and complex landscape of our beloved city slowly being demolished, reconstructed and painted with a fresh new coat of medium. Fucking depressing and something that Randy and I have been busting our asses, for over fifteen years, to not let happen to The Wine Country. We’ve been saying it for the past two years, “We are working three times as hard for less money” but you know what, we’re still here. A bit exhausted, a little stressed, eking through the slow months with a little less inventory and smaller staff but….we believe in the store and truly believe that we are an asset to the community that we love. So, we fight on….

With New Year’s Eve falling on a Saturday this year it gave us the opportunity to slip in a couple extra tastings. This would normally be the time for resetting, taking down Christmas decorations, attending to the farm of dust bunnies that have gathered beneath the racks and counters, writing the next newsletter and maybe catching a quick breather before picking up arms and battling through the typically slow month of January but…..well, that Thursday and Friday, days that we conduct our tastings during the rest of the year, just sitting there, this perfect storm of a last chance to boost our December sales. Two days before a holiday that just so happens to revolve around a wine that inspires sellout crowds, even in the slow months, Champagne. We went for it. Booked a Thursday afternoon “commuter” tasting for 29th, one focused on Champagne for $40 and under and scheduled a year-end, Best of the Year Champagne class for Friday the 30th. We had no idea what the response would be, people wiped from the holidays, out of town, tightening their pocketbooks after spending during the holidays, but we rolled the dice.

“There are 25 people on the waiting list” I told Randy when he asked how the sign-ups were going for the Friday night event. I had been experiencing a gentle gnawing in my belly for days, just this conflicting feeling of, “What if?” and “But I’m not sure it’s possible” that feeling was completely squashed when Randy said, “Hey, what if?” We drafted an email and put out calls to everyone on the waiting list, we were going to have to do a second class. Saturday night was out being New Year’s Eve and all and we couldn’t really ask people to turn out mid-week, so that left only Thursday, the day we were already hosting a tasting from 4:30-6:45…on Champagne no less. “What the hell, the worst that can happen is people won’t sign up. We will still have the afternoon event and Friday is packed. Let’s do it”

Tuesday and Wednesday had me feeling all panicky again, the sign ups were coming fast and furious for the second class and I was watching Champagne fly out the door which left me wondering if I would have enough to pour let alone sell…and the 28th of December is NOT the time to be bringing in stacks of bubbles in the hopes that they are going to sellout. Panic. The short staff thing reared its head again when I looked at the schedule and the only helper I was going to have was our newest employee, one that had never worked a tasting before. Panic. And then the realization of having to try and clean up from one event, set up chairs and tables…for forty people, complete with place settings and glassware, open and taste the wines for the second event, with not nearly enough hands on deck, in like thirty minutes. Total fucking panic. I walked in yesterday afternoon feeling completely overwhelmed, stressed, cranky and nearly nauseous.

The afternoon event was very well attended, haven’t seen the final number yet, (no time to dick around with reading reports in between the two events….hardly had time to pee as a matter of fact) but it was over fifty people, some of whom were still milling about as we whisked away the glasses for cleaning, popped up tables and began setting up the chairs. I grabbed my wines from the sales floor fridge, oh did I mention that having only one fridge in the tasting room meant that I was going to have to store the 40 bottles of Champagne needed for the second event in the cooler that we sell wine from? Thus more bits of panic as I feared that people were going to buy the wines I needed to pour…argh! Filled a shopping cart with icy cold Champagne and ran them to the tasting room just in time for the “Bing-Bong of the front door to alert me that our guests for the night were beginning to filter in. Tables set, chairs awaiting, cheeses and potato chips in their baskets and trays, my hands still freezing and beginning to sore from popping the corks on the Champagne bottles from the earlier tasting, tiny beads of sweat puddling in that concaved area at my lower back, my uber-manager need to have this all look as if it came off flawlessly causing my heart to thump away in my chest and my breath to escape in tiny bursts. My eyes now falling upon the cart of wine that still needed opening, and tasting, my panic reaching its peak and that was when I heard, “What can I help you with Momma?”

My Baby standing there, tall, strong, handsome as hell, there to attend his first ever Champagne class, My Champagne class, reading me like a book and jumping in to help. If I felt like crying before it was nothing compared to the blubbering that would have happened had I allowed myself to show the absolute relief I felt in that second. The seats began to fill while my husband, my son and I ripped off foils, cages and popped corks. Halfway through I left the boys in charge of the opening duties and I ran through the wines at a feverish and quite frankly, burp inducing pace. Wines opened, tasted and the ones in the later flights placed back in the now free tasting room fridge and I looked at my watch to see, 7:25. We did it, with five minutes to spare…

I spun around to see a room full of faces, all happy to be there and ready to partake of my supposed wisdom and wines that I have spent over ten years preaching about. My son and husband taking the last two empty seats, (I had reserved two for them, right up front, next to me) in a class we were fearful might not generate enough interest to even happen. I took a huge chest filling breath, let my eyes fall upon those faces, some new, some so very familiar, their dimes breathing life into our small business and their want to be there that night breathing life into me. Grateful does not begin to describe it.

So yeah, I’m tired as hell. Got tonight’s Champagne class and New Year’s Eve still looming but the gratitude and hope that last night gave me soothes each tiny ache and has me craving the tingle of bitty little beads of hard earned sweat puddling at the base of my back. We fight and struggle not just to keep the lights on and make money, (although fuck, that would be nice) we do it just as much for our community, our city and for those of you that would put your name on a waiting list to taste anything-but-regular Champagne. 

Thank you
Thank you all
Your humble, stressed, sweaty, hopeful wine slinger,


Thomas said...

Makes me miss my retail days, he says with tongue definitely planted in cheek--just in case anonymous doesn't get it.

Oh, wait: that's on a different blog.

vickibarkley said...

Sam! What a wonderful post! I teared up a few times reading it, actually. I wish I had been able to attend all of your crazy events this week, but, hey, I'll be there tonight with bells on for bubbles!

And, if you find yourself short-handed tonight, please, tap me on the shoulder, and I'll be happy to pitch in.

The Wine Country is such a wonderful store, and all of you have enriched me and my family.

I love you!

webb said...

Tears on the East Coast, too. Wish I could have been there either night. Know tomorrow will be a killer day for you, but wishing you the very best anyway! Hope 2012 is a banner year for you, your family, and Wine Country. much love.

Ron Washam said...

Hi Gorgeous,

Well, by now you're on the mend from your wacky holiday season, I hope. I, like Thomas, am also grateful every December to no longer be in retail. Your posts make me shake my head in wonder that I survived even one. Christmas, for me, was about the birth of, "Jesus, where did this idiot come from?"

I only wish I could be with you at the stroke of midnight tonight, My Love. But I shall be thinking of you, and I will be thinking how grateful I am for You, for Us, and for the brilliant and wonderful "Samantha Sans Dosage."

Happy New Year!

I Love You!

Your HoseMaster

Samantha Dugan said...

Yeah, that anonymous has a wicked sense of humor...

Awe thanks girlie. You know you are one of my most beloved customers, Champagne or otherwise and I was thrilled to see your face last night. Thank you for the years of support!

Why does everyone cry when they read my blog?! Very of sweet of you to care and you have a wonderful New Year's Eve! Thank you for being here for me.

Ron My Love,
Oh I love retail, I really do and cannot imagine another leg of this business I would rather be in but, man can it kick your ass at times. I too wish I were going to be kissing you at the stroke of midnight tonight, welcoming a new year with you in my life. I will however settle for waiting for that kiss, until. I love you!

Carolyn Blakeslee said...

JEEZ, ya did it again! When I read “What can I help you with Momma?” I started to cry. Thanks for another great post. HAPPY NEW YEAR.

Anonymous said...

for a minute i felt bad about going to fancy tasting when i only buy "the cheap stuff" - but then i remembered how much i dropped "cheap stuff".

Friday's tasting was really fun - at least at my end of the table. Thanks for all the hard work!

Samantha Dugan said...

It was a wonderful moment to be sure. I hope you had a fantastic holiday with your family as well.

No need to feel like you have to defend your preferences. As a retailer I can assure you that we appreciate any and all business and more than that, we respect what it is people enjoy drinking. So long as you're happy, well than we are too. Thanks for coming to my class and for posting here.