September 21, 2013

Saying Yes (Chapter #2)

Saying Yes (Chapter #2)
By John R. Greenwood

Circa. 1982
The day I said, "yes" to the challenge of overseeing a 70 year old man's life long family business changed my life in ways I will try to describe here. To understand Chapter #2 you should read Chapter#1 but it isn't necessary. 

It's hard to recall the details of those first few days running Price's Dairy for Vic Price. I was up to my eyeballs in a business I knew nothing about. Vic had three men working for him at the time. They knew what needed to be done, so from that perspective the business was in good hands. My challenge was to be sure I collected the receivables and not miss a payable. With zero business experience I would find this harder than loading and unloading a milk truck twice a day. 

I did survive the next few months. So did the men, the trucks, the accounts, and Price's Dairy. Vic was up and moving again. He was a tough bird and he proved it. His first questions when he returned were about money and who hadn't paid their milk bill. He ran a business for over forty years and had every inch of it tucked neatly in his head. There were no computers to help with billing or inventory in those days. You could hear Vic's mind humming when he spoke about his accounts. 

I continued helping Vic until he was back on his feet. Although a bit slower and more cautious he was functioning as well as any one-lung man of 70+ could function. 

After a couple months and what seemed like a couple of years Vic approached me with his second life altering question. He had an office in his garage. It was a comfortable space with an old oak desk, black rotary phone, and a drawer full of Saratoga phone books that dated back to the 1940's. Vic sat at his desk and asked me to sit down. I knew this was the end of the line. I would soon be returning to work at the Saratoga Dairy leaving Price's Dairy behind as a memory. What happened next was something I will never forget. Vic turned in his chair, looked me in the eye and said, "Do you want to buy Price's Dairy?" 

I stood there trying to absorb the question. I was married, twenty-four, paying a trailer payment and lot rent, with two little ones and bringing home less than $200 a week. We had $30 in the bank and I'm sure the car needed a new muffler or brakes. 

He said don't worry, we could work out the details. He said he wanted $10,000 dollars for the (vintage) trucks and routes. All he wanted was $100 per week in cash until the loan was paid. I would rent the cooler and office space in his garage on Caroline St. and he would continue to help me make the transition. He'd already spoken to my supervisor at the plant. They said they would support my decision. I sat there trying to comprehend what was happening. Being too young and too foolish to say, "Let me think about it" or " I need to talk to my wife." I simply looked the future in the eye and said, "Yes, of course!." 

I'm sure my memory has blurred some of the details of that period of time. I think I recall someone suggesting I ask Vic for his income tax returns so I could be sure I was acquiring a profitable entity. I also seem to recall a response like, "Do you want it or not?" All I know for sure is I bought a milk business with zero money down plus a $100 week. That decision would begin a ten year long adventure in and around the streets of Saratoga Springs. I encountered character after character. I made hundreds of friends and a couple of enemies. I learned how to make money and lose money. My sons got to ride in trucks while standing on milk crates. They sipped the end of Mom and Pop corner stores. They enjoyed Hattie Mosley hugs and Mr Ed's hot dogs when he was on Broadway. They knew all the Palmetto Fruit drivers and where every Pac Man machine in the city was located. I learned how to protest a bad check and fix broken milk trucks. I had a ball and in the end I learned the greatest life lesson of all. 

If fear of the unknown is why you always respond, "No thanks, not today." You will always regret that, "What if?"

I never wanted that in my basket. I know the answer to that question because I said, "Yes." 

I rediscovered one of my old trucks earlier this year.
Read about it here: The GMC
Eventually increased stress, decreasing profits, and growing debt brought me full circle back to Saratoga Dairy or what is now Stewart's Shops. I had my go at the American Dream. I did the best I could. I carry no regrets. In the end the security and stability of working under a larger umbrella proved to be a godsend. The rising cost of health care and the never ending hours self-employement carry can take a toll on you. A business that can run profitably and efficiently without a 24/7 commitment is rare. I can however enjoy the experience and lessons that being self-employed provided me and my family. 

Would I do it again if I could? 

"Yes, yes I would." 


  1. "They sipped the end of Mom and Pop corner stores. "... rich indeed! My daughter's high school graduation had none other than Al Menken (Disney Composer & Lyrics) & Tom Schumacher (Disney Theatrical Producer). Guess what Tom's theme was? "Yes". say "Yes". Upon graduation, he accepted a job as a driver for an actor ... other students felt the job beneath them as they had graduated as "actors". Tom said that "yes' lead into the next "yes" and so on. He says he can trace his success back to that first "yes" and that his opportunities did not come from interviewing for the perfect job, but accepting all sorts of things and again, saying "yes".

    Your post kind of reminded me of this. (Yes, it was an amazing high school graduation - Al Menken sang and did a medley for everyone - about 20 minutes worth of all the last 20 years of Disney music. (she boarded at University of North Carolina School of the Arts for high school - so it is a rather prestigious place - not a typical high school :)

  2. Great story. I guess us older folks all have a similar storry to tell. We too started a business just after getting married and starting a family. We too had to give up the business in the 80's when the economy went sour. We survived just like you did and now we are retired and living a thankful and quiet life. Good luck to you.