A Business Lady’s $18,000 A Year Work Studio
by Amy Merrick
That window overlooks the East River and Manhattan, and the view out of it is worth $18K, easy
Truth is, I am a reluctant business owner. There are movers. There are shakers. There are people who can produce a business card from their shirtsleeve with a flick of a wrist. They are not me. Or they were not me. I’ve upped my game and this is how.
It started with a casual Craigslist flirtation. Real estate, I mean. I had been running a successful floral design business from a spare bedroom in my Brooklyn apartment for the better part of a year. Bales of branches, boxes of vases, and a shower filled with 27 — count ’em, 27 — dirty flower buckets waiting to be washed. My personal life was forfeited to a huge mess of dead stems and smelly water. Let’s be real, working from home was turning out to be awful. But it was awfully economical, too.
I had dreamy ideas of a separate work studio — a big, bright one in an old Brooklyn warehouse, charm abounding. My Craigslist search terms started at an arbitrary $800 a month. Prewar. Industrial. Williamsburg. Greenpoint. 700 square feet. I may as well have included the phrases impossible wish and improbable hope. What if I upped my budget to $1,000? And I mean, what’s the difference between $1,000 and $1,200, really? Two pairs of jeans from J. Crew is all. Dollar signs crept higher.
After a week’s worth of flippant perusal, I made a call. You know, just to see. The studio was mediocre at best: $1,200 for 600 square feet, a narrow dark little slip of a space with a plywood floor and fluorescent lights. The studio fulfilled none of my dreams, and left me sad and confused. Maybe this was a bad idea? My business was working okay from home, save for the razor sharp misplaced clippers that would often end up in my bed. Why would I sacrifice my meager profits for a space that would, in the long run, reap me no more business than I could get at home?
I decided then and there a work studio wasn’t for me. I loved the flexibility of being self-employed, and I knew a studio would rob me of that. What if I wanted to say, “eff New York,” and move to Portland for the fall? What would I do with a studio then? No, I was a tried and true commitment phobe, and a studio just didn’t fit in with my lifestyle, even if it was holding my business back.
The problem with being a commitment phobe business owner is that you always have one eye on the exit. It was comforting to know that as long as I worked from home, I’d have to do the bare minimum to stay solvent. A job or two every month coupled with my weekly writing gig would keep me in the clear for the foreseeable future. This thinking worked well for me until the following week.
I got a text message from the broker who had shown me the first studio. He had the “perfect” place for me. Oh, really? And by perfect do you mean a plywood floor and a near complete lack of windows? I texted back by saying huge windows and prewar details were all I wanted. He said yes, meet me at noon.
It was over before it started. I saw 1,000 square feet of exposed brick bliss, with a view directly overlooking the east river and Manhattan, floor-to-ceiling arched windows situated on a corner. At $1,500 a month, it was more than I wanted to spend, and at 1,000 square feet, it pretty much qualified for its own zip code. But I was a goner. Sometimes you cross the finish line before you’re ready to start the race.
Finding the studio of my dreams, quite unexpectedly, threw everything out of balance. I would have to fully commit to making this business work, no more wishy-washy dreams of ditching New York. I’d have to up the ante, hustle and start demanding to be paid a fair amount for my time and expertise. But how on earth could I ensure that the rent wouldn’t crush me? I did a quick calculation — if I were to teach a monthly class (Eureka! Flower classes!) I’d be able to just cover the expense. Plus maybe I could rent a little corner out to a friend? I called the broker and asked him where to sign.
Turns out, where you sign is at the bottom of a 10-page lease. To say I skimmed would be generous. During my glance, the only thing to pop out at me was the number $18,000. The yearly rent? I grabbed my calculator (and by calculator, I mean phone. I do not own a calculator). Turns out $1,500 times 12 is $18,000. Good to know. I quaked and signed.
That was one month ago, and here I sit on the floor of an unfinished studio in a pile of sawdust. My back is leaning up against a radiator and I’m watching the sunset over the river into the Manhattan skyline. To say that the transition has been easy is a lie. I used to fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, now I stay awake, racked with anxiety. I am alone — a 27-year-old country girl at heart, responsible for thousands of dollars worth of New York City real estate, for running a small business while simultaneously feeling that I am too immature to keep a goldfish alive. I called my mom on the way home from a huge magazine photo shoot for a multi-page spread of my flower arrangements, and while I should have been happy, I just couldn’t stop crying. I felt so in over my head. She quietly said, “Amy, the higher you fly, the further you can fall.”
It’s easy to dream big dreams for yourself — that’s why we all do it. Taking risks to actualize those dreams, however, can be paralyzing. My mom’s advice was really just the usual financial analyst standby, “No substantial growth comes without risk.” If I would have fully comprehended that the yearly rent on my flower studio was $18,000, no way, no how would I have signed on the dotted line. I think my impulsiveness was actually a boon for my business, because my motivation has increased dramatically, and I’ve already sought out work that has made it worth my while. Pre-studio, I was happy only to take the jobs that popped into my inbox with no effort extended. Now, I wrack my brain for further ways to push myself. While I’m still afraid of heights, I’m finally learning to appreciate the view.