Over the years three quotes resonated with me about business and two of the three panned out for me:
Aside from writing real-life campground lifestyle blogs, recanting strange and true old “road warrior” stories is a blast. I’m trying to weave wit and if not wisdom, perhaps at least some insights into the
unique quirky perspective of someone whom is possibly OCD but most definitely tightly wound and a control freak. While some of these traits served me quite well in business….they are less of a winning combo when living in a 500 square foot box with an introvert. So, just a head sup…if you’re looking for wit, humor or camping stories, move along…nothing to see here in this blog.
Two days ago on Thursday, June 6th I read on Instagram that Craft Conundrum in Charleston, SC, our favorite craft beer bar was closing on Saturday. Today, Saturday June 8th is my 56th birthday and my first birthday out of the workforce. As of today, their Facebook page has 157 comments with another 72 on Instagram. Some posted by people we know…others people we know of. A solid percentage are from craft beer insiders, brewery owners and food & beverage professionals. Many comments are from locals, but I was surprised how many people chimed in from cities and states far from Charleston. I scrolled through many of the comments, nodding along with comments like “punch in the gut”, “my heart is breaking”, “you did things the right way”, “just rip my heart out”, “Dammit! Why are you leaving us”, “No! Fake News!”, “No words, how sad this makes me”, “NO – I won’t accept this”, “You are a success! You did it!”. All heartfelt. Some focused inward while others congratulating the owners for their business success and personal awesomeness.
As soon as I read their closing announcement, I rode a wave of disbelief, shock, sadness, frustration and bewilderment. Why in the world would a business run by two fantastic people close after five years? While Lynn and I can’t exactly recall who first told us about Craft Conundrum, we think it was a customer at Holy City, a Charleston brewery. We had passionately supported local Charleston breweries for years and one day Lynn and I had a discussion of whether purchasing some mediocre local beer from local people was more important to us than purchasing world class (but sometimes not local) beer from local people.
We first patronized a craft beer bar three minutes from our house that, like Craft Conundrum, poured high end craft beer. While we loved the beers and the owner was local, she was (and this is being far too polite) not a people person. Dozens of times we’d visit, bringing many customers to her establishment….but half the time she would act aloof and sometimes altogether rude. Finally we gave up on her and tried Craft Conundrum and never looked back. I’ll always remember the first time I walked in there. I didn’t hear “Hi. What can I get you?” We got a smile and Richard introduced himself to us. As I looked over the 120 beers on tap and feeling overwhelmed, he said, “Tell me two or three beers that you like.” I said, “Bells Two Hearted, Deschutes Fresh Squeezed and I kind of go for dank, resiny, dry flavors.” He held up a finger, walked away and came back with three beers for me to try. Each was exactly in my wheel house…each better than the last one. In many trips to Craft Conundrum, less than five times have I EVER ordered a beer by name. I simply walk up to the counter, look at Richard and say, “So, what am I drinking?” Out would come a few samples and one would always be fantastic. He knew exactly what Lynn loved….Wells Banana Bread, Prairie Bomb and Legal Remedy Mocha Blonde Stout. He knew my favorite was his collaboration beer Sip, Sip Pass, but also that I didn’t like New England Style IPA’s. He. Just. Knew. Somehow he and Karen connected with their customers in a way that most businesses only dream about.
At Craft Conundrum we spent birthdays, waited out rain storms, partied before or during hurricane evacuations, drank with our close friends, met new friends from near and afar and hung out with our favorite flight attendant and her entire flight crew on a CHS overnight. I will never forget one rare and precious drunken evening with my best friend who flew in from afar to officiate a local Air Force retirement. Lynn dropped us off at Craft Conundrum and then herded us back into the car some hours later. While at Craft Conundrum, my friend spotted on the wall a small wooden memorial to KIA / MIA military members and asked Richard about it. It hangs on the wall and is constructed in such a way to cradle a beer glass. Richard explained that every day, he comes in and pours a fresh beer and sets it into this memorial to honor fallen and lost military members. Wow doesn’t cover it, but its the best I’ve got. It was a far-too-rare, perfect evening and I’ll be forever grateful to Richard more than I can express for being a wonderful host. So, realizing that Lynn and I would never be able to have another beer at Craft Conundrum, I am refraining from posting anything to their social media sites or reaching out to them directly as they have enough going on in their lives. Most consumer interactions are simply transactional….a tank of fuel…a cart of groceries…a trip to a clothing store. Visiting Craft Conundrum required a 35 minute drive and spending more money on a beer than we would likely spend elsewhere. But, it also provided the chance to hang out at a great place…somewhere we’d enjoy discovering new friends, foods and beers. So, rather than a transactional experience…it was intentional and always a delight.
Craft Conundrum’s closing triggered the memory of the day in the mid 80’s that I handed my closest friend and business partner the check book from the photography business we started. We realized that the business just couldn’t support two people. “Just write as check for what you think is fair and hand it back. I trust you”, I said. I also remember sitting by myself in that same spot a few years later trying to decide if I should sell my business and walk away. My mother gave me this advice…”Take a quarter. Assign one conclusion to Heads and the other conclusion to Tails. Tell yourself that it is irrevocable and the flip of a coin will be your final decision.” So I sat there, shaking…looking at everything I built…..custom framing….photo processing…..portrait studio….commercial photography….passports…..camera store….and assigned the following fates.
Heads means “Sell The Business” and Tails means “Don’t Sell The Business”. For 15 minutes I sat…afraid to flip the coin until I promised myself that I would not fight the conclusion. I caught the coin, held it hidden for a moment and then looked. It was heads.
The other part of what my mother explained was “Once you see if it’s heads or tails….be immediately aware of your first reaction” Mine was a momentary jolt of relief and excitement….followed by hours of “Yeah, but”. The first reaction cut through all the bullshit and gets to right to your heart. I promptly sold the business and even though the new owner absolutely destroyed it in short order…I made the right call. When informed of my decision to sell Creative Photo, my wonderful customers expressed similar emotions of frustration, sadness and outrage to me that Craft Conundrum customers are now sharing with Karen and Richard.
Bottom line – I wouldn’t be spending June in a motor home resort in Petoskey, Michigan at 55…ok 56 years old….retired and able to live a comfortable life wandering the country with Lynn if I held on to my career of photography. I’ve long felt that people often make a mistake by turning their love…passion….hobby into their career. I was a far better photographer than I ever was a bottled water salesman, filtration expert, hot dog cart pimp etc…. But, in my case, photography couldn’t (at least in my mind..) get me to where I wanted to be long-term financially. And Karen and Richard’s difficult and socially unpopular choice might just well turn out to be their best decision when viewed from the future.
Damn I’ll miss Craft Conundrum….. The beer was creative, cold and perfect. The glasses and supply lines were impeccably clean. It’s where we first discovered shishito peppers, ramen, Chris Boone music, Freaks & Geeks – the show, not the owners :), that British couple that we never knew their names and Sip Of Sunshine. But Lynn and I will miss Karen and Richard the most…
Cheers you two!
Lynn’s 2 cents – All I can think is that going back to Charleston in the fall will not be the same. Craft Conundrum was one of the last places we visited the day before we closed on our house. I remember saying “See you in October!”. Never did I imagine it/they wouldn’t be there. It really was one of the things I was looking forward to the most about “going home”. But just like people might not understand us quitting our jobs and setting out for a life on the road, I give Richard and Karen props for following their hearts. Where ever the road may lead you, cheers guys!