September 11, 2018

So, Why So Slow?

by Alan Beatts

Hi Folks.  Alan Beatts, freelance interview guy, here and today I'm going to be interviewing Alan Beatts, the owner of Borderlands Books.  Since he and I are both Geminis and, as a result, suffer from an inherent (though quite mild) split personality, this should be a fun interview.  We're going to be talking about his new bookstore location -- specifically I'm going to be asking him why it's taking so very goddamn long for him to finish up the construction work and move the darn store.

Interviewer:  Nice to see you, Alan.  It's been a while.  I think the last time was about six hours ago when I was shaving.  How have you been?

Bookseller:  I've been alright.  A little overworked so far this year, but overall good.  And, the construction work has gotten me into great shape so physically I'm feeling very well.

I:  Since you brought up the construction work, we might as well get right to it.  You're working on the building that you purchased in November last year, right?  The place that you're going to move the bookstore to?

B:  Yup.  Since contractors are scarce right now because of the building boom and, if you can get one, they're pretty expensive, I've been doing most of the construction work myself with help from volunteers.  It's saving us a boat-load of money and I'm having a lot of fun.

I:  But, it's going kind of slowly, isn't it?  When you first bought the building you were hoping to move by July.  That was _two_ months ago.

B:  Ouch.  Yes, it is going quite slowly, thanks for reminding me.  I had forgotten that.

I:  Really?

B:  No.  I think about it every single day -- I've just been trying not to because it really stresses me out.  Sometimes I go for as long and two or three hours without it crossing my mind.

I:  Well, if it's bugging you so much, why not just hire a bunch of contractors and have them get it done?  It might be expensive, but taking so long to move must be costing you money too, right?

B:  As I mentioned, contractors are very busy right now and the rates are quite high.  Let me give you an example; a while ago we did a single, well-defined job at the building.  It took me about a week to complete, with help from some folks, and the materials cost was about $2000.  I talked with a couple of contractors and they both said that the same job would have taken them a while to schedule, taken about a week to complete, and cost, in one case, $15,000, and in the other, $20,000.  That's a pretty huge price difference and no advantage in terms of the time it took.

Granted, I think that it's taking me much longer for most of these jobs than it would take a contractor (if nothing else, I do a lot of work by myself and a contractor would throw a bunch of people at the same project).  But when the price difference is 7 to 10 to one, I think that I'm making the right call by taking more time but saving a hell of a lot of money.

I:  But, there's still a price tag on the delay.  What if you run out of money before the job is done?

B:  Yeah, that's the thing that really is worrying me.  But, as it stands, I've got three big expenses coming up.  In November, the first big set of interest payments will be due on the loans for the building.  Shortly, the property tax bill will arrive for 2019.  And, there will be an additional property tax bill coming for 2018 to make up the difference between what the previous owner paid (based on his purchase price) and what we owe (based on our purchase price).  [Regarding that last, if you don't live in California, it might seem a really strange way to do property taxes - look here for an explanation]

I have enough put aside to cover all those expenses plus the amount that I think the construction will cost.  Now, if we don't get moved by next year (or if the construction costs are a lot higher than my estimate), then I'll have a problem.  But, for now, I think we're doing alright.

I:  Still, couldn't you get the job done faster and / or cheaper?  You've been spending a lot of time and, I assume, buying a lot of materials for the work you're doing in the garden.  That's not something that is really critical in terms of moving the store, right?

B:  You're right.  But, here's what it gets down to: right now is our one chance to get everything right and to fix things for the future.  With the place empty and the walls torn open, I can get all sorts of work done that will _never_ be easy (or, in some cases, possible) to do again.  Originally I planned to move fast and get the job done but, as I began to understand the building better and get a clearer idea of what it could be like when we're finished, I started moving more slowly.

We're going to be in this building for a very long time.  Although we could move fast and only do the work that's absolutely necessary, I know something for sure from the many other jobs like this that I've done: we would end up regretting it.  A time would come when I would kick myself for not taking the time to deal with a small problem or take an extra step when it was easy to do, before it ever gets to be a big problem.

I:  Well, I hope you know what you're doing.

B:  Yeah, I hope so too.  But I've done a fair amount of this kind of work, I've got access to great advice, and I've got some absolutely wonderful people who are helping me get it done.  I think we're going to be alright.

I:  OK.  I hear what you're saying but; when is the store finally going to move?  When are you going to be done?

B:  We're going to move when the work is done.  And the work is going to take as long as it's going to take for me to make the place, within reason, the best bookstore it could be.

I:  Well,  good luck.  I hope it goes well and as quickly as possible.  I don't know about you, but I'd sort of like to get a whole weekend off sometime this year.

Folks, thanks for reading, and both of my personalities are looking forward to seeing you at the shop sometime soon.

Alan Beatts

PS  There's been some major progress at the building these last few weeks.  I finished all the work for the I-beam in the basement, including setting the posts, and the structural engineer has signed off on it.  I need to get the city inspector to do the same, and then we can pour the concrete.  We also have completely finished the planters in the back yard.  This week we'll be ordering the plants and putting in the irrigation system.  When the plants arrive in a week or two, then we'll get starting really making it happen.  This is going to be a good month for the construction work!

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