Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy
March 30, 2004. Entrepreneurs
Everyone I’ve met here has her own business. I’m staying in an apartment owned by Celia's cousin. He buys properties, renovates them, sells them, or in this case rents them out on a daily basis to tourists - and is letting me stay for free because they don’t have any tourists to stay right now. His wife is a wholesale importer of furniture from the Philippines, her home country. She sells to hotels in south-east Asia, and is developing clients in the US. Her partner had an auto body shop that he sold before he joined forces in the furniture importation business. We went to a barbecue hosted by a friend of Celia’s cousin – he had just rented a big warehouse and had all kinds of plans for how he would fill it with SCAD students needing studio space, host jazz concerts on the platform outside, sell barbecue to the visitors, and all manner of other things. I met a girl over breakfast in Tybee Island who went to SCAD for a year, but it wasn’t the right thing for her. After falling into an array of addictions, she got sober and is starting a DVD rental/delivery business with some of her friends from AA.
Does entrepreneurial spirit lurk in Savannah? I don’t know – but they are sure a different crowd from Cris’ academic types in Chapel Hill. The academics wouldn’t think of making ends meet by coming up with schemes for buying and selling. They get their enjoyment out of scholarship, and just hope that they will succeed on the academic job market. Whereas for these folks in Savannah starting a business is the independent, respectable way to live. It’s relying on one’s own ingenuity and competence, making a commitment to something and making it work through long hours and diligence and more than anything good salesmanship. They see the academics as wasting their own time and other people’s money in useless study of things that don’t amount to a hill of beans. The partner in the furniture business seems to be an extreme of this view. He talked of offering some work to one of the guys next door – but so harshly! He wasn’t sure Reggie could do a decent job, he wasn’t willing to buy the tools Reggie would need to do the work, and as he put it “Reggie likes to smoke dope, and you can’t do good upholstery work when you’re stoned.” So he said he’s give Reggie two pieces to work on, and see how it goes. He’s a businessman, and surely knows much better than I how to get good work out of a supplier or craftsperson – but what a different world from how the Chapel Hill academics would think to behave! Or, of course, how I live.
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