Raising Business

People often ask me if I have children. I look around, spread my arms wide, and I show them my child: AlteArte. Perhaps it’s not what they were expecting, but it’s the closest thing I have – besides our two cats – to a child. And, though I know that the two are very different, there are some aspects that seem to be quite parallel. The people listen with interest. And I do my best to explain.

David and I ventured into AlteArte with the same trepidation that I imagine any new parent must feel as they welcome their child into the world. We didn’t know what awaited, we didn’t really understand how it would change our lives, and we hoped that we would be good at it although there was no guarantee that we would be.

Much as I imagine it must be like with a newborn, AlteArte kept us up late in the beginning, as our days often wouldn’t end until 4 in the morning – even on weekdays. Being a morning person, I struggled to adjust to the new schedule. It was difficult that my days wouldn’t start until noon, my most productive morning hours slipping into nonexistence. The hours were irregular, and we could never quite make any plans for the following day, as we never quite knew when we would be able to turn off the lights the night before. For the first 8 months, we opened 7 days a week as we tried to familiarize ourselves with the rhythm of running a business in Altea. AlteArte became our top priority as we lived and breathed the business 24 hours a day. The business became our everything.

The first two years, we watched with fascination and worry, as we hoped that the decisions we were making were the right ones. Were we focusing on the right things? Disciplining in the right way? We worried about positioning ourselves correctly and finding our place among the other already exisiting as well as new businesses in Altea. We navigated these new waters as best we could, and, during the journey, we made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot – some lessons taking longer than others to sink in.

As a new parent often is, we were tested in those early years. What would we accept, how much would we put up with, what were our limits and would we actually go so far as to punish? It took us four years to understand that we needed to set the rules and actually close at closing time, for example. A simple act, which, once we were confident enough in our decision to reinforce it, greatly improved the quality of our lives.

When we got our first visit from the police – the first time being only a week after taking over AlteArte – we panicked, as any parent would. The customers were too loud, the dogs were getting into the neighbors’ trash at 2 in the morning. It didn’t take many visits from the cops for us to understand that it was up to us – up to our guidance and our modeling alone – to steer AlteArte clear of trouble.

I also learned that, as much as I might have wanted to do or believed that I could, I simply couldn’t please everyone and that people are extremely complicated beings. And I had to learn that not everyone is a good customer and that it was important to weed out the good ones from the bad – much the same as a parent must feel when they want their child to have friends but must also be cautious of who their child hangs out with, for not everyone is a good influence. So came the subsequent lessons of learning that giving too much can hurt in the long run and how to let go once I was at peace with the efforts that I made.

And then came the hardest step of all – stepping back and trusting. Hiring people was an extremely difficult step for me to take much as I imagine it must be for any new parent hiring their first babysitter. It was one thing when David and I were the only ones running AlteArte. We put our all, our everything into the business because it was, well, our baby. We wouldn’t have put anything less. I was determined to be there, to be present, to ensure that customers went away happy. So, when we hired someone to work with us during our second summer, I maintained my post on the terrace, in order to have the most contact with the customers. It didn’t matter that I was still working hard, that I was still running. I didn’t trust anyone else to do the job. In year three, we tried hiring someone more full-time to, ideally, free us up more, and I tried letting go, but all it did was tie me down more. I became overprotective and watched like a hawk and felt ashamed to be doing so. But I couldn’t help it. I needed to know that everything was being done correctly, that the customers were being greeted when they walked through the door, that the drinks were being noted, that he cared as much as we did for this entity that we were putting under his care. In the end, we let him go, and I wondered how much of it was me being too anal or him being too blasé. Perhaps it was both.

In year four, we tried again, this time hiring Emily, a girl whom we had known since our first year when she would come as a customer. She was a student at the Art University but older and more mature. And she had a desire to work, and when we were slammed with work the first week that she started, she embraced it, claiming that this was how she learned best. And I liked her attitude. I loved that she cared. A short time later, David made the decision to hire a second girl, Ampy, to prepare us for the Summer months. Ampy is friendly and positive and quickly got to know people’s names, and I felt that I could let go even more. And I even relinquished half of my post on the terrace to her. And with the two of them on board, I could finally relax, for I trust that they’ll take care of AlteArte when we’re not there.

And, as the years passed, AlteArte grew and started taking on a life of its own. We had provided the core, the foundation, but AlteArte was growing into its own being and proving to have its own personality. And we sat back and watched with wonder as people from all around the world visited AlteArte and we listened with pride as they exclaimed what a nice place it was – much like I imagine it must be like for a parent to hear praise of his or her child. These unsolicited affirmations reassured us that we were doing something right and fueled us with the energy to keep going.

Five years have passed and David and I have stepped into the background. Once all about us, AlteArte is now about AlteArte. We’ve survived the infant and toddler years and AlteArte now stands on its own two feet. And that allows us to do a little less handholding and focus more on the future, which, though never certain, certainly looks bright.

The AlteArte Team

The AlteArte Team

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13 responses to “Raising Business

  1. You are an amazing & nurturing “Mom” to AlteArte, your cats & your sis! We all rely on you for your love & care! You have put your heart into AlteArte & its twin, ArteAltea – and it shows!

    • I appreciate the constant support you give and would say that, when it comes to our relationship, I am definitely the little sister. Thanks for the constant guidance and support!

  2. Oh drat! I was busy on the phone right when this blog appeared and I missed the boat and allowed Coral to get ahead of me! But that little tidbit doesn’t at all diminish the fact that this blog is excellent, well-written and – well – superb! We both love the comparison of starting a business with raising a child! Having had a store ourselves – and our own hassles with the police and THE LAW as well – we can relate. But much as we loved our business, we were happier and prouder of our 3 magnificent children ( and in particular the author of this blog!) Sara is a real joy in every way – and let me not fail to mention her magnificent , hard working and passionate husband, David. And we are thrilled by our Spanish grandchild, the one and only AlteArte! Good going Sara

    Love from Mom and Dad

    • Words of wisdom. I always wished that I had been able to experience life when you had Farenheit 451, but I guess, in a way, I am experiencing what it was like for the two of you. And, yes, we have had our run in with the law, but yours was far more exciting and noble. You certainly added to the history of Laguna Beach.

  3. Great post Sara, as always. As a business owner myself, I can certainly relate to the challenges you have experienced…scaling up and hiring people is one of the most difficult things you will do, next to starting the actual business. One of the “gifts” I gave myself, after 7 years in business, was to actually stop working 7 days a week, and actually take a day off! I hope you and David have found room to take time off for yourselves, as individuals, and as a couple….it is so important. I continue to be awed by your and David’s efforts, and can’t wait to visit Alte Arte and meet you both someday. And if you ever find yourselves in Kennebunkport, Maine…. 🙂

  4. David, the hubby

    We have different babies… Sushi is my “kid”, Gizmo is yours… And in between both, we adopted one, AlteArte…

  5. Beautifully written as,always. With tears in my eyes I can feel the lovr and pride and am proud to be a customer and more of this special child. May the teenage years be boisterous, confident and successful. Sending Love to all at Altear and it is,where it is today because of the genuine love you have shared. Gill and Russ

  6. I’ve just discovered your blog as I was looking for information on Altea. My wife and I will be roadtripping from Valencia to Malaga in late May–I hope to have a drink at your place and say “Hi” when I pass through. We are scouting out where in Spain we might want to resettle with our kids. Altea sounds like a beautiful village.

    • Hi darcy, thanks for reading and for the comment. I look forward to meeting you in may. Please introduce yourself when you stop by. I think that you and your family will love Altea.

    • Thank you for your nice comment! Did you already pass through Altea? I’m sorry if I missed your visit! I hope that the two of you enjoyed Altea and that you soon find a place that you can call home!

  7. What a great post and analogy! Your writing conveys so beautifully your sentiments. Thanks for sharing.

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