We Built a Dream 10 years Ago & Catholic Charities Destroyed It
My stomach was in knots, my hands sweaty, and I was smiling from ear-to-ear. We were going to actually do this! At 31, my best friend, Lisa Perry and I, were going to buy Dorothy’s Flowers & Gifts on 7th Avenue and Camelback in the Melrose District in Phoenix! It was September 30, 2005, and the real estate market was insane, especially the commercial real estate market.
Lisa and I at my wedding – my flowers were photographed for a magazine. I was going for a fall tropical theme.
We had brought champagne with us to the signing as we wanted to celebrate this momentous occasion. We had been in negotiations for months, had secured a SBA loan and went through rigorous background checks and interviews. We each were bringing a little less than $40,000 cash to the table. All the savings that we had up to that point.
My Aunt Areta was the Title Officer on the sale and she kept handing us paper after paper to sign. We were not only buying the 4,000 square business and inventory, but also the 1/4 acre of land it sat on. I didn’t think anything of personal guaranteeing the house I bought the year before. Lisa added her town home to the list of assets as well.
The total sale came to just shy of $500,000.
In The Beginning
It was official, we were small business owners in the Melrose District! The whole area was going through a renaissance as new businesses were shuffled in, restaurants revamped, and city money spent to clean up the streets. We were so proud and excited to be a part of a positive change in Phoenix!
This would be my third business, as I had sold my first just five years before. I was the 5th largest manufacturer of handmade botanical oil lamps in the US. There was nothing I couldn’t create with dried flowers.
I became a Master Florist right before we took over the keys to the shop. Having flowers in my hands was what they were meant to do. My second business had been growing plants from seeds and selling them at the local farmer’s market. I had gone back to school and not only became a Master Gardener but added a Horticulture degree to the many other areas of study I had already accomplished at the University of Arizona.
Flowers and plants were my life. They made me happy and working with them everyday was a dream come true for me. It wasn’t Lisa’s dream though. She loved me though and wanted to support me. She would keep her corporate job and do the marketing for the shop, coming in some evenings and on the weekends.
We were so young and had no idea what the future held for us. We were so filled with hope and idealism. We signed those papers and drank that champagne ignoring the little voices in both of us telling us to walk away from this deal.
You see, just weeks before I ran over a woman in a wheelchair in a crosswalk, while driving my Toyota Tundra. She was issued the ticket as she rode into the crosswalk on a red light, as I had the green light. I will never forget the sound of her wheelchair scraping and gashing into my radiator and her screaming from underneath my huge ass truck. I flew out of that truck’s cab so fast afraid that I had killed someone. She was ok, mostly shooken up, as I had hit her maybe doing 5-10 mph. Her name was Dorothy.
I’m a BIG believer in signs and listening to my intuition. If that wasn’t a sign not to buy Dorothy’s Flowers I don’t know what was!
The first year was great – we were so busy with our long list of corporate clients. They liked the funky arrangements I was making as they were so different than the standard flowers coming out of other shops. We became involved in the 7th Avenue Merchant’s Association and I went on to run the street fair for three years. Life was good.
I’m addicted to limes… in everything, apparently.
A year or so later we won a small grant from the city for capital improvements. We used it to buy a brand new sign, painted the building a beautiful eye-catching burnt orange, and hired a merchandise specialist to come in and redo the interior.
One of the only pictures I have of the interior of the shop in 2008.
We changed the name to Melrose Flowers & Gardens as that fit us so much better than Dorothy’s Flowers. Our flower shop was now the vision that Lisa and I had talked dreamed of.
Our cashier stand was from a men’s clothing store… it was so beautiful. And heavy!
Our happiness was to be short-lived.
The market started to take a down turn in late 2007. Real estate was blowing up, and not in the good way. Inflation was occurring so our prices for goods were crazy and gas was over $4/gal. That was really tough on a delivery business! For the first time, we started to feel money woes.
Catholic Charities Killed Us
Right before we purchased Dorothy’s Flowers, the property to the north of us that was owned by the City of Phoenix was sold to Catholic Charities. They too wanted to make capital improvements to their property.
They came over one day and said that they would like to take down the awful chain-linked fence between our properties (it was really awful). They were going to put in a 6-foot brick wall and would even give us a wrought-iron gate to access our back parking lot. The issue was though that they wanted that brick wall to extend to the sidewalk. If you did that you couldn’t see into our shop at all if traveling southbound.
The shop was still in an area with a bit of crime and I was not at all comfortable being inside a shop that no one could see into if I was in trouble. Plus, it would greatly impact people finding us. The police chief agreed with me – he was a client as well as called in by the city to weigh in on this. They could put a 3-foot wall up until they got to the building and then it could be 6-feet. They were NOT happy about this.
Next, when they went to put that wall in it was found that the chain-link fence was on their property by 2 feet and had been there since the early 1970s. According to law, they still owned that land, but we had all rights to it. If they put the wall where it was supposed to go, we would lose complete access to our back lot as no car would fit through the gate. They lost that battle in court too.
At this point we had run through the $10,000 retainer we had with our attorney and the countless hours lost to fighting these two issues. Our business was suffering from all of this stress and outpouring of money. I can remember the next moment so clearly…
The representative from Catholic Charities came over in early afternoon. They were repaving their parking lot and extending it onto their backlot. As they were digging they found their old sewer line that had been Y’d off of our sewer line. Instead of our sewer line going straight out to the road, it went diagonal onto their property, making a Y and then went to the street. The two properties had been one large parcel back in the 1950s. That sewer line built in 1958 would be the end of the world that I knew.
The next day, five guys in suits asked me to come outside so they could show me the issue. The rep we had been working with might not have been happy with how things were going, but he was very professional with us and felt bad for us. They fired him for losing the first two cases.
The 65-year old white male CEO of Catholic Charities looked at me and said – you might have won the last two issues pretty girl, but you will lose this fight. He said some other things that were so belittling that I wondered if I had stepped out of some 1950s movie were men thought they were superior to women? I held my ground though and spoke intelligently about Grandfather Laws and such. I knew more about commercial property law at that point than I ever wanted to. I then went back inside with a pit in my stomach and started making calls to Lisa, the city, my husband, and everyone else I could think of.
Lisa has the quickest wit of anyone I know. I was under so much stress that I just couldn’t handle it anymore. She said she would take over this third, and what would be our final fight. I thought I would find comfort in the arm’s of my husband, but that didn’t happen. He just kept saying – I told you so. I told you not to buy that flower shop.
Creating Pineapple Trees was by far one of my favorite arrangements to make for parties.
It would cost $30,000 to move that sewer line six feet onto our property. In the end, the City of Phoenix took some responsibility as that sewer line wasn’t on any plans for either building. Our building inspector missed it when he researched the land before we bought it, but according to the laws, he couldn’t be held accountable or sued. So many things failed and we were left to pick up the pieces. The City though came through with zoning variances, money to help move it, and a myriad of other solutions.
Catholic Charities refused all solutions.
They told me that they had more money than God and would keep taking us back to court until we were out of business. We were a flower shop not a porn shop! And so they did.
We spent close to $30,000 in attorney fees and we had no more money to give. We were tapped out. We couldn’t afford to pay our employees anymore so we had been letting them go one by one. I talked to our accountant and he said it was time to quit, time to move on. We would lose everything.
How Did It End and Where Are We Now?
In the end, Lisa and I lost the business, the building, and the land. I lost my house, my car, eventually my marriage and my dog. It’s a sad country song, really. She had to add a shit ton of money onto her mortgage to keep her car and town home. We lost all the cash we had brought to the table, plus all that we had put up during the legal battle. We were forced into a corporate bankruptcy that swept both my husband and me into it. Lisa chose not to go that route. I bankrupted $1.4 Million. Yep, you read that right.
Since we had defaulted on a SBA loan, they wanted to know why. They then took up the fight and found out that our attorney was golfing buddies with the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities and never disclosed it. He got fined and is still able to practice in Phoenix.
Catholic Charities bought the property from the bank for pennies on the dollar. It’s now a coffee house and bar. It’s called The Refuge. Ah, the irony… You’re welcome to visit, just 2 blocks south of Camelback on 7th Ave. Tell them Lisa and Kristi said eff you.
Lisa stayed working at that corporate job for 10 more years until she left there. She was so angry with me for so long. I have never forgiven myself for destroying her financial life. I love her so much and own all the pain my dream caused her. We have both finally let go of the anger and frustration and have been rebuilding our friendship one day, one phone call, one hug at a time. There has also been a shit ton of wine shared as we have tried to recover our sanity and friendship.
We have been friends for 21 years and there isn’t a day that doesn’t go by that I am not thankful for all that we have shared.
As for me, I woke up at 36 with $500 to my name and nothing more. No dream, no business, no house, no car, no best friend, no marriage, no dog. I’m no longer Catholic and I don’t believe in religion at all. I was unhirable in 2009, as I was the ex-CEO of a company that had 30 employees once upon a time and made a tad under a million dollars a year.
I lost something far greater though during that time… I lost my hope, my optimism, my will to create, my will to live.
It would take me almost another three years to come out of that darkness. Every day brought new pain, new misery, and I just couldn’t fathom going on. I had to make the choice to either live again or die by my own hands.
Ten years later I have found a new dream, a new kind of happiness. I started traveling to heal my soul and I continue traveling so I never forget to live.
I’m now a full-time traveler, and blog about what it is like being a solo female traveler. I also blog about good craft beer, wine, running, and organic gardening. My book, Unstoppable: Girl On The Run is currently being written about leaving it all behind to find myself again. I hope you read it.