"I forecasted it several years ahead of time. And during that time, I was doing the opposite of everyone else: I was saving," Mr. Fabian says. "I'm not wealthy. I'm not rich, but I did plan ahead."
His first inclination was to hunt for a similar job. But in September, he took a few weeks off from the job search and traveled to Spain to ponder the future. And he began to wonder whether he really wanted to return to the high-stress, fast-paced world of banking and mergers.
"Your immediate reaction is to think you should work for someone else," he says. But, "I dreaded the train to Washington. I lived for the weekends. And I began to think, 'You've always wanted to own a business.' "
In November 1992 Mr. Fabian realized this was the time to plunge into the world of business ownership. He spent several months searching for a small operation he could run -- and expand. And he liked the idea of a neighborhood business that provided a lot of service and had a clientele that returned year after year.
Because he had saved during the 1980s, he could afford to take time to look for just the right business concept.
"After the recession, the media began telling everyone they should have a year's worth of mortgage payments in their savings accounts -- well, I was working on that way before 1991," he says.
His hobby has always been gardening and for years, Mr. Fabian has done landscape work for acquaintances. As he looked around the city, he thought he saw space in the market for a "little oasis in the city to buy gardening equipment and plants," he says.
In April 1993, he opened a florist-and-landscape business called Holly Wood & Vines at 5 E. Henrietta St. in Federal Hill. The shop is small and friendly, with plenty of large, green houseplants and fragrant herbs on display. There are ceramics imported from Italy and Mexico for gardens and yards. There's a delivery service, and for $65 an hour, Mr. Fabian offers landscaping design and advice.
Now the man who took the 5:30 a.m. train to get an early start at his Washington, D.C., office, is busy answering questions about Boston ivy and vinca. His short-term goals are to learn everything there is to know about his new business and to pay the bills. His French cuffs and Italian leather shoes have been replaced by shorts and Topsiders.
"I never wanted to be the typical yuppie, anyway" he says.
Mr. Fabian still peppers conversations with phrases like "targeted profit margin," but in the very next sentence he waxes eloquent about plants.
"I want the customers to love the plants they buy here. I want them to love them and nurture them like they would a dog or cat," he says.
"Just think, two years ago, I would have been sitting at a desk working like a madman, attending black-tie functions at night and wearing a tie every day."
Time to Sink or Swim
Maria Kaimakis never imagined that standing on a sidewalk while cooking 50 pounds of chicken would be a step in her career ladder.
But that is what she has been doing early every morning for the past two years. Thirty at a time, she grills chicken and lamb kebabs. Then she fries falafel and stocks a sidewalk vending cart with 36 heads of lettuce and gallons of tarragon sauce in preparation for the lunch-time rush.
Ms. Kaimakis and her husband, Vassos Yiannouris, were working at a Baltimore car dealership when the recession hit full force. Month by month, they watched and worried as their income from sales dried up.
Desperately seeking another way to earn a living, Mr. Yiannouris suggested they open a sidewalk vending cart. After all, he pointed out, Ms. Kaimakis was renowned within family circles as the maker of extraordinary chicken kebabs and falafel sandwiches drizzled with a sauce that had been handed down from generation to generation.
"I didn't want anything to do with that idea," Ms. Kaimakis says.
But the recession dragged on. In the winter of 1990, auto sales were so slow that Ms. Kaimakis, who normally sold 17 cars a
month, was selling four or five. Her monthly income, usually at least $3,500, fell to minimum wage. "Our mortgage was in excess of 60 days late -- it was time to sink or swim," she says.
She agreed to help her husband start a food business -- and afterward, she thought, she'd return to her sales job.
So the grind began. The couple spent five months getting a license for a sidewalk vending cart. They remortgaged their house to get $15,000 to buy a shiny, silver cart, complete with refrigerators and grill, that would act as their movable restaurant.
On Jan. 1, 1991, they wheeled their little cart onto the northeast corner of Light and Water streets. It was freezing. It was snowing. It was a complete failure.
They made $14.
"I was ready to scream," says Ms. Kaimakis.