My husband was the owner and operator of Street Auto Center in Street, Maryland, for 16 years. A few days ago, I had to watch them auction off all he had.
The business started from an old, rundown "shack" of a garage that my husband found one day back in 1996. We both worked overtime shifts to try to make enough money to buy the dilapidated building. We begged, borrowed and worked as hard as we could. With the help of my parents and my former employer, we were able to put a little money down and finance the rest.
The business slowly grew. It got a neighborhood following, and we were able to pay our bills. My husband was able to employ several mechanics as business grew, and this helped to improve the lives of these men and their families. He "carried" employees through the holidays when things were so tight that our fuel oil at home ran out. We were burning wood in the wood stove for a while to keep warm. The business got us through hard times all those years. It became our retirement plan for that day when my husband just couldn't do the heavy, demanding work anymore.
My husband, at age 48, already has knee and back pain coupled with arthritis. His plan was to sell his business in a few years and possibly invest in another business with the income from the sale. At the time, the business, building, property, tools and equipment were worth possibly a million dollars. Now, after the auction, we are still in debt. We sold the business at a loss, in the end netting a negative $150,000. We also had to pay the auctioneer up front for advertising, plus 20 percent.
My husband had to board up all the windows when he closed his doors for the last time. It wasn't so long ago that he replaced the old windows with shiny new ones, and painted the trim in his office a nice fresh white. It was a place where neighborhood friends would often meet. Once, we were both filled with so much anticipation and hope. That seems like so long ago.
The auction was scheduled on a weekend after the big snow hit, and the drifted snow had to be cleared away from the front door. I asked my husband, after he returned all haggard from shoveling, how the shop looked, since we hadn't been there in a while. He told me that when he parked and looked up at the sign, he had to struggle to fight back a tear. He couldn't let his brother see him cry. Too many emotions were whirling in his head.
A few days later, my husband had to stand and watch as his whole life was sold out from under him. Equipment and tools that he had scrimped and saved for went for so much less than either of us had anticipated. It almost seemed like some bizarre form of legalized robbery.
How can you describe what it's like to have so many years of your life reduced to bare walls and empty floors in the span of a few hours? They stripped the place to the bone. All that was left was a few oil stains.
The auction of Street Auto Center is sad statement on the economic conditions in Maryland. Living here and running a business has become too complicated and expensive. The state of Maryland overtaxes every business here. Technicians in various shops across Maryland have had to reinvent themselves to try and stay afloat. Some technicians are trying to sell everything on Craigslist, whittling away their livelihood a piece at a time.
That business was my husband's life, the place that he poured all of his blood, sweat and tears into for all those years. He built it up from nothing. He will have to try and start all over again.
By this stage of his life, he thought most of the struggle would be over. Now, we feel helpless, hopeless and very old. Well, sadly, my husband won't be there anymore to help when the "other guy" messes up your car repairs next time. We plan on moving out of the state entirely.
Maryland has claimed another victim; another small business is dead.
Dawn Green lives in Hickory and works in Perry Hall as a dental hygienist. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.