An opportunity to buy trouble

    I am honored. In the mail this week came an invitation from the San Francisco International airport to open a retail store in the North Terminal Across from Gate 72.
   What a bonanza!
   Millions of captive travelers, forced to pay exorbitant prices. All those business people, realizing upon returning home they forgot to get a present for the kid, having no choice but to pay $12.95 for a plastic Mickey Mouse doll that wholesales for $2.50.
   And how about the foreigners, still confused about the exchange rate, thinking they’re getting a bargain? This is free enterprise as it was meant to be. How could I be so fortunate?
   I’m not, and neither is anyone else. Upon closer inspection of my invitation, I quickly realized that I was being invited to bid on the location, along with every other retailer on the planet.
   The airport, which is owned by the city and county of San Francisco and administered by the airport commission, is not interested in granting favors or bestowing honors. They want blood.
   I have never been too keen on working with government bureaucracies. It requires infinite patience, and my supply is very finite. I even began to shake while reading the bid specifications.
   It didn’t help that the bid package was over 30 pages long. But the first page was enough to get me started, when I learned to my horror that the space being offered was only 333 square feet, the minimum bid was $25,000 for the first year of the lease, and the space could be used only for the sale of lingerie.
   Three hundred and thirty three square feet – about the size of three closets – perfect for skimpy lingerie. Bulky bathrobes need not apply.
   The bids were to be sealed, accompanied by a cashiers’ check for $8,333 to show good faith (or confirm lunacy), which would be cashed by the city and returned months later when the bidding war was lost.
   Page two brought the exciting news that this bid opportunity was designed a "small Business Enterprise Set-Aside." Graciously, the airport commission had decided that the 333-square-foot lingerie shop should go to a small-business person, rather than The Gap, Wal-Mart or Sear’s Roebucks. (Poor Sam Walton of Wal-Mart – there goes his Northern California expansion plans).
   So with the big guys out of the picture, it was clear sailing for us little guys. Almost. First I had to prove I complied with Affirmative Action requirements to satisfy the Human Rights Commission. The forms were complex and detailed, but they were manageable. With a few weeks work, I’m sure I could pass muster. But then on Page 22, I discovered a hitch that could blow the whole thing out of the water. To be a successful bidder, I was required to sign a "Declaration of Compliance with South Africa Divestment Ordinance," stating my company had no business ties with South Africa.
   This was a definite problem. My "Afrikaaner After Dark" nightie and "Soweto Surprise" teddy were going to be two of my biggest sellers. But I suppose sacrifices have to be made to lease a 333-square-foot space from the city. Page 27 was where I had my biggest problem. Under the section "Uses Permitted" were the specifications for panty hose: "Lessee shall carry at all times at least 1,000 pair of at least four brands of quality panty hose of individual sizes of small, medium, long, as opposed to one size fits all, or a small/medium or medium/long, which is unacceptable. Lessee shall carry in stock, in each size and brand, the following colors: beige, brown, grey, black and blue."
    I don’t like blue panty hose. Never have, never will. That was the final straw. The airport commission was going to have to find some other puppet to run their store. And the fascinating part of it all is that they will find someone. This person will pay well over the minimum $25,000, agree to pay at least 20 percent in overage rental, as demanded, and spend no less than $75 per square foot in capital improvements, as ordered.
   Then they’ll open their doors and sell lingerie at grossly inflated prices because they have to survive the monstrous rent and dogmatic policies of the airport commission.
   And, of course, the captive travelers will complain long and hard about prices and blame the greedy shop owner. Instead of blaming then, I suggest leaving a gratuity. They’re going to need it.


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