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Going for Broke - on Main Street
by Ivan Hentschel

I was reading an old magazine, and ran across this article. Since I occasionally dream about a Main Street storefront, and lived in central Virginia in the 1970s, I wondered what happened to the author, and if he was still on Main Street.

A little detective work, aided by his distinctive name, and I found him in Austin Texas, where I now live. We met and have become friends. He has since moved to Wimberley, not far from Austin, where he says he is "still Going for Broke ... but now in Wimberley." (He would be glad to give you an estimate for his services - call 512-769-4599)


I had one of those all-too-typical shops. You know the kind, a small garage behind the house, business by word of mouth, too much time out to sharpen the lawn mower, too many odd jobs to keep the bank account solvent. Of course. there was always another tool to buy or another budget-breaking trip to the sawmill for some exotic wood or that special stash of bird's-eye maple. I built pieces here and there. I claimed I was in business, but I was really a weekend woodworker and I lost money every year, all the while accumulating more wood and more tools. At least the rent was low.

Eighteen months ago, my wife got a new job, 200 miles away, in the country. The shop had to move. I had to move. All those pieces of bird's-eye had to move. And all those tools. But where to? To do what? I was terrified.

I surveyed the new landscape for a new shop. Nothing. At least nothing I could afford. I looked for months. I was unemployed, turning dinner plates in the basement. I was reaching the end of my rope. I still had the bird's-eye.

I decided to look for work. In a recession bordering on disaster, my search was a disaster too. I could sell used cars or wait tables. I turned some more plates. I turned a few bowls. I turned down the chance to sell Datsuns.

I worked a lot on my hand tools. They became incredibly sharp. I spent a lot of time at the drafting table. I made blueprints of my blueprints. But I had no woodworking, save the dinner plates. So I ate from them and gained 10 pounds, which made the bird's-eye seem heavier, until I realized that my muscles were deteriorating.

I found a solution. I started riding my bicycle, got exercise, saw the countryside and learned the back roads. I learned, too, that there weren't many woodworkers around.

I found an empty building, on Main Street in Hamilton, Va., a tiny town about eight miles away. The sign said "For Lease." So I made a phone call.

Keep in mind that I was not just broke but penniless. Not an odd job to he had. No resources. Undaunted (or foolish), I agreed to meet with the owner of the building. I didn't have the slightest idea of what I was getting into. But over the phone the guy sounded nice enough, though the rent seemed high. No, he didn't know about the zoning and what he really wanted was an antique dealer. I met with him anyway.

It was a lovely Sunday afternoon, and it was a lovely building, much bigger than I had thought. Big enough even for five of me. It was out of the question. He wanted me to rent the second floor. The basement was wet, and. except for four light bulbs hanging from the second-floor ceiling, there was no electrical service. But the flooring was wood, T&G fir, trimmed with nice baseboards, on white plaster walls. And the place had windows - big ones. I fell in love. Would I take half of the second floor, for $300 a month? And pay part of the electric bill? Could I build a wall? Could I wire the place? Yes, yes, yes and yes. I said I'd begin next week. He said he'd send me the lease. I went home to figure out how to pay for it. And how to move the bird's-eye up a flight of stairs.

I was elated - I finally had another shop. Or so I thought, because then the trouble started. Materials for the wall would cost $400. Fire insurance and liability would be another $400. The zoning was unclear. The county said I couldn't do my own wiring. Friends said the economy would never support the venture. I was broke. I worried about moving a 400 pound lathe upstairs. There was no place to put the bird's-eye.

More time passed. I made more phone calls. The zoning was okay, the landlord would pay for the wall and he'd trade labor for rent. Since I wouldn't be doing any spraying, perhaps the fire insurance would come down. But I still needed a hundred bucks up front and $83 to install a phone. I needed two fire extinguishers. And an exhaust fan. And conduit. And an electrician. And another $300. I traded in the title on my truck for two grand and signed the lease. The landlord threw in a storefront window on Main Street.

I hate framing, 16d nails don't thrill me. Sheetrock is heavy and clumsy, taping is an art which I would cheerfully swap for finish-scraping any day. But I did it all without complaining, because it would get me my shop, my own place on Main Street.

I did it all with a Japanese ryoba saw and a few chisels because there was no power. I consoled myself in the evenings by designing stationery and newspaper ads. The electrician was tied up. Good thing. There was no one to help me move the equipment upstairs anyway. I moved the bird's-eye alone, plank by weighty plank.

After five weeks the money was gone but the income tax refund came, another two grand. My first ad came out in the newspaper that day, and I paid somebody $25 to help me pull my machinery up the stairs. Real fast, 750 sq. ft. got real small. I hung prints on the walls and got some potted plants. I went to the chiropractor and then went home and piled barbecued chicken on the dinner plates.

The electrician wired up the baseboards and put a timer on the exhaust fan (another forty bucks). The fire inspector came. I turned some walnut bowls, started a cherry drop-leaf table and built a bookcase. I started working nine to five and re-sawed the bird's-eye.

Every week the woman from the newspaper comes and we run another ad for $59.42. I have feet to put on a grandfather clock, two old tables to refinish, and an order for two end tables and a coffee table. There is some oddball repair work, and today a lady brought in a printers' box to he modified for a wall hanging. It's not all that exciting, but it's work. The rent is paid. Others have moved into the building. Somebody brought in another small table to restore. The bird's-eye is glued up and clamped. The store window is full and somebody always seems to be looking at it.

I'm going for broke but going for Main Street, and it seems to he working. This may have begun as an act of desperation, but it's making an honest man of me. I still have part of the second two grand. And nobody owns the title to my motorcycle yet.

Ivan Hentschel is still on Main Street (when this article was originally published), and he says business is better than ever.