The first “convenience store” in Ocean City, New Jersey opened five blocks from my family’s neighborhood grocery store. The Cumberland Farms store sold the same stuff as Fulton’s Market, but at prices only chain stores could offer. A roll of toilet paper purchased by the case from my father’s supplier cost him what a shopper would pay at the Cumberland Farms store. Most of the stuff on our shelves didn’t move.
With each passing year, I could tell my parents were becoming increasingly worried about the future of the family business. Shore Memorial Hospital offered my mother a nursing position. Dad said he could handle the store hours himself, so Mom accepted the position. Life went on. But not without a cost.
Despite his love for serving customers, Dad couldn’t put in 16-hour days, six days a week without some downside. He was visibly exhausted most of the time. My mother and father rarely spent time together. Dad stayed in the store until late in the evening. Mom came home weary from working as a head nurse at the hospital. After dinner, she spent many evenings organizing staff schedules and completing other paperwork that her on-duty hours didn’t accommodate.
Dad grew more and more fretful about Fulton’s Market’s future. On my weekends at home from college, I could hear Mom and Dad discussing (sometimes arguing about) ways to scrimp on family expenses. Closing the store seemed inevitable, but Dad was fearful about being able to find another job at his age. Then fate made the decision for us.
The coup de grâce for Fulton’s Market came early one summer morning when a large U.S. mail truck crashed into our building. The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, bounced off a house across the street and T-boned our place. I was asleep just above the impact point and it sounded as if a bomb had exploded, jolting the entire building up and down. (Check out the droll caption to the newspaper photo).
Fortunately, Dad had overslept that morning and wasn’t downstairs when the truck smashed through the wall and demolished the living and dining area. Mom had already left for work. I’ll never forget the look of panic on my father’s face as he raced out of his bedroom. When I made my way downstairs, I saw the truck driver climb out of the cab and crawl over the smashed furniture. Water from ruptured pipes was spraying everywhere.
The crash caused severe damage to the store, taking out a wall of shelves and two refrigerators. Despite our insurance policy, which covered the damage to the building, reopening the store after a lengthy closure held little promise of success. Our handful of faithful customers had undoubtedly taken their shopping to the convenience store or the supermarket and they were unlikely to return. Fulton’s Market was finished.
Mom thrived in her nursing career, eventually transitioning into being an intake coordinator for a convalescent care facility. Dad landed a job as a food service manager at one of the newly opened casinos in Atlantic City. For some reason, that didn’t work out and he found employment driving for a limousine service, transporting celebrities and fat cats between the airport and the gaming and entertainment resorts of AC. He actually enjoyed this job immensely and regaled us with stories about some entertainers and sports stars that were “really nice people.” And they tipped well.
Eventually, my folks sold the building that was our business and our home and moved to a nice house a few blocks away. Today, what was Fulton’s Market is the home of Mallon’s Homemade Sticky Buns, another family business.
As stressful as adversity can be, it can also be a valuable teacher. My parents’ adventure in entrepreneurship supported our family for about ten years. When times grew tough, we learned to focus on priorities and appreciate what we had. Eventually, we discovered that moving forward sometimes means moving on to new endeavors.
Most importantly, my folks believed that God was on their side. Their faith was the foundation for their steadfast trust in a Heavenly Father who desires the best for His children. That’s an outlook that has helped me through difficult times and allowed me to look beyond my immediate predicament. When obstacles cause us to stop or change course in life, it’s easy to see those impediments as obstructions to what we are trying to achieve. In fact, they may be something else … something positive … that will lead to new directions in our life. Stumbling blocks can become stepping stones to adventures we can’t even imagine.