rsts11: Setting up shop, part 1
As I’ve hinted at a couple of times recently, I’m setting up a shop. It’s a couple hundred feet from home, in a building constructed 60 years ago as a laundry facility and since then serving as a lawnmower shop, auto repair shop, bazaar (really–that’s what the planning permit said), antique shop, real estate agent’s office, jeweler, and who knows what else?
My incarnation of this particular location will be called Andromedary Instinct, a name I chose ten years ago to avoid the common “* Networks” or “* Microsystems” naming that a lot of places were going with back then. Sure, it took me ten years to decide what to do with the name, but I plan to sell used, homebuilt, and vintage computers and electronics, in the store, on eBay, and at local flea markets and swap meets as time permits. It’s definitely a step up from pulling stuff out of storage once or twice a year for the flea market and trying to do eBay sales from home without angering my significant other or having her reorganize things for me.
A funny thing happened on the way to the grand opening…
In the course of about two weeks, I managed to get a fictitious business name filed with the county, a business bank account opened with my credit union, a state seller’s permit issued/tax account opened, and a federal EIN issued by the IRS. I also got the lease handled and Internet service going with Sonic.net (single line fusion ADSL2+, 18mbit for $50). Along the way I got most of my old storage merged together, took a long weekend for Gallifrey One and a couple of days for Tech Field Day, and mostly kept up with work too.
Then came the last bit, the city business permit.
The planning/use permit history on this property is pretty interesting, and it’s been the source of no small amount of distress as I’ve gone through the process of making a legitimate business of the shop. It seems the last use permit issued was in early 1969, for lawnmower repair and sales. I’ve seen it in two different incarnations since moving to Sunnyvale, one of which wasn’t retail so it wouldn’t have required a planning permit.
But past use is not necessarily indicative of future permission. In 1993, Sunnyvale adopted a Downtown Specific Plan (revised in 2003), which specifies certain uses for certain blocks of downtown. This particular block, which features a large non-descript self-storage facility, a large bicycle sales and repair shop, an auto parts shop, and (until last year) a glass dealer, is zoned for “Very High Density Residential” or “Medium Density Residential.” My side, with all the businesses on it, is VHD Residential. So new uses that aren’t residential may run afoul of the planning division, or at least require special dispensation. (Apparently the previous tenant avoided this by not getting a permit, and may have moved out when she got caught. I didn’t want to bet on that.)
The building isn’t really conducive to residential use as it is now, with concrete floors, limited climate control, no shower/bath/hot water facilities for the most part… in San Francisco it might be convertable to a loft/live-work type thing with a LOT of work… and the owner isn’t seeming to be in a hurry to tear it down to build more condos. So I think it makes sense to have some business here. “For Rent” signs don’t really improve the sense of the neighborhood.
And either way, I have the county, state, and federal stuff taken care of… so all that’s needed at this point is a place I can legally do retail business, with compatible city regulations and permits and an affordable lease.
So I’m hoping that my efforts with the city planning department are successful toward getting a use permit to do retail business here. The folks at the planning department have been extremely helpful and friendly, for what it’s worth… Hopefully I’ll know within the next two weeks so I can either schedule my grand opening or buy some new boxes and think about a new location.
UPDATE: I got confirmation this morning that the Miscellaneous Plan Permit and my business license have both been approved as of today. So a bit of delay, a few fees, and a fair bit of effort put into the Plan Permit application paid off.
So what’s next?
If things clear up with the City, I’ll be finishing up my sorting of stuff… doing a fair bit of trash, recycling, and Goodwill runs this month. I’ll also be starting to post some smaller eBay sales to get my reputation and Paypal record going. I think I will actually be selling as a legit business at the next Electronics Flea Market at Deanza College… and should have my first store hours near that time. If you’re local, I hope you’ll drop by and take a look around.