I was 14 years old, and who’s not surprised? I mean, with all the crap from what was going on at school, and the less-than-perfect home life. I was a sitting duck, and searching for ways to escape from reality, and forget my problems. What started out innocently enough, quickly turned into an addiction that lasted for over a decade.
My addiction was night clubs. If music was a religion a nightclub was my church, and I was a devout follower.
My love for dance in general attracted me, but it was the atmosphere, pounding bass from the Louie Devito remixes, and being surrounded by mobs of club enthusiasts; that kept me going back almost every…. single…. weekend. Night clubs became my new home away from home, and my way to escape.
Club Excalibur was the first club I ever stepped foot in. It was an underage club that catered to the under 18 crowd, but I didn’t let age deter me from sneaking into 21+ clubs by the time I was 16-17. It didn’t happen often, and I never pushed my luck by trying to score drinks. I was there to dance! I eventually made my way to Club Liquid once I was old enough to get in (17+) and it was the local hot spot for the younger club crowd. Getting in the “VIP” area (upstairs) was always the ultimate goal of the night. You could only go up by invitation, therefore, you had to know someone or get someone’s attention. This was why I always made it a priority to become friends with the security guards. They hooked me up….a lot, and I was lucky to get to hang out with a few local music artists (Toya, Pretty Willie), producers, and lots of wanna-be groupies. Liquid was where I began to build a reputation from club kid to networker and promoter.
As soon as I hit 18, my obsession blew up! I began hitting up as many night clubs as I could all over the St. Louis area. Then, I took my addiction to San Diego, Chicago, and even Mexico. At 19-20 years old, I began dancing with a group for a local St. Louis club as…I guess you could call us… “go go” dancers. We’d choreograph routines and perform them for tips….good times.
I hit the peak of my freelance promoting when I moved back to Chicago in 2008. I started promoting tattoo studios and artists, special events/parties, etc. My phone would be toppling with text messages and voice mails for future events to hit up, and being this was my only source of income at the time, I rarely missed an opportunity. I was always looking forward to that next gig because you never knew who you might run into too, or where a connection would lead, therefore, it was non-stop and exhausting. My feet would be covered in blisters from spending 10 or more hours in heels, making countless rounds and striking up a conversation with as many people as I could before dawn approached.
I eventually ended up suppressing my nightlife addiction when I met my husband at a promotional gig I as working at Navy Pier, but even to this day and after all these years, I keep that club kid part of me alive and well, and more than likely, I will have the launch party for CTA….at a night club.
I graduated high school in May 2003. Accomplishing what some said I never would, and I had never been happier to prove them wrong, and most importantly, I had survived high school. Kind of weird to say and a bit dramatic, but it’s true, especially considering that some kids (even today) …..never do.
I felt like I was released from a prison in a way. The day after graduation…. the sun was brighter, the air was lighter, and for the first time in almost 10 years….I felt relief! HALF of my nightmare was finally over. I felt empowered; feeling that whatever life was going to throw at me, it couldn’t possibly be much worse than what I had already been through. I felt I had nothing more to lose and everything to gain…..including a new future.
My mom had hoped that I would go to a local college, but honestly, hell would freeze over first before I’d agree to stay local. I wanted to be in a place where I knew no one and no one knew me. I needed to start over and college was the only solution of making that possible. I began to research colleges that were over 200 miles away…I thought it would be a good distance to start with. This ambition is what lead me to Chicago, but there was a small problem with my decision….. I didn’t know a damn thing about Chicago….NADA! I barely knew where it was in the state of Illinois, let alone, how big of a culture-clash it would be. I had no idea how big it was, how busy it was, the diversity, how to utilize public transportation (most people drive everywhere in St. Louis) or how dangerous the city could be to a 19-year-old social butterfly like myself with limited street smarts. This in turn made my family insanely nervous for my safety, but bless them, they didn’t stand in my way of wanting to go.
NEXT STEP: Get accepted into a college! Easier said than done!
Due to my horrendous transcripts from high school, I had to “wow” the admissions department to get accepted. Initially, I was technically rejected, but I was not about to take “no” for an answer. Therefore, I had submitted an admissions essay on why I wanted to attend ILIA, and needless to say…..they were very “wowed” with my letter; stating it was “incredibly passionate”, and the initial rejection was reversed, and I was officially accepted into the Illinois Institute of Art as a fashion design major. Even though I couldn’t really draw or sew worth a damn….still….I had never been so happy before in my life.
I moved into my new place the night before my first day of classes. It was a large studio on the 17th floor that overlooked parts of downtown and the Sears Tower. That first night was an awkward one. I didn’t sleep…I was excited, but scared knowing that for the first time in my life…… I was completely on my own. After I managed to freak myself out enough, I ended up taking a walk outside to the front entrance of the apartments (in my PJ’s and slippers), and met my first college buddy, Brendan*; a tall, lanky, curly-haired street artist from Madison, WI. He was very laid back and had a open personality that made it easy to start up a conversation with him. We sat and talked on the bench for about an hour or so, going back and forth about where we were from, and how nervous I was about going to my first class considering that I didn’t have a clue on how to get to the campus (2003…no smartphones or GPS apps). So Brendan politely offered to walk with me since we had the same Design 101 class together, and through him, I met a group of friends that were my backbone while I was there. It was amazing! I literally woke up every morning, looked out the window, and said to myself, “OMG, I made it, I’m here”, and I just remember the incredible feeling of happiness, hope, gratitude….emotions I wasn’t used to experiencing on an everyday basis. As time progressed, everything was going so well, classes were solid, friends were awesome, times were good, and of course, reality was about to hit me like a ton of bricks.
……I had ran out of money. I could no longer afford my monthly housing costs, and with no money for school, there was definitely no money anything else, and I began to fall apart rapidly knowing that I was on my way back to the town that I hated beyond recognition, and that I had worked so hard to get away from. It was the first time I ever really felt as though I had failed. Feeling that I missed my one shot to become someone and to do something extraordinary was absolutely devastating to me. A few weeks after finding out of my financial situation, I ended up returning back to my small town, back in with my mom and right back to square one. I was down, but wasn’t giving up yet. I had another plan!
*Dedicating this post to the memory of Brendan Scanlon aka “SOLVE”
Brendan was murdered in Chicago, June 14, 2008. He was 24 years old.
— Thanks for looking out for me and creating the best prank on my mom ever!
I sent my mom this picture, and told her this was a real “tattoo”
……she fell for it.
OK… UPDATE ON ARCH GRANT PROCESS….THERE’S ONE LITTLE PROBLEM…..
I emailed the committee through their website requesting permission to submit my business as a valid entry even though it wouldn’t be located within Downtown St. Louis, but IS still located within the city limits. I have yet to receive a decision…so I am currently stuck in limbo, but I am not stopping any momentum I am trying to build up. I am continuing on as I have been for the past year, and hopefully will get a big thumbs up…soon. There are major reasons why I want to launch outside of downtown; which I expressed my main ones through my email to the Arch Grants, and wanted to express in a little more detail why I don’t feel downtown is the best market to consider at this time (not to exclude it completely from future local expansion plans)
1.) Limited pedestrian traffic, and limited vehicle traffic. — Yes, this area is rebuilding and rebounding, which is awesome and amazing, but it hasn’t yet hit it’s peak, and there is no guarantee that, once it is completed, that it will pull people back to the downtown area. My business could actually have a GREATER chance of FAILING by simply having to “wait and see” if the area does in fact, rebound. Currently, I don’t see a lot of daytime traffic (pedestrian or vehicle) outside of Washington Ave. and Market St. And even then, it is only certain blocks on Wash Ave and Market that would make it a viable market for my company.
I don’t have the time to wait for my target market to come to me, nor, do I have the extra finances to invest in additional marketing, advertising, and enticing promotions. I have to go to them….SIMPLE! I find locations that ALREADY have the pedestrian and vehicle traffic established, in combination with, my customer demographics. Downtown, currently, is a POSSIBLE market, but not appropriate for my action plan at this time…unfortunately.
2.) Not exactly an open market….anymore — My initial excitement about launching in downtown was the fact that it was an open market opportunity. There were no current resale providers (with a positive public image) within the area. However, last June, MOV clothing store launched at Washington and 13th. (My Round 1 Arch Grant submission last Feb/March listed CTA’s location to be at or near Washington and 4th) One of my stronger advantages is locating open or under-served locations, and as closely located to my target market as physically possible. It’s having that “head-start” in building the company’s customer/client loyalty that will be a big factor in CTA’s overall sustainability, and most importantly, being EASILY ACCESSIBLE to my customers and clients. I welcome the competition, but there are big perks in being first!
St. Louis (as a whole) is a very business-loyal community. If you execute your business correctly, you will have loyal customers for life — FOR EXAMPLE: The Coffee Cartel (located at Euclid and Maryland in the CWE) is a single location, and yet, their customers and associates are so die-hard loyal that this one little St. Louis coffee shop put big ‘ol Starbucks (which was located across the street) out of business.
3.) Crime in downtown – Being a police dispatcher for areas bordering with St. Louis City, I hear of a lot more that goes on than what most St. Louis residents and businesses know of. Most crimes never make it to the evening news, and my confidence is still insecure for a few different reasons that I can’t currently disclose of at this time (professional/political conflict of interest) but they are compelling.
4.) Target market conflict – Like I said before, my business needs to be located as close to my customers as possible. This is one of my marketing strategies that will greatly increase my appeal to my customers, the flow of customer traffic into the store, and provide me with an endless supply of potential employees. I do not have this advantage if I launch in downtown right now. The building I have picked out to become my “living business model” has a large concentration of my target market located right across the street, and directly next door….no joke. This is an area that most in my position could only dream of having, and yet, here I am, looking at the big FOR SALE sign on the building and dying a bit inside by truly knowing its full potential.
……I am really hoping that they will accept my business submission, and that I will be able to confidently pursue the competition! Right now, only time will tell.