Car trips to the outlying stores were always quality times with Larry, who wasn’t yet really working in the family business but just helping his father out. Because we knew each other’s families and friends well, we always spent time catching up on personal as well as staff news. But by 1982, Larry’s business of repurposing neglected buildings for lease by government offices was demanding more and more time, and Sam no longer wanted to travel so much. Because we had agreed that, when they were ready to sell the business, I would get first right of refusal, Avo and I set about trying to get financing to take over the business. (Avo’s work at VluchtelingwerkNL had stopped.)
By then, with two kids and four stores, life was full. My sister Rachel, with a degree in business administration, did an internship with the Boltanksys in Baltimore, then came over to take over the administration. She was also to become a partner. Unfortunately, none of the several banks we approached were willing to take a chance on us, afraid that we’d pull up stakes in the night and return to our countries. Nor were they willing to lend money based on an inventory of only English language books, although the fact that sales had been enough to pay A-location rents for 10 years might have been an indication that the inventory was current and in demand.
We had to tell Sam sorry, we couldn’t make the deal.
He tried to sell it via some contacts of his lawyer, but those Americans didn’t want to take a risk on a foreign business far from their control. Sam came back to us with an offer for a management buyout, payable over five years. We had to go back to the banks to finance the initial payment and managed by mortgaging our apartment, Avo’s stamps and the children’s shoes. And so, I got onto a plane to sign the papers in February 1983…..
Now you’re probably imagining the formal contract signing taking place in a well-appointed lawyer’s office, everyone nicely dressed, champagne toasts all around to celebrate.
That’s not how it went.
Because of the snowstorm, the center of Baltimore was closed to traffic. Sam’s lawyer (picture a man of Danny DeVito dimensions, always smoking a too-big cigar) suggested we meet at Johns Hopkins University because it was accessible and closed due to the snowstorm. We met there in a parking lot and went into a building and picked a classroom (the door was open, but no one else was there). We all trudged in wearing winter coats and galoshes, Sam in his fur-lined aviator hat, dripping snowmelt where we walked. There was no desk or table large enough for all of us, so we sat on the floor along one wall. Lawyer Sheldon ran through the contracts with us, then passed the copies one by one to Sam to sign. Sam passed them to me to sign, I gave them to Larry. When finished, Sam stood up and said, “Let’s go.”