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Ann sat dutifully at the table centered in the small break room, her heart consumed with joy. She was filling out a myriad of paperwork laid out before her. The table was actually too big for its surroundings, giving the room a very cramped feeling. Or as she preferred to look at it; cozy. But she understood the reasoning. There weren’t a lot of options for space, and she realized that decisions had been made to make the best of things.
After all, it was more than a break room. It had actually been the kitchen of the old house at one time. Even with a wall that had been taken out years before to open things up, it was still undersized by current standards.
Yet now it was more than a kitchen. It was basically a multi-purpose room. In addition to its original design, and that of the break room, it tripled as the conference room, which was why the table was so large. It had to accommodate for the rare times that all the employees of the business would gather together for a meeting of some type.
The thought of where she was and what she was doing had Ann humming as she filled out another employment form. It was her first day on the job at Henrietta’s House, the lingerie store that was located inside an old house in the center of town. A house that, for almost six decades, had been the home of not only a family, but also was a very successful brothel. It was a house that had been dedicated to the enjoyment of all things sexual… which was why Ann felt she belonged there.
Mary Ann was the founder and principle owner of Henrietta’s House. But in her mind, she was simply ‘minding the family business.’ She was the great-granddaughter of Henrietta, whom the store was named after. And it was Henrietta that she tried to emulate when it came to being a successful businesswoman.
Henrietta started the brothel out of necessity, in late1914. Like many women across the country, she’d become recently widowed; her husband killed in action during World War I. She was left behind, with an infant daughter to raise and no family to lean on for support. She was suddenly alone, with a baby to feed and a mortgage to pay, and she needed to find a way to survive.
Not one to wallow in self-pity, Henrietta quickly gathered herself. She was strong-willed. She was intelligent. She was beautiful. She was resourceful. She was organized and a hard worker. Under normal circumstances, she would have found a job and moved on with her life. But she was tied down because of having a baby.
Taking stock one night, the death benefits the government provided nearing an end, she formulated a plan. She began by listing the tangible assets she had available to her. They were limited. She had the house, and the furnishing inside it. But one of those items was her bed. And in her mind, it was an underused bed.
Henrietta loved sex. And while it wasn’t a thought that women of the time ever expressed, she knew she was great at it. She also missed it terribly. It was bad enough living without sex while her husband was overseas serving their country. The idea of going without it the rest of her life now that he was gone was unacceptable to her. But it was a different world back then. Young widowed mothers seldom remarried; the idea of a young suitor taking on the instant responsibility of becoming a step-father frightened most of them off. If Henrietta ever wanted to have sex again, she knew it would have to be on her terms, because traditional values of the time in which she lived dictated a lonely future. She wasn’t going to let that happen.
Thus she began a life as a prostitute. The empowerment that came with that choice quickly shaped her as a woman and a mother. It gave her purpose. It gave her pleasure. And ultimately, it gave her financial stability, and the freedom that went along with it. Eventually she turned that singular decision into a thriving profession, not only for herself, but in turn by offering employment opportunities for many incredible women over the years, including her own daughter Bonnie.
Henrietta was a progressive thinker, building a viable business, taking care of the girls that worked for her. They became like family, and she strived to make their lives enriched. Eventually Bonnie took over, with Henrietta’s blessing, and she developed profit sharing and offered healthcare. They both did their best to create an environment that was not only safe to practice what many considered a taboo occupation, but also made it fun for the girls that worked there. But it was Henrietta’s philosophy that sex was incredible, and it should be exhilarating for both parties involved. She didn’t want her girls thinking it was a seedy transaction. It was a service, but everyone should benefit from it.
In that light, she had very strict rules for the clientele. After all, the house wasn’t just a brothel; it doubled as her home… one where she was raising a child. She was very selective casino siteleri about the men she allowed to enter. Not everyone was welcome. In fact, most of the men that frequented the brothel were family men, successful and hard-working.
It also helped that whenever she had the occasional problem client, she had the support of the local law enforcement to take care of them. Sure, that was because she gave away free services to several high-ranking men that wore badges; part of a quid pro quo for them looking the other way when it came to the legality of her enterprise. But they never abused the privilege. They looked over the girls that worked there, protecting them. They saw what Henrietta was providing the community as a needed service, especially during the Depression, as well as through the prohibition era.
With a textile factory across the street, Henrietta built a thriving business. Yet she also found time to raise an incredible daughter; one that proudly looked up to her. Bonnie eventually joined the business, seeing her mother not as a whore, but as a successful woman that enjoyed her work. And Bonnie did just as well, coming up with incredible ideas of her own to make the business grow. It was Bonnie’s daughter Camilla that broke the mold, wanting nothing to do with the lineage her mother and grandmother had created. She was more ashamed than proud of how her family made its living. It helped that by that time, Henrietta and Bonnie had bought a different home, the three women living away from the infamous house on South Street.
Henrietta turned the business over to Bonnie before she passed away. Bonnie kept it going for quite a while, but eventually she decided to hang up her mattress, so to speak. She didn’t really want to, but the town had changed drastically. So had the world.
The first death blow was when the textile factory next door closed. Suddenly, half of the men that came to the brothel were out of work. Plus, the sexual revolution had just started. Young women were freely expressing their sexuality in so many wonderful ways. The idea of paying for sex became a harder concept to sell. Add to all of that the fact Camilla wanted nothing to do with taking over the business. After all, she was a college graduate. She had better things to do with her life than run a house of ill repute. So, Bonnie made the difficult decision to shut down the brothel in late 1969. She just didn’t have the heart to sell it, so it sat empty… for far too long.
That is until Mary Ann moved in. She’d been out of college for years, unable to find the right fit for a career. In her early 30s, she was still trying to find her way in the world. She’d gotten a solid job as at a local store, selling women’s shoes, but she had aspirations. A business major like her mom, Camilla, she wanted to make her mark on the world. She just didn’t know how she was going to do it yet.
When Bonnie died, Camilla inherited the house. She decided almost immediately that she was going to sell, wanting nothing to do with a place she saw as a tie to a past that in her eyes caused her more harm than good. The reputation of coming from, as she’d often put it, a family of whores, was one she couldn’t distance herself from enough. She loved her mother, and grandmother, but she hated the life they led, mainly because of the teasing she endured when she was younger.
Mary Ann saw things much differently. She always had. She found her family heritage fascinating; even oddly enticing. But she also knew never to bring up the subject in front of her mom. It was no longer an argument worth having. That didn’t mean she was ignoring the legacy of her family though. She hoped to continue to embrace it. In her eyes, selling the house was a huge mistake. She just needed a way to convince her mother of that.
She did it by appealing to her sense of practicality. Camilla was smart. Very smart, and Mary Ann asked that she take a risk, by investing in her future. She tried to help her mom get past the stigma the house represented in her mind, saying it was a dwelling first, and it would get out of her apartment and provide her a start. Camilla reluctantly agreed, knowing it was the right thing to do. No matter how she felt about the house personally, it really would be better for her daughter to own a place rather than continue to rent.
If she hadn’t already had a preconceived idea of her family history, living there gave Mary Ann inspiration. When she first moved, in it was exactly as Bonnie had left it the day so closed the business, and that gave her a different perspective. She thought she knew all about her family’s past, her grandmother more than willing to share tales that made her mother cringe. But Mary Ann loved hearing them, and now that she was living in the home, they seemed to come alive.
The bedrooms were still furnished sparsely, with small double beds and old spring mattresses that had seen lots of use. The upstairs bathroom, while small, had lots of character… the telltale canlı casino signs of the countless women that worked there left behind. She’d found tons of memories and mementos in boxes, stuffed in closets or scattered about the house.
While it seemed odd at first, she began romanticizing the profession that once flourished within those walls, always seeing the virtues instead of the stigmatism. In doing so, she became closer to the heritage her mother pretended didn’t exist. She could picture herself being just like Henrietta and Bonnie, and saw no shame in it. There was even a part of her deep inside that was disappointed she never got the opportunity to become one of the girls that worked there, to the point that she was a bit disappointed that her mother broke the chain by not following in their footsteps. Mary Ann fantasized many times about what it would have been like to be like the two women she so dearly loved and looked up to. Like them, she loved sex too, and the idea of making a living having it appealed to her.
Instead, she toiled away selling shoes. She liked the job. In fact, she liked retail. She loved working with the public, and she found helping someone find the perfect footwear to compliment an outfit very rewarding. Plus, she got a nice discount. But she wanted more. While she loved what she did, she hated working for someone else… she wanted control of her own destiny.
Her break came with the transformation that took place in her neighborhood shortly after she began living there. A developer had purchased the vacant textile factory across the street, and had begun the process of converting it into an outlet shopping center. Within two years, the area surrounding her house went from a run down remnant of a long ago era, to a thriving shopping district. With the zoning change from industrial to commercial, thus allowing the outlets to begin with, and the subsequent economic boom they created, Mary Ann came up with a germ of an idea that grew into Henrietta’s House.
Much like her great-grandmother, she took stock of her assets. She had a bachelor’s degree in business, graduating in the top five percent of her class. She had over eight years of practical experience in retail, becoming the stores top sales person in the process. And just like Henrietta and Bonnie, she was intelligent, gorgeous, and she loved sex. Unlike them, she lived in a time where running a brothel would no longer be looked at favorably in the eyes of the law. The other difference was she owned the house outright, and she didn’t have a family yet. She didn’t even have a boyfriend.
She took strength in Henrietta’s resolve, thinking of what it must have been like to make the decision to go from being just a prostitute to becoming madam of a brothel. It was one thing to make her living having sex with men. It was another altogether to provide viable employment opportunities for other women looking for work during the Depression. It took vision. It took commitment. It took the determination of a woman that saw things as possible when most others would have given up.
Deciding to put the house up as collateral, Mary Ann worked to secure a business loan and line of credit from a local bank. Over the course of a couple of months, she had provided a sound business plan that had outlines for growth and future earning potential. She’d shown detailed renovation plans for the house to bring it up to code, as well as floor plans for the interior design. She even had preliminary inventory orders secured with established suppliers to show she’d researched the market and had contracts ready to execute once things were ready to go.
While it was true a lot of the red tape that would have normally gotten in her way had been cleared with the zoning changes, it wasn’t going to be that simple. While she had a good idea that she knew would work, the financing was becoming something that was a concern. The bank was initially hesitant because they were nervous about the competition of the outlet center. They feared their investment would be in jeopardy because of the advantages the developer could give potential companies looking to lease retail space.
She’d had three meetings with Charles Danielson, the manager of the business development branch of the bank. While she felt good about the first one, where she’d spelled out many of the details, the following ones had become increasingly frustrating. She left the second meeting feeling like she hadn’t been taken seriously. She wondered at first if perhaps she was in over her head. Or maybe there was some important factor that if she’d not thought of that was giving him pause.
But that didn’t make any sense. In that second meeting, he had requested additional information, wanted more details on prospective customers, as well as the actual product lines they might be selling. She had that info with her at the ready, along with many other answers to questions he came up with. She felt certain when the meeting ended that her preparedness kaçak casino showed she was a low-risk, solid candidate.
Rehashing the meeting later, she finally came to the conclusion that she was overreacting to his hesitance. He was just doing his job and being cautious. After all, he was in charge of loaning money to businesses, and the national average for new starts-ups being successful was very low. He had to do his due-diligence. Expecting the follow-up meeting they’d scheduled for the next week to be better, she felt confident that things would work out fine.
Instead, that third meeting was contentious. He badgered her on her overall plan, and the need for a lingerie-only shop in an area that was, in his estimation, very conservative. He questioned her demographics, asserting that the women of the area weren’t interested in that type of clothing store. She found herself defending her vision, countering his points with numbers and facts. She produced documentation to validate her findings, including a survey with signatures of women who stated they indeed would visit and shop at such a store. He waved all of that off, saying it was unreliable and unscientific data.
When things got heated, he said, “I don’t know why you can’t understand this, Miss Dawson. Not only is there no sustainable value in your business model, I don’t see a need for the product line. The clientele is too limited… too specialized. Women in this area -“
“With all due respect, Mr. Danielson, you haven’t a clue about the women of this area. You’re a handsome man in a suit. You aren’t a twenty-two year-old woman. Or a fifty year-old woman, for that matter,” she argued. “Face it, you’re not a woman.”
“True. But what does age have to do with it?”
“What do you mean? You’re the one that brought up demographics. What in the world do you think that stands for?”
“Look, Miss Dawson, there’s no need to get insulting.”
She was exasperated, his logic not making any sense to her.
“I… I’m not intending to sound that way. I just don’t know what else you want me to show you to prove that this is going to work. You keep talking about women in this area, which, by the way, WILL shop at my store. All sizes, all ages, all backgrounds. But you’re also forgetting the draw of the outlets. There’s nothing like them in a four-state area. People are going to be coming here from out of state to shop at the outlets. They already are.”
“Yes, they are coming to the outlets. On that I agree.”
“And we’re going to be right there… right across the street!”
“Yes. Across the street, not part of the outlets. Not advertised by the outlets. Not…”
“Is that what this is about? Marketing?”
“That’s a part of it. If you can’t get them in your store, Miss Dawson, they aren’t going to buy from you. And if they don’t buy from you, this won’t work.”
“Now who’s being insulting?” she asked, leaning across his desk.
“You know very well I have a bachelor’s degree in business. You also know I minored in economics. It’s all in the paperwork I gave you, so cut the crap.”
“I think this meeting is over.”
“No, it isn’t. If you don’t think I have what it takes to make this a go because I’m a woman… then say it.”
“Whoa! I NEVER said that.”
“You didn’t have to. You’ve gone back to old school banking… which is exactly what my mother warned me when I said I was going to come here. I figured with the history my family has here you’d be more progressive in your thinking. But she must be right. She said the way you do business has changed.”
“History? What are you talking about? You’ve only had an account here for three years.”
“Well you obviously didn’t read the details in my outline summary, did you? I’ve actually banked here off and on for fifteen years, and my family has been with you for decades beyond that.”
“That can’t be true. My family has been a part of the management of this bank since it was founded over a hundred years ago. I know who our customers are, Miss Dawson.”
That revelation was news to her. Welcome news. Her eyes flashed to the small nameplate adorning his desktop, a wry smile appearing on her face. Her mind flashed first to Henrietta, and how she’d forged ahead. It had to be a huge step to get what she wanted in her life.
She then recalled her Grandma Bonnie quoting Henrietta. It was a message that had been passed down through their family. Henrietta had been asked about the vocational choice she’d been forced to make at such an early age. Her response resonated in Mary Ann.
The hardest part about weighing risks versus rewards is having the courage to actually take the risk. Only those that do have a chance to see what might come from it. The rest are left standing on the curb, watching their dreams pass them by.
Those words echoed in her head, and she knew what she needed to do. That is, if she could find that courage Henrietta spoke of.
Leading Mr. Danielson to where she needed him to go, she said, “You didn’t know me before our first meeting, so that can’t be true. And from what I just heard, you don’t know anything about half your customer base.”
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