NEW YORK -- Barbara Bolden has been asked to find a skywriter, the Nov. 15, 1939, sports section of a New York daily newspaper and a shipload of Brazilian cement -- all in a few days.
"People will call and ask for the darndest things," says Bolden, founder, president and sole employee of B. Bold International. "I'll say, 'No problem.' But when I get off the phone, I ask myself, 'Now where in the world am I going to find that?' "
Bolden's a professional finder -- that is, she tracks down elusive objects and services. "I work for people with very little time and lots of money," Bolden says, adding quickly, "but I am competitive."
Her fee: $52 an hour with a two-hour minimum.
The Manhattan resident launched her business a couple of years ago after spending 18 years as a merchandising manager at JCPenney. When the department store moved its headquarters to Dallas, Bolden stayed behind and capitalized on what seems to be a native talent to hunt the hard to find.
Sometimes Bolden is hired to track down run-of-the-mill things like designer linen (for a West African boutique) and "Phantom of the Opera" tickets (for a Kansas City doctor).
But often requests tend to be more exotic. The request for Brazilian cement came from a Nigerian living in London, an executive who presumably has connections to a construction firm. A Manhattan investor requested the skywriter. He wanted to send his daughter a celestial salute at her commencement from a Connecticut college. The old paper? A gift for a sports fanatic born on the date of publication.
Bolden had served as an amateur finder for colleagues, family, friends and friends of friends for years. At work, if someone was looking for something, say, like hard-to-find theater tickets, says Bolden, "inevitably someone would say go up to Ms. B's office. She'll know how to get them."
A travel lover, Bolden also found herself planning itineraries for friends vacationing in New York or other world capitals -- gratis. "I'd write down where they should go, where they should eat, etc.," she says. "I spent a lot of time and effort doing this. I mean, I didn't just wake up with these ideas."
One day, she woke up and asked herself, "Hey, why don't I make some money doing this?"
She started B. Bold with several thousand dollars in savings. "I was scared to death of leaving the security of a 9 to 5 job," Bolden recounts. "To start a business and make it successful, one needs courage, capital and faith."
Advertising in national magazines, Bolden found several clients. Her first was a society type looking for a designer to create formal wear that would flatter her ample figure. She needed a dress within a week.