In the last several months, Bernadine Styburski has been, in rapid succession, lawbreaker and a victim of crime - and all beccause she decided to make a living selling postcards and notecards.
The most serious of her several offenses - which wound up costing her $75 in fines, four days in court and an afternoon in D.C. jail - was to post a sandwich board at Wisconsin Avenue and O Street NW, breaking a city law against advertisting on public space.
She had hoped to draw some foot traffic to her shop around the corner, but what she drew instead was a policeman who gave her a ticket.
Hopping mad, Styburski resolved to take the case to court. But after one day waiting to get a court date and four hours waiting for her case to be called, she ran into a lawyer friend, who counseled her to swallow her pride and forfeit her collateral. She swallowed her pride. She forfeited the collateral.
Unfortunately for Styburski, however, her lawyer friend failed to advise her that she would be expected back in court after the lunch break. When she case was called and she failed to answer, the judge issued a bench warrant, and she was arrested one morning nearly a month later by two police officers who pounded on the door off her Columbia Road apartment.
Police kept Styburski in custody the rest of the day, transporting her by poice wagon from her home to the 3rd District station house to Superior Court, and finally from Superior Court to D.C. Jail, while her friends scraped together $200 bond.
The District of Columbia vs. Bernadine Styburski came up for trial recently. Considerably worn down by the preliminaries, she pleaded guilty on all counts.
Her experience as a victim of crime was the experience shared by many a person who operates a small business - her cash drawer was rifled by a teen-ager who got away with $68, the lion's share of a day's receipts.
So how is Styburski's business faring after all these adversities? "Oh breaking even," she says.
Eight months after its grand opening, her tiny shop, called Small Images is breaking even if you disregard the fact that Styburski receives only a nominal wage for her 40-hour-plus a week; that her partner, Walter Draude, works 12 hours a week with no salary and that they have barely begun to contemplate payinc back the thousands of dollars they borrowed to get the business launched.
In spite of the sandwich board affair, business has inched upward. Syburski says Christmas sales were good but "the question is whether a sandwich board would have made them even better."
It is hard to imagine a smaller business than Small Images. The store itself is about 15 feet wide by 20 feet long. The most expensive card sells for 60 cents, the least expensive for 25 cents. There is no cash register, so every sale has to be logged by hand.
Styburski and Draude, who are longstanding friends, had grander dreams at first. "We fantasized opening everything from a pastry shop to a used car lot," says Draude. But they finally decided they would have to start small if they were going to start at all.
When Draude chanced across a similar shop called, "untitles," in the New York City Soho district, he walked in and asked the propreitor for advice on how to start such a venture. Then, advice in hand, he sold Styburski on the idea.
Neith Draude, then and now a teacher at the Foundry United Methodist Church Pre-school, nor Styburski, who was unemployed, ahd much money of their own to invest. They planned to borrow their bankroll - close to $10,000 - from friends.
"I felt awkward about it," says Styburski. "I didn't know how to strike the proper tone. . . We kind fo scrreened people. We went through a lot of people that were on out hit list, and we excluded peope even though they could help us, because we thought the friendship would impinge on the loan agreement.
"The amazing thing is that most people were right out front. They said yes and they signed it right off, or they said, sorry, I can't afford it."
Before Small Images, Styburski had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, a teacher, a waitress, a political campaign aide "and I workeed for an architectural firm - it's hard to say what I did there, but I was there for two years."
In "most of the jobs I have ever had in my life," she says, "I fulfilled a function on a staff, and if something didn't work or I didn't want to do something, I would explain it to my superior and either end up not doing it or doing it poorly. But in this small-business business, everything that you don't want to do you end up having to do."On the morning their scheduled opening last April, for example, Styburski and Draude discovered that the grooves in the display cases they had ordered were not quite wide enough to accommodate the glass pane designed to fit there.
"It's just a pane of glass," says Styburski. "It proved to be a real pain, too, believe me." To solve the problem, she and the carpenter spent three furious hours widening the grooves with a router.
Small Images was opened with virtually no advertising or promotion, adds Styburski - and its initial business volume reflected that fact.
Styburski hasn't reached a conclusion on the satisfaction of being self-employed.
"I can dress the way I want to dress," she says approvingly. On the other hand, she has started smoking for the first time in her life. "I find it to be relaxing. Nobody was more surprising than me."