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A Marketplace of Dreams

When my parents met in 1975, Pop was twenty-two and Mom was twenty-five, but they each had their own businesses in the same small shopping center in Rolling Hills, where Mom sold clothes and Pop sold plants.

Growing up with two entrepreneurial parents taught me plenty about the perennial effort required to build a successful business, the inherent value of understanding early on that rolling along the assembly line of normality was not a prerequisite for my life, and the unwavering reality that quality mattered.

Those lessons were all critical to who I became as an entrepreneur, husband, and father. 

But my parents were also a shit show, responsible for an unrelenting parade of dubious shenanigans throughout my adolescence and early adulthood that I have had to actively unlearn. Especially from my father, whose arrogant philosophies, limiting beliefs, and dishonest behaviors all led to corrosive lies that became easier and easier to tell himself over time.

Today I understand that this cocktail of arrogance and deception held my parents back from the people they could have been and the magical things they could have built together. But at five years old, back when E.T., Tootsie, and The Wrath of Kahn were all still playing in movie theaters that drizzled real butter on their popcorn, I saw none of that. Only the constant commerce of The Marketplace. And I was fascinated.

If you’ve read the Balloon Story, you’ve already gotten a glimpse into my early entrepreneurial inspiration. That story became a legend in my family. It’s always been one of my parents’ favorites, and we even have a picture of me and Megan as evidence that it happened. But everything you read in that last post is a storyteller reimagining those events in real time for us both.

And yet, the core truths are unwavering, because I do remember what it felt like to make that sale (including the accolades afterward), and the promise of magic that The Marketplace offered me.

My earliest significant memory, the first one I’m sure I actually remember without leaning on family retellings, is the exact moment when that shopping center entered our lives.

My parents were taking Honey and Papí to dinner for their anniversary. The only thing I remember about the restaurant that night is an entire wall covered in brightly painted tropical parrots amid many shades of jungle green, and I would never have recalled something so trivial if not for what happened after we said goodnight to Honey and Papí.

We took a stroll through The Marketplace. Back then, the shopping plaza was pretty, full of quality restaurants, a few anchor tenants like the United Artists theater and the Food and Drug, plus a bevy of unique shops lining the winding walkways. A lovely pond, with a cascading fountain and a footbridge, and ducks quacking everywhere. To a three-year-old, it looked and felt (and probably even smelled) like a wonderland.

We stopped our walk at a small courtyard. In addition to a nail salon that I do remember and a couple of other businesses that I don’t, there was an ice cream parlor, a small wooden cottage (the photo mat), and an empty storefront. We sat on a bench and stared at that storefront for what felt like eternity.

Three-year-old Sean could not for the life of him fathom what his mother and father could possibly find so interesting in an empty store. Forty-six-year-old Sean is still in awe of the courage it took for my parents to do what they did next, making a decision that changed everything.

The empty store used to be a flower shop. The prior owners had skipped out on their lease, leaving the cooler behind while simultaneous eliminating the biggest expense of opening a flower shop for the next tenant. Pop had experience with plants, both as a proprietor of his own shop and as a driver for the nursery, where his route took him from one grocery store to the next, delivering fresh product and removing anything he deemed unsellable.

Not the same at all, but close enough. Mom had zero experience with flowers, but with her highly creative nature, of course she could figure out the design part.

They borrowed money from my great aunts and in 1980, Rainbows was born.

Over the next two years, my parents got extra-entrepreneurial, claiming the lease on the photo booth when it went empty (the kiosk was spitting distance from Rainbows), and then the ice cream parlor when its original owner started looking to get out of her lease.

By the time I was shilling balloons in front of the photo booth, I’d already seen Empire Strikes Back and E.T. at the UA, had a hundred swashbuckling adventures within view of my parents (mostly on the Grassy Mountain that was only a foot off the ground), and talked all of the security guards into being my friend. Making my first sale sealed the deal: the Marketplace was the best place on Earth.

But even though the Marketplace is where I had the most fun, I’m even more grateful for the weekends my sister and I spent with our grandparents, Honey and Papí, because without their loving influence, I would be a shadow of who I am.

When I was eighteen years old, I wanted to open a flower shop that sold only white flowers called La Fleur de Blanc. A ridiculous idea catering to an equally ridiculous-clientele. I also had an idea for a restaurant that would charge an absurd fee, but they would only handcraft a few dinners each night.

Clearly those ideas never came to be, but Johnny and I wrote a book with both businesses in it, plus my parents’ flower shop with a cooler origin story.

Because there is always an infinity of ways to express an idea. 

I’m excited to introduce you to my grandparents, Honey and Papí, next week.