Sunday, November 01, 2009

Monocles and monocle repair

While I was ordering a small soft drink at the Burger King at the corner of Washington Street and Columbia Road, I asked the cashier if many people purchased the "Angry Whopper." She looked at me bemused. "You know we're in Dorchester, sir," she said, "The last time I saw anyone having anything to do with 'angry' anything, it was when Sam Yoon came in third place in the mayoral primary." I asked where she lived. "Lower Mills," she replied, and that explained that.

I filled my small cup with Diet Coke and sat down with Xavier Preval, who had been waiting for me. My motorcycle is in the shop and since this November 1st was the perfect defintion of Indian Summer, I decided to hoof it from Savin Hill to whatever part of Dorchester this intersection belongs to. Four Corners? I'm not sure. It may be the furthest edge of Grove Hall. Anyway, Monsieur Preval seemed pleased to see me. He was just finishing up a Whopper Jr. as I sat down across the booth from him.

"Did you sign the lease?" I asked. He replied no. "The bank closed at noon yesterday and I got there at 11:50. We didn't have time to conclude the deal. I will be there tomorrow, Monday, at 9:30AM sharp."

"So the deal is as good as done?" I asked. He said yes. "The loan is as good as signed. Once that is done I will sign the lease and after that I will renovate the shop and be in business in time for Christmas."

"You are renting the same property we discussed last time?" I asked. M. Preval said, "Yes. It is. You know it. It's just a few blocks further down Washington Street." He pointed in the general direction. "I think it's a prime location," he added.

"You're sure that's the best location for what you've got in mind?" I pressed, "That was built to be a car dealership, not for your line of work."

Xavier Preval looked at me patiently. "Mr. King, I appreciate your misgivings. I have had them myself but America, and Dorchester in particular, is a place to dream big. I read the Wall Street Journal. I know a recession is the best time for entrepreneurs to start a new business. That's why I got such a favorable rental agreement. If I didn't believe in my product, I wouldn't sink my life's savings into it. I know there is a market that nobody else in Boston is satisfying. I'm the man to do it and this building is the place in which to do it."

I had to admit that while I have strolled and window shopped all over Boston, I have yet to have found a monocle shop, let alone one that also offers professional and credentialled monocle repairs. I have been to M. Preval's home and seen his inventory. He brought much of it with him from his native Haiti and since moving to Dorchester four years ago he has amassed an even more extensive stock of monocles, leveraging his cab driver salary through savvy, online auction maneuvers. Xavier Preval's father was the optometrist to the Duvaliers so the son has a good eye for quality lenses and settings.

I asked M. Preval why he was set on opening a monocle shop in Dorchester. He daubed at his lips with his napkin, wiping away the last bit of ketchup from his Whopper Jr. He said, "I thought about a more high-foot-traffic area, maybe Charles Street or next to J. Perotti. Being close to the opera or close to where villains congregate may be better for my trade. Then I realized that I will be the only person selling monocles in all of Boston. It doesn't matter where I set up shop. If I build it they will come. Politicians love Dorchester anyway and, really, they're a class of people who suffer stigmatisms. If they'll come to Dorchester, and they obviously will, the rest will follow."

I asked, "Do you mean you intend to cater to crooks, to dastardly characters, to villains?" M. Preval said no. He said, "I will sell monocles to whoever needs to have their vision corrected in one eye. I understand that the monocle-dependant are stereotyped as belonging to the theatrical, criminal fringe. That isn't always the case. My grandmother, God rest her soul, never swatted a fly let alone a grandchild's behind. She used a monocle to read the newspaper. Using a monocle doesn't make you a criminal. It means you don't have the money to spend on two lenses and a corresponding set of frames. This is another reason I think Dorchester is a good place in which to plant my business. People who live in the neighborhoods along Washington Street are frugal."

I asked M. Preval about the monocle repair aspect of his proposed business venture. "That," he said, "will be my main profit center. How do you repair a monocle? There are no screws, no hardware. It's just a lens. I will take it in the back room, polish it, sip a cup of tea out of sight, and bring it out on a swatch of velvet. That's worth a thirty-five dollar bill, at least. Most lanyards that connect to monocles are made of ribbon. I'll charge an extra seven dollars to iron the ribbon if its too wrinkled." He winked.

I had to admit that M. Preval had considered most of the angles regarding his new monocle and monocle repair shop. I wished him the best of luck in securing he loan and the lease. After all, Dorchester is a fertile ground for improbable niche businesses that eventually succeed.

As I deposited my cup in the trash can and M. Preval dumped the contents of his tray, I asked him what the name of his shop would be so that I could give him a plug on this page. He used both of his good eyes to stare squarely into mine. "I want to keep it simple and descriptive: 'Boston Monocles and Monocle Repair.' That has a nice ring to it and anyone looking it up in the Yellow Pages will know what we sell."

I agreed. We shook hands in the Burger King parking lot. Xavier Preval headed south on Washington Street, to inspect his new storefront perhaps. I headed east on Columbia Road, in the direction where the sun had risen a few hours earlier.

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