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Business Grant Money For Disabled Army Vet To Open Big Bear Western Store

by John Terranova
(Big Bear City, CA, USA)

I was born in Missouri. Dad moved us out here in 1957. I met my wife Denise here. I met her the first time in 1959 when she was in K1 and I was in K2.

I left California in 1970 for the last two years of high school in St. George, Utah. That is where I learned to drive a truck, even before I had a license.

I returned to California, met Denise again, dated a couple of years, and got married in 1975 after I joined the Army.

I was honorably discharged from the Army in 1977.

Now, 36 years later, here I am with three kids, nine grandsons and one granddaughter.

I was a truck driver in the Army, and drove trucks on and off, up until 2005. I left trucking a few times to pursue other interests, such as furniture mover and inventory control manager/truck driver.

I drove for a lot of outfits over the years, doing different types of hauling. When I was not driving, I would go into other fields.

I was twice a plant manager in the food industry. I was in car and mobile home sales. I even worked for a producer calling on investors to put their money into the movies.

I write, with two poems published, and one song recorded. The song was for my Father who was dying. And yes, he heard it just before passing away.

In the middle of all that, I had been a truck-driving instructor, and I took classes for a bank teller (to better understand money handling, CDs and bonds), a computer aided drafting course, CPR, first aid and a business management course that I am currently enrolled in.

Even though I always wanted a general store, it's when I managed some Western stores that I decided I would my own Western store. I just felt like it was meant to be.

It was interrupted by a tumor on my vocal cords, followed by a total laryngectomy. After a few years of recovery, I am ready to pursue my dream. I refuse to lie down and die. That is not me.

When I decided to open a store, I put together a business plan, incorporated and started looking for financing. I was fighting cancer, when my LLC was suspended.

My credit took as hard a hit as my voice. I had neither left. I was denied SSI twice, before the cancer, and then after the cancer.

It was a couple months until I was actually awarded Disability. Even though my wife works part-time, it is a paycheck to four days before paycheck living.

While recuperating, I spent my time at the computer, bringing my business plan up to date. I continued research on Western Wear retail trends.

I do some trading on eBay, which keeps my dog Zuess fed.

When people ask me how I am doing, I tell them I belong to an exclusive club called INDY -- I'm Not Dead Yet!

Since before the cancer, I have lived in the mountain community of Big Bear Lake. Folks call me Bear, but not for my size; it's all attitude.

We all have challenges in life. You can ignore them, and maybe even hide. I choose to hit them head on. I'll probably be late for my own funeral.

I had a tumor the size of a lemon on my vocal cords. I thought it was some kind of soar throat. I had been off work, fighting with SSI over my back, and being treated by Long Beach Veterans hospital for emphysema.

After two years of this, we had moved to the mountains, and my wife took me to the VA in Loma Linda.

I was told about the tumor, and also was told that had I not gone in, I could have been dead in five weeks.

I then underwent a complete laryngectomy. The surgery included removing a vein from my right arm, and a skin graft from my right leg to put in my throat.

I was on oxygen for about four years. In April of 2012, I will be considered cancer free? (Nothing is Free).

However, the hole in my neck is permanent, along with other health issues stemming from the Chemo/radiation and Medications I take to control my kidney, thyroid and liver.

My teeth are just now starting to decay, and since the surgery I have had hearing loss in my right ear.

I walk with a cane, because I am always off balance, and already was dealing with arthritis in my lower back.

I have been off oxygen for a while now, and with the medication, have the pain somewhat under control.

In all, my physical self is not what it used to be. Because of my varied restrictions and condition, I am unemployable, and remain on SSI.

My wife works part-time, in the deli of a major grocery store. She averages 36 hours a week annually, and she has to pay for her own uniforms and safety shoes.

I am on SSI. I live in the resort town of Big Bear Lake, California. Our utilities, in the winter, are sometimes as much as our rent.

By the time we catch up with the utilities, (and we're late on a regular basis), we then are only able to eat what the Church may bring.

The trip down the mountain to see Ol' Sawbones is a fifty-mile $35-dollar one-way trek, so we MUST have a safe, reliable 4x4, with four wheels that we do not have to chain up.

When you add the utilities, rent, (do not forget to get TV you have to have cable), insurance and gas prices, you do not have much for luxuries like food.

Let's not forget the firewood, since I can no longer chop my own. When the snow comes down the price of wood goes up.

I still have not mentioned my health supplies, cotton, alcohol and peroxide to keep out infections. I cannot walk too far, because I am so imbalanced and get short on breath easily.

The VA said that since I was able to make it to and from the parking lot, I do not need a scooter. They felt that I should improve over time.

I have a van sitting in driveway, for as long as I have been on SSI. I cannot afford to fix it, and the registration is now so far behind, it is higher than the value of the van.

I called the secretary of state, for forgiveness of the suspended LLC. An office representative said it would cost around $5K to reinstate. (Try that on a fixed income).

Through a friend, I have sold things on eBay, but quickly ran out of things to sell. What I did sell was enough to feed my dog. (I rescued him from an idiot who would beat him with a hammer.)

The VA already takes care of my medical. Because of my health issues, I am not employable, and I am on SSI. This means that any substantial earnings would have to be reported, so the correct deductions can be made from my check.

I receive no financial donations. The church comes by about once a week with food. I'm not complaining, but it's hard to make a meal from a can of olives, a jar of peanut butter, a potato and three or four diet bars.

I am looking for a grant. I do not want it for some overdue vacation, or the Humvee I always wanted. I would like to start a business, which would be good for several reasons.

First, the business would be great therapy, to have somewhere to go to restore some dignity.

Second, I still have a brain, and this will cut down on the cobwebs.

Third, I'd be giving back to a community that embraced my wife and me in a time when we did not know what the future was going to bring.

With everything that comes out of our checks, there is not much left to eat with. We tried getting food stamps, but did not fall under the state's criteria.

My wife and I have always tried to live within our means. I made good money, and never pretended like I was above the next guy.

Humble pie does not choke me, and success is a state of mind. Not that I want to be dramatic, but having a life-altering challenge, either kills you, or allows you to be thankful enough to share the rewards, of you keeping your life.

I would like to open a full service Western store with in-house boot repair, custom boot making, hat shaping, alterations and someday saddle making.

Since I live in the mountains, I will also stock Vintage Mountain Man apparel.

I have already begun training staff that has disabilities or challenges of their own. This is all to help them become self-reliant and financially stable.

By training and promoting from within, this will allow the company to grow and open more stores on the Mountain, with a ready staff, giving back to the community while helping people and the economy.

I have a business plan, so I am not just shooting from the hip. I have been conferring with an organization, the Vietnam Veterans Bureau Outreach Center (www.vboc-ca.org), as well as DisabilityBiz.org.

While the store is not in the high traffic area of the resort village, it is however on the main drag, with excellent signage and visibility.

My sales forecast for the first year is around $420,000. The first year objective will be to develop strategies and new plans, to discover more effective ways to cut costs and increase a stronger customer base.

The cost of inventory will be $120,000, and asset acquisition $120,600. I'd need $78,150 for start-up and $80,250 for working capital.

Even though this is a small Mountain community, modern strategic marketing methods will be in place.

To reach a diverse array of visitors from just down the hill and from other countries, we'll use cell phones and online advertising, such as Facebook, eBay and YouTube.

We won't subject customers to a sales person following them through the store in hopes of a sale. Instead we'll offer a warm hello, and allow the customer to enjoy the adventure of seeking out the wide array of hats, boots and accessories.

We'll have a wide view of the boot maker, so customers can witness a dying art.

Every staff member will have full knowledge of every department of the store, from ground level to management.

I feel that if a staff is knowledgeable in all facets of the business, there is better productivity knowing they are part of something big, as opposed to just having a place to work.

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