Risky Business

It takes more than a dollar and a dream to develop a storefront— but the rewards can be priceless

So what is good for Oxygène Collectif is not good for Hauptman.

"He's so great. I shovel his snow," Behrend said.

In Behrend's favor are her low costs. She needs about $2200 a month to cover the $1800 rent, $100 electricity, $200 phone bill, and the rest for "flowers, bonbons, monthly fees to the bank for accepting credit cards."

Behrend and Mosquera, now roommates, also have a wholesale business, selling their silver and gold at Selima Optique and Bond 07. "If I was just counting on store money," Behrend said, "I could kiss everything goodbye."

Behrend and Mosquera invested $30,000 of their own money to start the store, she said. "We did everything ourselves, built our own displays, wired our own electricity. I used to do this kind of thing to survive."

"When I arrived in the States 10 years ago, I arrived with $70 and I didn't speak any English. I cleaned houses, anything.

"We always worry, 'Are we going to be able to pay the next rent? The phone bill?' We do not have a home phone. . . . I haven't bought clothes in, I don't know when. You see, this store is our baby. You have two neurotic women obsessing over it like crazy. We clean and sweep and scrub 24 hours a day."

She explained the name: "Oxygen is part of the air, very necessary to breathe, to live. As for the Collectif, we have a great time, breathing together. We couldn't spend five minutes without each other."

Or away from the store. The night Behrend could not pull the gate down, "I slept in the store. I was afraid we would be robbed."

The Small Picture

As it turns out, small business is big. The Department of Labor's Office of Economic Research reported that 90 percent of all businesses have fewer than 20 employees.

"It is getting easier for people to get into business," said Bruce Phillips, a Department of Labor analyst. "The price of going into business, the cost of technology— faxes, computers— is going down. It is easier to get money than ever before. American Express will generally give you a credit card with a $25,000 limit so if you need to go out and buy that griller, you do."

Phillips also reported that "women are starting businesses twice as fast as men, roughly. That's continued for precisely 10 years."

In New York's five boroughs, in 1997, there were 181,774 businesses with 19 or fewer employees, according to figures from the New York State Department of Labor, based on unemployment insurance tax records. In 1985 (the earliest figure available), there were 170,508.

In 1997, there were 11,459 eating and drinking establishments in New York City; in 1985, there were 10,675.

"The boulevardiers of Bedford Avenue," Bud Schmeling and Napoleon Napharoah of Black Betty's

Dave Ethan and Pete Adrian serve up doggone good coffee on Carmine Street.

Photographs by Regina Monfort

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