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I passed on Bradlees and probably changed my life

Back in 1992, the now defunct Bradlees department store called me, hoping that I might consider a move from managing McDonald’s restaurants to launching eateries inside their Boston area stores.

Someone had apparently recommended me to them.

I took a meeting in their Braintree office, which went well. Being just 21 years old at the time, I really didn’t know what I was doing when I stepped into those corporate offices and was nervous. Having not yet attended college save some management classes that McDonald’s had paid for at a local college, I felt under-qualified and out of my depth. But I guess I talked a good game, because I was quickly passed onto a senior level manager for an interview, and when that went well, I was moved up the ladder to the next level of management for a final interview.

The executive walked into the room, sat down, and said, “Why do you want this job?”

I said something about looking for bigger and better opportunities and being excited about the idea of building something new. The man paused for a moment, then said, “Listen, Bradlees will be out of business in less than ten years. Have you seen Ames and Caldor? We’re no different. Our time is coming. This would be a terrible move for you.”

I was shocked. He was telling me that I would be better off working at McDonald’s. Advice rarely offered in this world.

But he was right. Ames and Caldor – two similar discount department stores – were going under. My roommate, Bengi, was working for Ames after college before a job opened up at The Travelers in Hartford, sending him (and eventually me) to Connecticut. Bengi knew that Ames was doomed. I knew that Caldor was teetering as well.

It made sense that Bradlees would be experiencing the same pressures.

So I thanked the man, shook his hand, and left.

Bradlees went out of business exactly ten years later.

In 1993, just a year after my interview, Bradlees added Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Dunkin’ Donuts items to stores that did not have eateries and to new stores constructed during that time.

Had I taken the job, it might have been obsolete less than a year later.

Oddly enough, remaining with McDonald’s would eventually lead to me to being arrest, jailed, and tried for a crime I did not commit. It would ultimately lead to my homelessness and an enormous pause in my attempts to enroll in college. Eventually, it would lead to an armed robbery that resulted in a lifetime struggle with PTSD.

Still, I’m happy that man convinced me to stay at McDonald’s that day. I suffered through 18 months of struggle and trauma – the toughest time of my life – but it led me to where I am today.

Also, by remaining with McDonald’s, I was well positioned when I arrived in Connecticut to take over the management of a store in Hartford while I attended college full time. The flexibility of that schedule, thanks to my extensive experience, made attending two colleges simultaneous and earning two degrees possible.

Also, the advice, I think,  was offered with the best of intentions. I think that man saw a very young man sitting across from him, about to step into a failing company, and suggested I go elsewhere.

It’s so interesting to think about how many random human beings unknowingly change the course of our lives with a small bit of advice or a gentle pushes in a new (or old) direction.

I don’t know his name or even if he’s alive today, but I owe that man a great deal. I may never meet Elysha had I taken that job.

For the record, Bradlees was named for Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport, where early planning meetings were held by the store’s founders.

So a really creative bunch.

The aforementioned Caldor was a combination of the names of the two founders Carl and Dorothy Bennett

Also not exactly inspiring in terms of their creativity.

But the prize goes to the aforementioned Ames, which began in 1958 when two Connecticut brothers, Milton and Irving Gilman, and Philip Feltman, opened their first store in the defunct Ames Worsted Textile Company mill in Southbridge. The Gilmans and Feltman simply used the old sign of the textile mill for the new business.

They just took the name of the previous business to avoid purchasing a new sign.

Discount retailers aren’t too picky when it comes to choosing their names.