Three-year-old Nadia Mellum doesn't want to leave That's My Room, a children's furniture store in Salt Lake City. Colorful fairies and magical castles don the wall, and the sunny open space is filled with violet canopy poster beds and bunk beds with easy-to-climb staircases.
Nadia's decided she'll sleep on the top bunk.
Her mom, Natalie Mellum, loves the durable, high-quality beds, but this month the family has had too many other bills, so she's not buying one today. "I think we'll be back here, when the budget's right," she says.
More often than not, though, people haven't come back to Jon and Aimee Levy's store.
Sales at That's My Room have slowed to $3,000 to $5,000 a month. The Levys haven't taken a paycheck home since the store opened a year and a half ago.
The Levys are in their 30s and have no children. Before opening That's My Room, Jon had a job in software sales, and Aimee was a physical therapist.
"We kind of wanted to do something together," says Aimee Levy. "He's my best friend, and we actually work really well together — and I just thought, why not?".
Soon after the store opened, the recession hit.
Keeping the company going has taken hard work, sacrifice and an effusive optimism that you'd find only in a couple who drive a pink bunny van with a furry inside to promote the store.
Bed sales are the couple's bread and butter, but the Levys have endured monthlong stretches without any. Over the winter, the couple worked at bars to make ends meet.
"Soon, we were pushing about 80 to 90 hours of work a week," says Jon Levy. His wife says that it took a toll on their relationship.
Then the couple fell behind on making their home mortgage payments. But they wanted to keep the store, so Aimee Levy returned to work as a physical therapist.
Left alone in the store, Jon Levy watches every penny. To save money, he turns the lights off when no customers are there. They also switched to a cheaper long distance provider. Those little things slashed their overhead by $2,000 a month.
Budget Cuts At Home
Trimming the budget at home was their next project. Instead of grabbing lunch at nearby restaurants, they now pack lunches. At home, a fireplace warms their home in the mountains. And the Levys wear a lot of wool so they can lower the thermostat.
"We turned it down to 51 degrees, and it was freezing," Jon Levy recalls. "We would just huddle around the fire."
For a time, they feared they would lose their home, so they took on a roommate to help with mortgage payments. Then, they applied for and got a 40 percent temporary reduction in their mortgage.
The cutbacks have allowed them to keep the store open.
"We aren't people who are going to give up," Jon Levy says. "We're kind of like chameleons: We have to adapt to the context of our lives at any particular point."
He says days with just one or two customers can be depressing, but when he is able to set up a bed for a child in his or her home, it is satisfying work.
"I do get something back," Jon Levy says. "I just don't get paid in money. I get paid in the enjoyment I get from being there and having this store."
Once the snow melts next spring and children's festivals start up, the Levys say they'll dust off their giant pink bunny mobile and start driving around to drum up more business.