Like homeowners, business a victim of the times

So many people like to say that they saw the mortgage crisis coming, as if it somehow reflects on their intelligence and foresight.

So many people like to say that they saw the mortgage crisis coming, as if it somehow reflects on their intelligence and foresight.

There is no joy in having experienced it first, though. There’s no joy in seeing the rest of the country experience it after you.

I’m currently visiting in Washington, D.C., and as I walk up to the aides behind huge walnut desks in plush air-conditioned office, I say these words.

They stop talking on the phone, stop joking with their colleagues and I watch as the expressions on their faces fall.

I tell them how my father left our beautiful little Michigan farm clear of debt when he died in 1990, but after my mother’s untimely death from a heart attack we discovered that she had taken out a sizeable mortgage against the farm.

I tell them that while she represents just one victim of thousands of predatory lending practices that drove the sub-prime mortgage business, I want them to make sure that in hearings, their bosses, our legislators, go after those who specifically targeted elderly widows/widowers and vulnerable adults.

I tell them what they already know, that the mortgage scam artists drew up ugly, unethical, fee-laden notes for kind, trusting people with a ton of equity at their fingertips — in many cases walking off with it all.

As I walk up and down marbled stairs and through hallowed halls in and out all the House and Senate building on the hill, my feet swell up — and my fingers, too — as I’m not accustomed to D.C. heat. But I’m on a mission.

They all promise that when hearings resume over the mortgage crisis, their/our legislator will work on more serious legislation to protect homeowners.

As I write this, I know that homeowners can’t claim innocence in this mess. So many people speculated on ever-rising home prices, cashing in, they thought, on easy money.

I know, too, that I have culpability in my mother’s financial affairs.

I was the one, my siblings quickly reminded me, who advocated for more autonomy on her part, while they demanded more oversight.

I insisted as executrix of her trust that she be allowed to make her own decisions. She was, after all, someone who endured the Great Depression, worked as a pipefitter in a munitions plant during World War II and raised six children, all the while working alongside my father.

She was strong and capable.

But it hit me that she was more vulnerable than I knew. Days after her funeral, I stuffed that knowledge, anguish and grief into my gut, where it simmered and erupted in what felt like the flu once back in Port Orchard.

There are circumstances that hit you that way. You just look at them, read about them, or hear of them and your immediate reaction is a desire to throw up.

I tried for years in our mortgage situation, going as far as tracking down the name of the original mortgage writer, but the Attorney General’s office said it was too late.

They had sold the note a week after my mother signed it and, although she had signed it while ill with the flu and unable to see the document well due to cataracts, and although they had inflated her income and added fees galore, there was nothing to do, no one to prosecute.

We accept the situation. There is nothing else to do.

I feel that way when I think of what happened to a business in the Towne Square Mall. The loss of any small business in town hits me hard, especially when it’s evident how much the owners sacrificed in time, talent and personal resources, but the death of this one is especially painful.

It leaves so many unfulfilled needs in the community ignored and unmet.

Like our farm mortgage, its death is hard to pin on anyone.

There’s no face to blame, no one to accept responsibility.

Like us, Rick Kuhns accepts the death of the Great Escape Family Fun Center that was part of the Towne Square Mall.

Like I said, I have a hard time with seeing any business go under. I always want to try to figure out some way to save them.

This one is especially hard. Unlike almost every other that closes, this one operated in the black.

A half dozen or so kids hosted birthday parties there every weekend. Little kids on the bouncy toys, older kids playing laser tag.

My kids had at least two birthday parties there.

Church youth groups of all denominations came from far and wide. They organized dances, rallies and lock-ins.

As the reputation of the operation grew, more and more church, school, scouting and sports groups came.

Rick worked with local vendors to provide the food and often dozens of pizzas would arrive to feed hungry kids.

He offered laser tag — a fast-paced game that works up a serious sweat — bouncy toys including a boxing competition, pool and foosball tables, arcade games and indoor batting and pitching cages.

A number of kids practically lived at the place, seeking to conquer Dance Revolution. They were good.

I kept urging him to consider adding a putt-putt golf course and go carts in the empty lot next door, the one now covered with another little strip mall.

He didn’t see the collapse of the business coming. He invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, taking out a second mortgage on his home to have the laser tag arena designed and equipped.

He starting making a profit above the monthly mortgage payment and lease on the building, which he made without fail.

So what drove the business out?

The company holding the lease must have wanted more. They figured they could put two businesses in the place of one. Figured that they could possibly get more than the $90,000 annual rent he was paying them.

An out-of-town company that changed hands several times, they had no interest in what South Kitsap needed. They asked Rick to scale back his operation. This required a significant investment he agreed to make.

He’d have to let go of the bouncy toys, condense the laser tag arena, and move equipment closer together.

There would be no room for dances, but as he stated on the business’ Web site, they would reopen.

It never happened. As he closed his doors and prepared to remodel, somehow things unraveled, and now the business is gone.

Rick sold a good part of the equipment and is traveling to Japan to work to pay off the debt.

He’s calm about it. After the business closed, his family endured a series of crises. His father-in-law passed away and he and his siblings needed to fly his mother and medivac an ailing father from their winter home in Arizona.

This time off has given him time with family. He’s hoping to come back in the future.

I tell him that there’s a space for a fun center included in the master plan for the South Kitsap Regional Park. He is appreciative.

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.