"We've already discussed most of these cost figures in past meetings," Meredith said, reaching behind her and dimming the lights, "so I'll try to go over these slides as quickly as possible." She pressed the button on the projector's remote control, and the first slide showing the anticipated costs for the proposed store dropped into place. "As we agreed earlier this year, the Houston store will be approximately three hundred thousand square feet. Our projected building costs are thirty-two million dollars which includes our new store, fixtures, parking lot, lighting—everything. The land we intend to purchase from Thorp Development will be an additional twenty to twenty-three million depending upon our final negotiations with them. We'll need another twenty million for inventory—"

"That's seventy-five million maximum," one of the directors interrupted, "but you're asking us to approve an expenditure of seventy-seven million for the store."

"The other two million is to cover pre-opening expenses," Meredith explained. "If you'll look at line four on the screen, you'll see that it covers grand-opening expenses, advertising, et cetera."

She pressed the button and the next slide fell into place, showing much higher figures for the project. "This next slide," she explained, "shows our projected costs for building the entire mall when we build our store rather than waiting until later to expand. You already know that I feel strongly that we ought to build the entire mall at the same time we build our store. The added costs are fifty-two million, but we'll recover that from leasing out space in the mall to other retail tenants."

"Recover it, yes," her father stated irritably, "but not immediately, as you implied, Meredith."

"Did I imply that?" Meredith asked politely, knowing she'd done no such thing. She smiled at him and let a pulse beat of silence reprimand him for his injustice and impatience. It was, she'd learned, the most effective way to deal with him when he was unreasonable. Even so, his voice sounded strained, as it often had since his heart attack, and she had to subdue a sharp jab of worry.

"We're waiting," he warned.

In a tone of calm reason, Meredith continued. "Some of you feel we ought to wait before constructing the entire mall. I think there are three strong reasons to build it all at once."

"For the record, what are those reasons?" another board member asked as he filled his glass with ice water.

"In the first place, we'll have to pay for all the land whether we're using it for the mall or not. If we go ahead and build the mall on it at the same time we build our store, we'll save several million dollars in construction costs, because as you all know, it is cheaper by the square foot to build it all at once rather than to add on later. Second, construction costs are bound to rise as Houston's economy continues to improve. Third, if we have other, carefully selected tenants in our mall, they will help bring traffic into our store. Are there any other questions?" she asked, and when there were none, Meredith proceeded to the remaining slides. "As you can see from these graphs, our area research team has thoroughly evaluated the location I've chosen for the Houston store, and they've given it the highest possible rating. The demographics of the primary trade area are perfect, there are no geographic barriers—"

Her explanation was interrupted by Cyrus Fortell, an eighty-year-old reprobate who'd been on Bancroft's board for fifty years, and whose ideas were as antiquated as the brocaded vest and ivory-handled cane he always carried. "That's all a bunch of jibberish to me, missy," he exclaimed in his reedy, irate voice." 'Demographics' and 'primary trade areas' and 'area research teams' and 'geographic barriers.' What's it mean, that's what I want to know!"

Meredith felt a mixture of exasperation and affection for Cyrus, whom she'd known since she was a child. The other board members thought he was getting senile, and they planned to retire him. "It means, Cyrus, that a team of people who specialize in studying the best places to open retail stores have gone to Houston and studied the site I've chosen. They think the demographics—"

"Demowhatsas?" he scoffed. "We didn't even have that word when I was opening up drugstores across the nation! What does it mean?"

"In the way I'm using it now, it means the characteristics of the human population in the surrounding area of our store—how old they are and how much money they make—"

"I didn't pay any attention to all that in the old days," he persisted irritably, glaring at the impatient faces around the table. "Well, I didn't. When I wanted to open up a drugstore, I just sent people out to build one and filled it up with inventory, and we were in business."

"It's a little different today, Cyrus," Ben Houghton said. "Now, just listen, so you can vote on what Meredith is talking about."

"I can't vote on something I don't understand, now, can I?" he said, turning up the control in his pocket that was connected to his hearing aid. He looked at Meredith. "Proceed, my dear. I understand now that you sent a bunch of experts to Houston who discovered that there are people living in the area who are old enough to get to your store on foot or by motor car, and who have enough money in their pockets to share some of it with Bancroft's. Is that about it?"

Meredith chuckled and so did several of the others. "That's about it," she admitted.

"Then why didn't you just say so? It baffles me why you young people have to complicate every little thing by inventing high-sounding words to confuse us. Now, what are 'geographical barriers'?"

"Well," Meredith said, "a geographical barrier is anything that a potential customer might not want to have to drive through in order to get to our store. For example, if customers had to drive through an industrial area or an unsafe neighborhood to get to our store, those would be geographical barriers."

"Does this Houston site have any of those?"

"No, it doesn't."

"Then I vote in favor of it," he announced, and Meredith swallowed a giggle.

"Meredith"—her father's curt voice cut Cyrus off from further comment— "do you have anything else to add before the board votes on the Houston project?"

Meredith glanced at the inscrutable faces of the men seated at the table, and shook her head. "In as much as we've discussed the details of the Houston project in great depth in prior board meetings, I have nothing to add to all that. I would, however, like to state once again that only by expanding can Bancroft's hope to compete successfully with other full-line department stores." Still slightly uncertain as to whether the board would actually vote in favor of the Houston project or not, Meredith made a final effort to gain their support by adding, "I'm sure I don't have to remind the members of the board that every one of our five new stores is showing profits that equal or surpass our projections. I believe much of that success is due to the care with which we've picked the locations we open in."

Tags: Judith McNaught Second Opportunities Billionaire Romance
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