Pam Blondin is a risk taker.
The owner of downtown Raleigh’s arguably most famous retail spot, DECO Raleigh, Blondin’s been taking the road less traveled for more than 40 years.1
Risk was April’s Creative Mornings worldwide topic of conversation, and Blondin killed it. Yes, she used definitions in her talk (“I know, everybody does it”), admitted that her speech was printed out in 20-point type, warned us not to expect a TED talk (“I can’t do that sh*t”) and “glowed” her way through decades of stories (“girls don’t sweat, they glow, plus I have allergies so I’ll basically drip my way through this”), but the capacity audience hung on her every word.
For good reason.
Blondin, 55, started taking risks early. At 15, disgusted by the bad behavior of her sister’s soccer coach “screaming at the girls like it was the World Cup” even though it was “amoeba soccer” she gladly took over as coach when he was kicked off the team. “Mind you, it was the ’70s, and girls weren’t empowered yet. I was doing something only dads did, not moms, as a teenager.”
A soccer veteran, she decided the best course of action was to turn it back into a game, using checkers to teach the girls their positions and going from the bottom of the league to winning the tournament2 and, whoa, meeting Pele.
That passionate, practical determination is still evident. Blondin reminded the crowd that history is a chronicle of risks — that more than one person probably thought the Eiffel Tower was the ugliest structure they’d ever seen — and asking us to think about our own memories, wagering that many of them were our own versions of stepping outside the lines.
She peppered in some inspiring quotes such as “creativity is the act of making something from nothing” and that creativity, imagination, innovation all require risking something: safety, comfort, peace, even happiness.
Unintended consequences are a huge part of risk, the part that scares many of us away from venturing into uncharted territory. Blondin acknowledged that, and in the next breath pushed us with the thought that over time “if it’s still in your mind it’s worth taking a risk.”
It took Blondin awhile to take her own advice. After more than 25 successful years in the non-profit world she participated in a leadership session that included creating a “vision board” with four quadrants representing what personal, spiritual, work and family meant to her. That process, combined with a consultant asking “are you happy?” after discovering she was in a tiny minority with an ENTP (extroversion, intuition, thinking, perception) Myers-Briggs result, led her to realize she was living someone else’s mission, not hers.
Although Blondin’s story was personal, the steps she took on her journey to open DECO Raleigh can easily translate to anyone on a mission to make a change:
- Get support: “Find people who think the way you do; I couldn’t have done it without all my friends.”
- Make a plan: “There will be ‘oh holy sh*t’ moments but write down those questions and answer those in your plan. Force yourself to see how you’re going to make it all work and if you don’t have the answer go find people; remember that negative voices are valuable.”
- Think positive: Blondin credits Baltimore and other cities that inspired her.
- Mission Statement = Roadmap: Hers was simple, to make some money and contribute to the community. She knew she was on the right track when after hosting a group of young girls one wrote back and said “…I loved using the cash register.”3
- Practice: For Blondin it means “taking one for the team” after an experience in 4th grade when she stood up to the teacher on behalf of the whole class. The gratitude motivated her. “So many times people have thanked me for ‘being the one to say it.'”
Her rules of business are beautifully simple:
Sometimes, being honest means saying “no” and it certainly means saying what you need, and what you mean.
She says “yes” a lot, counseling countless wannabe business owners and investing her time and energy into:
- downtown Raleigh’s first parklet, raleigh [ ] space
- pop-up shop Flight, earning $7,000 over the holidays to fund cool urban projects
- and recently serving on a retail task force figuring out the best ways to support existing Raleigh retail and to attract new businesses.
“No assholes is probably the best thing about owning my own business. I do pick and choose, and I don’t tell people how they’re behaving, I just won’t play. I don’t have to be aggressive. It’s liberating.”4
Blondin built her life-changing vision board in a creative frenzy, and it still hangs over her bed where she can see it every morning. Raleigh’s lucky that she’s expanded her “canvas” to the streets of downtown, where we can all benefit from the risks she’s embraced.
Her next visible venture is a mural on the sidewalk in front of the parklet, best viewed from above. It’s a colorful reminder that “we need to let our elected officials know that we LIKE risk. It will transform our city and here’s why: It will make Raleigh the kick-ass town we know it is.
“What are you waiting for?”
- When she first talked about opening a cool gift store everyone said “Go to Cameron Village! Why in the world would you want to be downtown?” ↩
- When you actually EARNED a trophy instead of getting one for “participating” ↩
- Hannah likely has a job waiting for her when she turns 16. ↩
- If you ever hear “I just don’t think our work styles are compatible” from Blondin you should probably take a good long look in the mirror. ↩