From the Northeast Coast to Panama – How to set up a family shop without having a heart attack (or heartbreak) in the process

I think about my daughter Sophie every day. However, lately, it seems I have developed a ritual of sorts. I sit out on the porch on Sunday morning, sip my coffee, read the newspaper, and think about all the things she’s doing.

You see, Sophie has always been this larger-than-life character, full of ideas, full of laughter, hungry for adventures, and passionate about everything she does. She met this kid in college, Roberto, from Panama. A bright young man came to the US with a full scholarship, loves sports – he’s bad at them though – and he tells bad jokes. But Sophie loves him, and so does Christine, my wife, so I guess I kind of like him too.

We own a specialty convenience store. Our main business is jams, jellies, and preserves. We sell different brands, mostly from small producers with a traditional homemade feel to them. We own six small stores across the state, so it’s a small family chain we’re proud of. The business has been in my family for a little over 50 years now; my parents opened the first store in the 70s when I was a kid, and after I finished school I kind of stepped in, learn the ropes, and kept at it ever since.

When Sophie got her degree, Roberto proposed, and my nightmares began. They were moving to Panama, and among many things, Sophie wanted us to open a store there. She would run it. I immediately said no. It gave me a headache right away.

Setting up shop, investing in a commercial property, opening a credit line with a bank in a country where nobody knows us, registering our brand, exporting the products from our vendors, registering every single product over there. That was just the first ten seconds in my head, and I’m pretty sure I almost blacked out.

A few weeks later, Sophie and Roberto came home. They wanted to talk to me. They had a plan. Roberto’s dad knew this lawyer in Panama, who could help us do absolutely everything we needed to set up shop down there. Roberto handed me the business plan, while Sophie pitched the whole thing. Everything covered, every step, every cost. They had already talked to the guy in Panama, done the research, the whole nine yards.

That night, when we went to bed, Christine told me this line from George Orwell, she said to Evan, “happiness can only exist in acceptance.”

I’ve got to be honest, it was a solid plan. I didn’t want her to go, though. She’s my baby girl, and some guy with a funny accent was taking her away from me. You would’ve had to see her face, though. Her eyes lit the room when she was pitching the idea, there was a fire in her heart. He truly believed in the project, and she made me believe in it too. Mostly, I believed in her happiness.

They’ve been in Panama for almost three years now. The store is up and running, and they’re expecting my first grandchild.

Like I said before, I sit down, and I think about what she’s doing…and what I will be doing when I go visit them this summer.

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If you would like to set up shop in Panama, feel free to contact us at [email protected]

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