Christine Pfister | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Christine Pfister


Pentimenti Gallery, which has been based in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood for nearly 25 years, focuses on contemporary art. 


The Mistake:

About 10 years ago, we were here in the city, in Old City, but in a much smaller space, and at the time I was really ready to expand. I wanted to have more space—twice the wall space—but I knew I also wanted to stay in Old City. That was important to me because, by being there, I knew my clients could come down from New York just for the day, have enough time to go to the art museum and then head right down to Old City without having to spend a lot of time on the road. ... It was the gallery district, and I felt really comfortable there.

So I started to look around and there were a lot of spaces out there, but they weren't quite right. Then one day I was walking along 2nd Street and I saw a sign on a door with a space that was up for sale.

I went to see the space. It was really shambolic, in bad condition, but it also really felt right. I said to myself, "This is what I need." I felt it was the right space. So I went home to discuss it with my husband and I told him I thought I had found something that I needed to move on. And he asked me, "Are you sure you're ready?"

My first gut was, "Yes, I'm ready." It was going to be a big investment, obviously. There would be a down payment and a mortgage. But there were two voices in my head. The first one was saying, "Yes—just go for it!" But then there was a second voice, a more rational one. That voice was saying, "Well, you never know what tomorrow may bring. So just be safe and stay where you are."

I was supposed to give my answer on whether I wanted the space three days after I saw it, and in the end, I said, "OK. I'm going to stay safe." And I told myself to just let it go. 

The first time I saw the space, I was prepared for it but I just didn't pick up on the importance of the opportunity.

The Lesson: 

I ended up still looking around for a space in the neighborhood and I just couldn't find anything—there was nothing. A year passed and I was still looking around, and one day I was walking along 2nd Street again and that same space I had looked at was up for sale again.

That time, I jumped on it and contacted the realtor and looked at it again. Nothing had been done to the building. It was still in bad shape, the same situation. But I paid much more money than I would have the first time—almost double. So my lesson, I think, is about preparation and opportunity.

Looking back on the first time I saw the space, I was prepared for it but I just didn't pick up on the importance of the opportunity. Today, if I feel I'm prepared for something and I see a new opportunity, most of the time I will go for it. I don't ask myself twice, because I honestly I still feel bad about not taking the space the first time! 

Follow Pentimenti Gallery on Twitter at @Pentimenti_PHL.

Photo courtesy of Christine Pfister.