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by Abigail Van Buren

Shop Owner's Family Are Becoming Store Fixtures

DEAR ABBY: Last year I opened my own business. It's a small clothing store for men and women. My problem is I am unable to get through to my family that they cannot visit me there all the time. I love them dearly, but my shop is a place of business -- not a second home for them.

My husband is unemployed. He is constantly at the store. He'll sit on a chair near the entrance, holding his cane. Sometimes he falls asleep and starts slipping off his chair. He's the first thing customers see when they walk in. It is very unprofessional.

My daughter drops in daily with her two young children. She brings their lunch, which she sets up on the counter next to the cash register. In no time the kids are running around the store making a mess and throwing merchandise off the shelves onto the floor. My daughter yells at them and then an argument ensures. Time after time, it ends up with me snapping at them to go home, my daughter becoming upset and the kids bursting into tears. Customers sometimes turn around and walk out when they see the commotion. I have lost sales because of this, and I can't afford for it to continue.

How can I make it clear to my family that they can't make themselves at home at my store? I feel like a broken record. -- EXASPERATED SHOP OWNER IN PHOENIX

DEAR SHOP OWNER: Since your husband and daughter do not seem to get the message that they cannot just "drop in," you must be more assertive and draw the line for them. Get some books on retail merchandising and customer relations and SHOW them that what they are doing is hurting your business. If they persist, stop them at the door and say, "It's nice to see you, but you cannot stay. Love you all -- and I'll see you later."

Please be firm -- your economic situation depends on it.