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Boomers Who Aren't Ready For Retirement Go In New Directions

Sara K. Clarke
Orlando Sentinel

When Bonnie Sose first retired from the publishing business, she dreamed of spending her days reading, writing and travelling the world.

She quickly adjusted her expectations.

“After about three months, I went mad,” said the 59-year-old businesswoman from Orlando.

So she tossed around the idea of starting a new business. She had always wanted to run a tearoom but feared a food-based business would turn her love of cooking into a chore. So she settled on operating a meeting place, where everyone from book clubs to business groups could gather in a laid-back setting similar to a living room.

Sose renovated space in a commercial complex east of Winter Park and opened the BranderBerry Meeting Place, a 950-square-foot space with comfortable couches, charming decor and a homey feel. She makes her money as host for baby showers, corporate meetings and other events.

“This is really a hobby business for me,” Sose said. “It brings me more joy than anything I've ever done.”

Sose is typical of many in her generation. As baby boomers approach retirement age, they're not looking for the golf-and-shuffleboard lifestyle typical of their parents. Many are starting new businesses based on personal interests or going into business with their children.

“A lot of us, we got into our first careers almost accidentally,” said Tom Kruczek, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Rollins College. “I think what you're seeing is, baby boomers are trying to take a left turn and do something completely different.”

That has led to boomers starting wineries, coffeehouses and other businesses that sprang from their passions. They may trade in the big salaries or profits of corporate America, but they are still hoping to be successful, Kruczek said.

“Initially, they realize when they go into this passion-based business that it's going to be tough,” he said.

For Sose, who wrote and published children's books and products for 18 years, that passion is seeing people connect and learn together.

In a world where people are too busy to entertain guests at home, Sose has found that customers use her space in the Winter Park Commerce Center as an alternative to their private residence. Women have girls' nights out, photographers gather to critique one another's work on Sose's flat-screen displays, and political junkies put on election-debate parties. Prices range from $5 a person for casual meet-ups like book clubs to $250 and up for social events like bridal showers. Sose has also offered the space for free to support groups.

“People are meeting in Panera's, or they're meeting in these cold conference rooms,” Sose said. “I think people want to come back to a place of connecting with people.”

Kruczek, himself a boomer, sold his Orlando-based manufacturing business, Sun-Tek Industries, in 2001 and retired for a while. He said he stayed involved with nonprofit groups and coached youth hockey.

But his desire to do more, he said, led him to his current job at Rollins College, where he runs a center that helps graduate students who want to become entrepreneurs.

“I absolutely love what I do,” the 53-year-old Kruczek said. “For boomers, that's what I really hope for them — that they can find jobs or opportunities that they actually love going to every day.”