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Brian Gardes


Brian Gardes

Gabriel Flores  0:00  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the shades of entrepreneurship. This is your host, Mr. Gabriel Flores. Today I have the founder and owner of the pharmacy. This is a bar which I'm very excited about. Because if you don't know, I like to have some drinks, Brian Gardius How are you doing? I'm good, man.

Brian Gardes  0:17  

I'm doing great. Thank you for having me.

Gabriel Flores  0:19  

Thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Brian Gardes  0:20  

I gotta tell you when you said you had air conditioning, I was in a we could talk about anything. But having air conditioning got me here.

Gabriel Flores  0:27  

This heat. It's been brutal. My goodness. So tell us about you. Let's hear who is Brian?

Brian Gardes  0:33  

Oh, there's a very good Buddhist question for you. So I am a lifelong Portlander. My family moved here in the early 1970s. Went to Lincoln High School. Took a few years off, went to Iowa to go to college. I met a lovely girl there, got married, moved back to Oregon, and have been here ever since. I was a teacher with Portland Public Schools for 21 years, retired from it and bought a bar. So because I mean that's what you do, right? Yeah. So in my previous spare time, I have no spare time right now because far but in my previous spare time, I played rugby. was a world traveler and a deep interest in comic books.

Gabriel Flores  1:25  

So nice. What's what's your favorite comic?

Brian Gardes  1:28  

As a kid growing up? It was probably Luke Cage. Powerman. Nice. So yeah,

Gabriel Flores  1:33  

I was an X Men junkie myself. There you go. Gambit was my guy.

Brian Gardes  1:37  

Yeah, I definitely dug deep on Gambit as well that

Gabriel Flores  1:40  

anybody can throw poker cards and hit somebody with them. That's pretty impressive.

Brian Gardes  1:43  

Well in the trench coat over the pink leotard. I mean, come on, it's hard to pull that.

Gabriel Flores  1:49  

So let's let's tell the folks at home what is the pharmacy? It's a bar. Right? What is it?

Brian Gardes  1:53  

So the pharmacy is a bar located in northwest Portland in a historic Pharmacy building. We probably get one or two people a week walking in thinking that still a pharmacy. We offer cures to Ale them of course, but no, there. It's the old Nob Hill Pharmacy building. There's a pharmacy there from 1892 until 2005. It's where Gus Van Sant filmed the opening scene in his movie drugstore cowboy. Wow. And we aim to be a good neighborhood bar, a place for regulars to come in and hang out and have a good drink good. Good food. Nice, nice time. We do live music DJ sets, community activities. So it's just a good fun place to be.

Gabriel Flores  2:40  

I love it. Why did why a bar Why did you decide to go with the bar?

Brian Gardes  2:43  

Well, the the long story as it was is that I had a person who I carpooled with every day to work for two, three years, and you're sitting in the car. And after you go through the you know, how was your day? How was your day thing, you start to spit ball and talk about well, if you weren't teaching, what would you do? And I love throwing parties. I'm a social person, I love throwing parties. And so we got to talking about how cool it'd be to have a space where basically every night you get to throw a party, and that's a bar. And so you talk about well, what kind of bar would you own because there's so many different bars out there. There's dive bars, there's craft cocktail bars, and there's event spaces. And the thing I really wanted to hide was a neighborhood bar, I wanted a place where I could go and hang out and feel comfortable and be with my friends. And you know, that's kind of the trap for owning a bar is that people get wrapped up in that and how you get to drink for free and things like that. And I was very clear when I went into it that that wasn't the part that I wanted. I enjoy hosting parties. They enjoy hosting a good time. And so I wanted to make sure that I would I would have a bar like that. And so when I hit the 20 year mark of teaching, I was feeling really burned out. I was becoming the teacher, I didn't want to be the guy who was managing before you even had a chance to screw up. We all had that. Oh, yeah, school. Yeah. And it wasn't fair to the students at all. And I hated being that guy. And so I just decided that I was going to take a year and figure out how to get my fire and passion back for teaching. And as one thing leads to another leads to another leads to another you and one day owning a bar.

Gabriel Flores  4:34  

You know, one of the things I found fascinating that you mentioned is going through the process and determining what kind of bar you wanted because I'm thinking myself I'm like, You know I never thought about that there are di bars or ski the was it called the speakeasy those things. Yes. And then the cocktail bars. What why why the neighborhood bar.

Brian Gardes  4:53  

So one of the things that really appeals to me about a neighborhood bar is sort of that shears approach of everybody knows your name. Oh, yeah. And it sounds crazy. But that's one of the difficult things to find in Portland. You know, there was the dive bar craze of the last 10 years or so. But unfortunately, the rents just too damn high. And you can't get by on $2 PB ers and you know, tater tots anymore. And so trying to find a bar space, where I would feel comfortable going, there would still be reasonable for regulars to go to, but then could host events every so often that again, would bring in the community was, was really what I wanted, it felt like it was sort of the best of both worlds. And so I started sitting down thinking about, okay, if I want to go to a bar, what do I want from the space, and who do I want to be there. And that was, the other thing that really guided the creation of my space, is that I looked at what was in northwest Portland, and saw that there was a big gap for a space where everybody can go and feel comfortable. I, you know, I am a cisgendered, white male. And, you know, we take up a lot of space in the world, and we can go to any bar and feel comfortable. You know, it doesn't matter what the bar is, I mean, outside of a country line dancing bar, I'm going to probably feel pretty comfortable. And it's really only because I don't dance. But I am blessed to have a wonderful, deep and diverse group of friends. And in talking to my group of friends, I realized that they didn't all have the same experience I did. And so as I started to build this bar, I sat down my friends, and I said, you know, what would it take for you to feel comfortable coming to my bar? And you know, of course, they were very flattering and said, Well, Brian, we know what's your bar, so we're going to be comfortable? And I said, Well, let's let's, you know, take me out of the picture for a minute. You know, talking to my bipoc friends, talking to my LGBTQ friends, talking to my female friends really stopping and listening and saying, what is it that you would feel comfortable with for a bar? It was eye opening to me because again, as a straight cisgendered, white male, there are a million little privileges that I have that I'm not aware of as I go through life. Something as simple as going to the bathroom. I don't I don't think about but to my trans friends, it is a huge issue. And so that's one of the reasons why our bathrooms are narwhal some unicorns, we don't have men's rooms, we don't have, you know, women's restrooms, we just have narwhal some unicorn like. And it's, it's funny because the usually the cisgendered straight white men have a problem problem to make that a positive space for all my friends to be. And I think that that's really what sets us apart from a lot of the other bars in the neighborhood is that while they are friendly to you know, whether it's it's it's bipoc individuals or to women or to the LGBTQ community, it's not a space that was specifically designed for them wasn't a space that was designed with them in mind. And I gotta tell you that my bar is full of cisgendered white men, and as well as LGBTQ people, as well as bipoc individuals as well as women. And it's a wonderful place to see everybody come together.

Gabriel Flores  8:49  

You know, that's, that's a great message. And that's something that I've discussed, you know, quite a bit on this on this podcast is one, from the business perspective, it's important to understand your consumer right, and get that understanding from them. But to we've also talked about the non business things as unconscious biases, right, that there's those things that we don't know, we don't know. And, you know, some of those conversations that need to be had are not conversations necessarily, but listening parties.

Brian Gardes  9:16  

Yeah. That's the thing is that I tried very hard to ask the question and then shut my mouth. And to really listen to what was being said, and ask the follow up questions of why, and what about it? And can you tell me more? And how does this thing that you're saying make you feel more comfortable or make you feel less comfortable, so that it's not just about you know, having our walls and unicorns for your bathrooms, but it's about the language that you use as a staff. It's about how you treat every customer that walks in the door, so that regardless of where they're coming from, they feel like they're coming to a comfortable space for them,

Gabriel Flores  10:00  

definitely. Now let's let's talk about the operations piece. Okay. Right. So we talked about, kind of like you created your brand, right? I feel like we just talked about how you created your brand. But how did you create the bar? What? How did you get that building?

Brian Gardes  10:12  

So, um, boy, the long well not really answer. It was the kind of thing where, you know, you're driving to work every day, and you're talking about owning a bar. But when if you've never done it there, you have no idea how much this thing cost me, it could have cost a million dollars, it could have cost $50, I had no idea. And so one of those late night internet searches, one click leads to another leads to another and I found that I was looking for I was looking at a bar in downtown Portland that they wanted for $45,000. Now, that's not the bar I ended up with, but at $45,000 That's real people money, you know, a million dollars isn't really real people. That's not something that that's what my college degree cost. It's not something that I can, you know, move some money around, borrow a little bit here and there and come up with, but $45,000 That's real people money. And so that was the point that I started talking to my wife about it really seriously and said, you know, this is something you and I've talked about for when I retire after 30 years. Can we move this timeline up. And so she agreed. And I started looking at spaces again, that it became very clear that I didn't want that particular space, I started chasing down a space in Southeast Portland, it had been an Irish bar, I came up with a concept for the space, had my financing in place, everything was great. And then I ran into my first real roadblock, which is that I have no experience. And the owners of the building weren't really willing to rent to me because I had no experience. And that was a it was a very humbling thing that you know, at 45 years old, I had a 20 year career under my belt, I have a house, I have a car, I have good credit. I'm not, you know, those were things I was dealing with when I was starting my life out in my 20s. And to be turning around and going oh, yeah, this is what it was like to be told no, this is what it's like to get those super high interest loans that because you don't have credit. It was hard. And so I was I was legitimately crushed when they came back and said we like your proposal, but we're still not going to rent to you. And so I put on my big boy pants and got up the next day and started looking at the ads again and stumbled across this bar. And at first I really didn't like it. My wife and I went and scoped it out one night after, after a Portland Thorns match. And we both looked at each other and shook our heads and said no way. It was it was filthy, it was completely uneven and uninviting to women. I mean, just completely. And the only reason that I went back the next day is I had already scheduled a showing with the owner and I wanted to respect him in his time. And so I went back and I saw it in daylight, and took a look around and realize no, the location for this bar is amazing. And you know, what they say about real estate is location, location, location. And that's that's kind of bid for the bar industry to that, unless you have an unknown brand that people are going to seek you out for. It really is about location. And so I stumbled into an amazing location. Because I had all my financing in place, I was able to put down a cash offer on the spot for it. And the rest, as they say is history.

Gabriel Flores  13:38  

Nice. And you know, one of the things I want to highlight the you mentioned, you know, for those that listening at home, you can start being an entrepreneur at any age. Whether you're 12 or you're 112 it doesn't matter, right? And one of the things you also have to know is it's not butterflies and rainbows, right? Are unicorns. Unicorns are narwhal set. And so and so you have to be mindful of that. But you know, one of the things you also talked about, you know the cost, how is this funded? If you do a bootstrap? Did you go venture capital route? How did you go?

Brian Gardes  14:12  

I basically tapped into my retirement. I had a little bit of money from my grandparents, they passed away, but I think most importantly, is not that I had the money is that I also inherited a financial advisor. And I can't overestimate the importance of that financial adviser in this. Again, not coming from a business background. I tend to operate a lot in the emotional quadrant if you will, and not growing up with a lot of money. I'm emotionally tied to money when I have it. I am happy and when I don't have it, I get very scared. And so walking away from a good union job that had all kinds of security associated with it. I I needed someone who was not passionate about the money who did not have an emotional attachment to it. And I was able to sit down with him and explain my business plan, I wrote up a full business plan for for this. All of my all of my projected expenses, all of that and sat down with him and asked him about the risk, because this was more money than I had ever really had to deal with, other than, you know, buying a house. But it was that kind of thing, where having someone who sat down with me, took away all of the passion to go out all of the motion, and just looked at the numbers. And he was able to say to me, that, you know, this is well within your risk range, if this goes completely belly up, and you lose all the money you put into this, you will still keep your house, your kids will still get to go to college, you will, you know, you'll have to go back to work, of course, right. But, you know, you are not going to face financial ruin because of this. And that was, that was huge. Because, again, I was so in the middle of everything, that I needed that impartial voice to walk me through. And quite honestly had he said, Brian, this is this is too big of a risk, I would have walked away from it. Yeah.

Gabriel Flores  16:28  

Yep. And, you know, that's one of the things too, we've talked about, it's so important, essentially, the entrepreneurs role is is to minimize risk, right to mitigate their risk in any way, shape, or form. What kind of what was your kind of outline for your risk? Did you have like, hey, I want to be at this point, my life or what? What was your risk factors? What's your risk corridor? Boy,

Brian Gardes  16:49  

for me, it was really, that I don't, at some point in time on my life, I want to stop working, I want to I want to retire. My my father in law worked very, very hard his entire life. 30 years forklift driver, retired, and immediately had to go back to work. That I mean, that was that was the reality of his life. And that I don't want that to be my life. Like I said, I enjoy traveling, I enjoy spending time with my wife, and I enjoy spending time with my kids. And so for me, the risk really was is this going to screw that up? Am I going to have to, you know, end up working the rest of my life? I mean, this is, as far as retirement goes, I gotta tell you don't buy a bar. I mean, this is not the luxury lifestyle, I have yet to sit at my bar and drink with my friends. You know it this, isn't it? You know, the realities of entrepreneurship and owning a bar is it is 80 to 100 hour workweeks it is to in the morning, every morning, you know, seven days a week 360 Well, for me 363 days a year, I tried to take Thanksgiving and Christmas, I like it. But you know, so So for me, you know, the risk, really, the thresholds were? Am I in so deep that this is going to ruin my life? Is this going to make the the stress on my family too much. And so that was that was it and my wife and I sat and we talked about it, where she was comfortable, where I was comfortable. Every time I mean, COVID was was brutal. There were two shutdowns for us during co then we made the decision during the second shutdown to fully remodel the bar. And so that was a huge outlay of cash at a time when none was coming in. And I ended up having to dip into the savings some more. But that was something that I needed to talk to my wife about, I needed to talk to my financial advisor about because I needed to make sure that again, if this whole thing happened, you know, the COVID just never ended. Where were we going to be and we were still within within the parameters. So that was that was wonderful to hear. Yeah.

Gabriel Flores  19:21  

You know, one of the things you mentioned quite a bit now is is your wife and how important she has been let's let's talk about that a little bit. I really want to hear how important is having a partner like that supporting you. How important is that?

Brian Gardes  19:34  

It's It's amazing. She is I mean, she would laugh if I said she was a silent partner because she's she's not silent. She does she's not involved in the day to day operations of the bar. What she is is my day to day sound newborn board my confidant. She has worked her entire career in industry in business. She's an IT professional, and so she has insights in To how corporate worlds work. And so that has been huge for me to talk to her about things. Because I mean, I've never had to deal with things like hiring people and firing people and making sure that the electricity stays on him. And those are all things that Portland Public Schools took care of. And she, you know, she's my biggest cheerleader, she really is. She also is the first person smacked me on the back of the head and told me to stop thinking about things so much. She is really good about talking about decision paralysis, which is something that I I fall into, quite often, unfortunately, we were standing in Home Depot, and I was fretting over the color of the the laminate flooring to put down in the bar. I mean, I'm serious, I'm standing there, it must have been 30 minutes. I mean, this is laminate flooring for a bar. And she finally just said, you're going to make a decision, you're gonna make a decision now, and you're going to move on, because this is in the grand scheme of things, this is nothing you have far larger things to deal with. And she was right. But again, having someone there who is invested in me and invested in the bar, we like to joke that I have fiduciary responsibility to my wife now. But it's it's that kind of thing where yeah, having having a cheerleader who cheers for you, but also calls you on your crap that is I gotta call the BS you do and I and and I dismissed bar would not be successful without her, even if she is not there day in and day out, she is there day in and day out. Nice.

Gabriel Flores  21:39  

So you know, you mentioned, you know, you came from, you know, 20 years of public service, right, and our school district, and then go into entrepreneurship, what would you say kind of surprised you about the process of going from, you know, being in port, the public school system, and then to being your own boss, to your point having to pay for electricity and all this? What was what surprised you?

Brian Gardes  22:01  

I mean, I think that there's, there's the good surprises and the bad surprises. And you know, the bad surprises are, it's you sit there in the butt, it's easy to sit there in the back of the room and second guessed, the person who's in charge and the person who's making all the decisions. And then when you realize that you are that person. And now it's a difficult decision and things that you know, when you're sitting in the back of the room, because you my employees come to me all the time. And they have they have ideas, they mean they genuinely want the bar to be better. And then they get frustrated when I don't necessarily follow through with their ideas. But I have a full picture that they don't necessarily have. And so that's kind of the negative part of it, which is that yeah, it's a lot harder to be the boss when you're the boss for the first time. Yeah, the positive side is that all those times that you sat there in the back of the room going, Man, when I'm the king, when I'm the boss, when I'm the you know, when I'm in charge, things are going to be different, to actually be able to make those points and to actually be different about how you treat your staff to be different about how you choose to run your business, the decisions that you make. That feels good to get to create that different work space, that different work environment. And so yeah, for me, that was that's been the best part is to actually create the kind of space where I want to work.

Gabriel Flores  23:32  

Yeah. And that's, you know, it's, it's funny, because a lot of entrepreneurs have come on this show and talked about the loneliness of it. Because it's difficult for people that really relate. Have you ever felt that

Brian Gardes  23:46  

constantly, I mean, it's, it's a challenge to, you know, there's the emotional loneliness. I mean, I get home at somewhere between, depending on the night, three, four, sometimes five in the morning, and my wife's asleep, my kids are asleep. I sleep until 10, or 11, or 12, and then they're gone. And so there's that level of loneliness. And then my friends are wonderful. They tried to come to the bar, but you know, the bars too busy, I'm working, it's like visiting your friend at work, you know, you there isn't a whole lot of time. But then there's also that loneliness of I don't have other friends in the bar industry, really, I don't have other friends who are necessarily entrepreneurs. And so there aren't a lot of people who to talk to and to bounce ideas off of. And as, as nice as it is to meet other bar owners. I mean, at the end of the day, there are some secrets you want to keep, you know, you don't necessarily want to talk about your books with another bar owner. You don't necessarily want to talk about your labor numbers with another bar owner. And so While there are bar owners who I've become friendly with who have been incredibly generous and sharing their time, in incredibly generous, there's a wonderful community of Oh, my God, I just ran out of printer paper at nine o'clock on a Saturday night. Can you help me out? There's definitely that. But as far as the, you know, I'm sitting down, you know, right now staring down the the cook shortage that is happening across the country. And, you know, we can all commiserate with each other. But it's also difficult to sit down and say, so what incentives are you offering? Because I mean, that that is almost a trade secret at that point in time. Right. And so yeah, there's some loneliness for that.

Gabriel Flores  25:46  

That's tough. I, you know, the pandemic is has been a difficult time for a lot of people. How do you where do you kind of envision the pharmacy? How do you envision it emerging out of this,

Brian Gardes  25:57  

I like to say that we've made lemon meringue pie out of lemons, when it comes to the pandemic, we had our first COVID shut down, when I bought the bar, the bar was legitimately known as the worst kitchen on the block. I had regulars tell me that my bar was the bar where they came to get loaded, they would go somewhere else to have food. And then we come back to my bar to finish out the night. And during the first shutdown, in the summer of 2020. The people wanted to support the bar, however they could, which was incredibly kind and generous of them, because everyone was hurting, everyone was suffering. And the way that they could do that was they can come to the bar and order food, because we did to go food and to go beer. And I had worked very hard on changing the menu. Because again, like I said, at the start of this, I enjoy throwing a party, and what is party Sentra food? Totally, at least for me, it's entertaining food. And so for the first time, people were trying our food beyond the chicken strips, and realizing Wait a minute, no, the food here is different. The food here is good. And so when we came back out of that first shutdown, our food sales went went way up, because people were able to listen to, you know, to have the food and to try it. And then when the second shutdown happened at the end of 2020 and into 2021. That was the time where we look took a really hard look at the space and said what can we do to make this space better. And my father who, again, if I would be remiss if I didn't point out my father, my father's a retired woodworker. And he literally built the bar he he built the the physical structure of the bar. And he had had the idea to move the bar from its location to a more prominent location in the space. And that's what we did, we took the bar and I'd say we physically picked it up and move it and my rugby team physically picked up well to the bar. It's nice knowing big guys. And you know that God willing this last time, the governor is gonna say you have to be close for three months, and you can't make money. Because that's how long it took, it took three months to move everything, move the plumbing, move, electricity, move the water, everything. And now you walk down the street, and you can see the bar, and had it not been for COVID That would have been much further down the road for us. And so I see us emerging out of COVID in a much better, stronger place, our numbers are significantly higher than they were pre COVID. But that's because we took that opportunity. Going back to my financial advisor, he he and I sat down once were talking and he said, I kind of want to explain my philosophy to you. When you see the stock market rising, you may not see your your portfolio growing very much. When the stock market's falling, you're going to see us buying a lot of things that that we're going to look for the opportunities and take those opportunities because we see long term growth. And that's what COVID has been for us. It's we've taken a horrible situation, looked at the opportunities, the first opportunity was to introduce people to our menu. The second opportunity was to change the physical space into something much more inviting. And so now I think that coming out we're poised to be in a much much better place.

Gabriel Flores  29:27  

So is that kind of your differentiator, your your food and your ambiance, right. You mentioned your bathrooms.

Brian Gardes  29:32  

I think that our differentiator is really that we are the bar for everybody. I said there are on the street, or there are there are corporate bars that are owned by places that have 50 outlets. There are bars that are sports and sort of college themed bars. There are bars that are designed for describe it as specific demographic, if you will, and our differentiators, that is the kind of bar where you walk in, and you feel like wait a minute, I'm represented in this bar, whether you're a bipoc individual, a gay individual, a woman, or Yeah, even a cisgendered, white guy, there's something for you in the in our bar. And that, that, I think, is what sets us apart.

Gabriel Flores  30:21  

I like it. Now, if you were to, you know, going through this process, let's exclude the pandemic, okay. Would you change anything?

Brian Gardes  30:31  

I think that for me, I would be, I would be more confident. And I'd be bolder, that that's been a hard thing for me, again, it goes back to never really having been in charge before. I would, I would speak up a lot more for, for my bar. For me, for my people, it's been a hard lesson to learn that there are not everybody is has your best interest in mind, especially when it comes to business. Not everybody is as collaborative as you may be. And so when you don't speak up, they take that space, they take that opportunity, they don't necessarily share 5050. And so, I think that, looking back on it, there are several times where it would have been a lot better had I done the uncomfortable thing for me of standing up and saying, you know, what, we we need to this, this, the bar needs this, my people need to I need this. And, and that's okay. i They and I think that's the thing that I'm coming to terms with is that it's okay to tell people what you want what you need.

Gabriel Flores  31:40  

Definitely. Now what what advice would you give younger entrepreneurs that are kind of starting in the business, maybe want to open a bar? What advice would you give them?

Brian Gardes  31:50  

I would say that, be clear in your, in your passion, be clear in your dream, be clear in what it is that you want, and do everything you can to make that happen. And have a reason for it that people are willing to get behind your passion and people are willing to get behind your enthusiasm for a while, but people are willing to stick with you if they can understand your reason. Why, you know, it sounds silly, but we have kittens on the TV in my bar. And you know, we have kittens we have chickens, we have the bears eating salmon on the falls and Alaska. It sounds silly. But that's a conscious choice that, you know, it's one thing if you just have it in your bar, but if you can explain to people if you can explain to your staff that this is because you know not everybody wants to watch college baseball, not everybody wants to watch the NFL not everybody wants to watch all the things that are on it. Every other bar if we can consciously choose to put marble racing on. Then all of a sudden, we're creating conversations between people, all of a sudden, we're making it so that you don't have to feel like you have to walk into this bar and care about sports. You can just be you and laugh and have a good time. And if you can get the staff behind you the reasoning behind it. Then, yeah, having narwhals and unicorns in your bathrooms, then, you know, all of a sudden, it's not just about having Oh, yeah, we you know, we don't care what bathroom you use. No, it's a conscious choice so that you feel comfortable. It's all those things, the arts, the you know, we choose the art on the wall very, very carefully. So that, again, you walk in and, you know, it draws your attention to it and you've you feel like you're there

Gabriel Flores  33:50  

and I like it. So for the folks at home that they want to grab a drink, they want to wet the whistle. How can they how can they find the pharmacy? Where are you located? What about your social media channels.

Brian Gardes  33:58  

So we are located at 2100 Northwest Gleason streets. That is the corner of 21st and Gleason in northwest Portland. You can find us online at the pharmacy Or that's also our social media. So Facebook and Instagram. We are there as well.

Gabriel Flores  34:17  

Nice. Brian, that owner of the pharmacy thank you so much again for joining me this evening on the shades of entrepreneurship. For those listening at home please visit me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Thank you and have a great night.

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