He knows the anguish of losing a parent, but no matter how difficult life became, something within him kept pushing him forward.
Johnathan Birsa, 25, is on the verge of opening Cartune Performance, an auto accessories and parts store, and says he is humbled and grateful to see his dreams come true.
He hopes his story will inspire others who may feel that their lives have reached rock bottom to find the strength not to give up on themselves.
Birsa’s feelings of inadequacy began at a young age. He described growing up in what some might call a “hot spot” in Central.
“My sister wrote SEA one year before me,” he explained.
“Everybody had high expectations of me as she had passed for a ‘prestige’ school, but when the results came in, I had passed for what was considered the worst school in Central. Given that there was a lot of violence and crime during the five years I was there, and it was constantly in the news, it was a reasonable assumption,” he said.
Despite the environment, Birsa excelled in school. While he would not consider himself a model student, he took his education very seriously.
“I think I had every opportunity to choose a life of crime,” he explained, “but I always believed in being honest, working hard and sacrificing to get what I wanted. “Never let a circumstance define who you are. Get up and try again if you don’t succeed the first time.”
Birsa founded and owns Cartune Performance. The store, which has primarily operated online for the past three years, will officially open its physical location on June 23.
The upcoming launch is bitter-sweet because he intends to dedicate it to his father, Errol, who died in February. Birsa admits that when he was younger, he had a strained relationship with his father and frequently rebelled.
He was 23 years old when he found himself in debt and with nowhere to go after storming off from an argument with his father.
“I chose to be homeless, but I had a plan,” Birsa explained.
“I was over $5,000 in debt when the bank called to tell me that my credit card was in arrears and that I needed to put at least $100 on it.”
Birsa described this as a “make it or break it” moment in his life, and he was broken at the time. He had less than $100 in his bank account.
“I knew I got myself into this mess,” he said.
“I got a credit card and went wild spending. Nobody had ever taught me the financial responsibilities that came with owning a credit card, but I was about to learn the hard way. I knew I needed to do something to get myself out of this situation.
“I’m not sure what prompted me to go online and buy some key chains, but I believe God was guiding me. I paid $73 for a packet of five key chains. I sold each for $60, and they all sold out in one day.”
While the sale did not cover Birsa’s debt, it motivated him to reach his goal, which eventually turned into a business.
“I had never considered becoming a business owner. Initially, I used buying and selling items to pay off my debt. However, once I decided I wanted to be a business owner, the next three years were arduous and required many sacrifices. Except for watching my parents run their mini-mart, I had no prior experience running a business. Every day is a struggle in and of itself. I get up every day, tired or sick, and go about my business.”
Birsa admitted to sleeping in various car parks or living in his old car at times. At one point, he could fit everything he owned into a gym duffel bag. His diet consisted primarily of bread and chicken and he showered at various gyms.
“I had a job, but no place to lay my head. Because I believe in good hygiene, I would go to the gym, shower, and then go to work. When the Covid lockdown forced gyms and other non-essential businesses to close, I had to rent a place for the time being. It took some time, but I gradually regained my footing,” he said.
Birsa stated that while he and his father did not always agree, he is grateful that they were able to reconcile before his father died.
“I’m sorry he won’t be able to see the opening. I know if he were still alive, he’d be right here by my side.”
Birsa is heavily involved in the construction of the establishment, which will be located in Chaguanas.
“I’m not familiar with construction, but there’s always YouTube. It took some time, but I eventually learned how to lay bricks, tile, carpentry, and other skills. My father was a welder, but I never had the opportunity to learn the trade until now.”
While Birsa is in charge of everything, he knows that things like plumbing and electrical will be left to the professionals.