Friday, February 22, 2008

Strand Book Store is a real local business

This week I had two opportunities to visit the Strand Book Store on the corner of Broadway and East 12th Street. Strand, for those who don't know, is one of the few non-chain, small-box used book stores in New York City. Around the 1930's they were one of over 40 used book stores on Book Row in Manhattan. Today they are the only used book store in and around Union Square. Their headquarters is on 12th Street, but they also run another, smaller store downtown near South Street Seaport as well as a kiosk near Central Park.

For my work I arranged a tour of the Strand for librarians who are interested for themselves, but also because Strand offers librarians discounts to buy books for their libraries. So I had made arrangements with the Events Manager, Christina Foxley who would conduct the tour. I'd never met her in person, so when Phil and I went to the Strand to see Ed Begley, Jr. talk about his TV show and book, Living Like Ed, Christina said she would be there making sure things went smoothly.

I arrived after Ed's talk but did stay for a lengthy Q & A. Phil talked about the permaculture class starting in March and offered his flyers to anyone interested, then asked if Ed believed we could continue to grow exponentially, meaning the population, if our planet has finite resources. Of course, Ed said no, but he also said that permaculture is a great thing and that people should talk to Phil about it afterward. It was like getting a free commercial for our class. Thanks, Ed!
Anyway, Christina came up to Phil after that and said he could leave some of his brochures at the Information Desk. That was an unexpected but pleasant surprise. Both Phil and I were very grateful.

So the next day, Christina led about 30 of us on a tour of the book store including stops in the 5th floor warehouse, the rarebooks floor, the remainders area in the basement, as well as the event space and art book section on the 2nd floor, then to the children's section and a short talk with Fred Bass, the owner. It was a very good tour and the librarians asked a lot of questions and Christina and the managers we talked with were very gracious hosts. What I was most impressed by though was how Fred Bass answered a question I asked. I asked Fred where he sees the Strand going in the next few years, if he's planning to expand in any way. Fred responded that they had just finished a renovation of the headquarters store and he was content to work selling quality books and not expanding the business.

When you think about his competition, Barnes and Noble and Borders and the business model they use, what Fred said has much more power than it does without the comparison. Fred is a book person and he's in the business because he loves the business. The CEOs of Barnes and Noble and Borders bookstores are not book men and are not in it because they love it. What they love is making deals and making investors happy. Fred Bass is not interested in that. His resistance to growing his company is a sign that he also values his role as a local business and a local employer. The Strand employs 200 people, a small number compared to his big competitors, but still large for most small businesses. By not taking risks on growth, Fred ensures a safe and stable work environment for his employees, a quality product for his customers and a well-deserved reputation in the city as a quality used bookseller.

If only more businesses ran on those principles instead of on getting money for investors and upper management we'd be in a better economic situation these days.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Working with Wood

Phil and I escaped NYC for President's Day weekend to learn some woodworking skills. We like to go to the Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster, PA because we're very fond of the Master Cabinetmaker who teaches their woodworking classes. His name is H. Clair Garman. Our first woodworking workshop we took at the Winter Institute in 2006. We made a Candle Stand that you can raise and lower. Unfortunately, both sit unfinished on our bedroom floor, collecting dust. We went again last June and this time did different projects. Phil made a corner shelf and I made a mail holder. We also worked on dovetailing, which is not easy to do, but that's another project for later

Here's a photo of our project, a chimney cabinet. It's only about 17 inches wide and 10 inches deep. But believe me, it's not easy for a beginner. When we get to class all the wood parts are already cut for us. There were two side pieces, 7 shelves, a frame made up of 5 pieces, the doors were 5 pieces, the back was 1 piece and the hinges and latches.

We had some trouble with the measurements of side pieces of our cabinet. They weren't measured right and thankfully, Clair had his right hand helper, Ian Beaumont, there. Ian was a great (read patient) help to us. He set the right measurements and sliced off extra and made it all fit right. As you can see from that description, I have no idea how he did it, but he did it. So by the end of the first day, Phil and I had a standing set of shelves.

An Interlude

That evening Phil and I went to an Amish home for dinner. Our bed and breakfast hosts, Dave and Gerry, suggested it and made the arrangements for it. I have to confess it was a strange experience. The Amish couple, Mary and Aaron were very nice and they had two charming boys, 4 and 2 years of age. We didn't feel any discomfort from them, but we weren't really comfortable with the other folks. Dinners like this usually include about 10 or 12 people and there were 5 other couples besides us. We kind of stuck out like sore thumbs as the only non-gay couple. But Phil had a great time playing with the 2 year-old and the food was good and there was plenty of it. So we left satisfied.
From there we went to a lecture back at the museum by an economics professor, Farley Grubb, from the University of Delaware. He gave an interesting lecture on how two men from Germany found their way to America.

We were in kind of a hurry the second day because we only had 3 hours to finish our piece so we didn't take too many pictures, but we were able to get the doors put together by putting three rails together sliding the panel between the three then adding the top rail. The rails were glued together and a wood pin inserted at the corners. The bottom door didn't fit exactly so we had to plane and sand it some to make it fit. Then we put the hinges and latches on and puttied the nail holes in the sides and we were done. The finished piece isn't sanded smooth or stained or painted, but sitting in our kitchen, it leaves a lovely wood smell that reminds us of the wood shop and it's a nice symbol of our teamwork to create a nice useful piece of furniture. We're using it to hold all our glass containers.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Banking on Hope

There's a lot of excitement about Barack Obama these days. And just when he needs it. He's winning big in many state contests, winning delegates and super delegates. And he's got the backing of a number of star power folks. I can't help but wonder though, whether Obama is sinking into the pockets of the powerful and elite that easily influence our elections with their money. Is he really a change or more of the same? Will he really be able to change the direction America is going? I hope that folks really listen to what he says before deciding to vote for him. For that matter I hope folks do this for any candidate. What I mean is, are voters really differentiating between nebulous talk that folks want to hear and solid policy statements that reveal his intentions. The latter is the real substance and it's what we should look for when candidates speak.

For me, I no longer see much difference between either political party. Consequently, I don't trust any of them, apart from Dennis Kucinich. In the end it's a money game and the candidate with the most money usually ends up the winner. Where does this money come from? Corporations and the rich. And where does the real, middle and lower class voter fit in there? Well they end up being duped into thinking that the candidate that gets trumpeted about the most is the candidate for them. Believe me, I'm no expert on elections or the voting system, but I can smell pretty well and what I smell during election time is rotten. Voter beware!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bee-ginning With Bees

Phil and I helped our farmer friend, Deb Tyler, of Local Farm in Cornwall Bridge, CT with her Bee-ginning With Bees workshop this past Saturday, February 9, 2008.

Bee-ginning With Bees is one of Deb's Old Style Life Skills workshops that she does every first Saturday of the month.

This workshop was taught by Mark Moorman of Sprain Brook Apiary in Woodbury, CT and the workshop took place at the UCC Parish House in Cornwall Bridge.

As you can see, I took some pictures of this workshop and even figured out how to display them here.

The first picture is of an actual hive that was overwintering. Mark took out one of the wood slots in the middle (don't know the proper term) and showed us that the bees had formed a ball in the middle of the hive to keep warm. Unfortunately, they didn't survive.

Deb hauled out two big boxes containing a hive kit and equipment for beekeeping. Mark and a young workshop participant are taking out all the various parts.

And here's the kit all put together including three smokers and a hat, the guy in the back, Norm, is looking at the gloves that also came with the kit.

Here Mark is showing how to get a smoker going. He used strips of cardboard rolled up and the end set alight then dropped in the smoker.

Phil's first puffs from the smoker.

After we came back inside, Mark showed us how you start a hive. That box would contain the worker bees and the can at the top allows you to take out the little box with the queen and put her in the hive first while holding the other bees in the box. Then once the queen is settled, you can let the other bees in the hive.

After lunch, Deb was ready to show folks how to make candles with bees wax. It took a lot of patience and dipping to create candles.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Economic Stimulus For Who?

Your leaders in Washington want to give you a present this tax season. They want to give you money to spend in order to help out the economy. This may seem like a nice idea, but think about it for a moment. If you receive $600 say, what will you do with it? Pay ahead on your credit card? That payment will go to a large credit card lender. Pay for a high ticket item like a Playstation or plasma TV? That too would go to a big box store. See the pattern. Our leaders are giving us money that will eventually end up in the coffers of big box banks or corporations. Really, it's a gift to corporate America by way of the American people, making our leaders look good and the people happy to have more stuff. Unfortunately, the people are also probably overlooking the fact that next year during tax time, they'll find that that gift will be part of the income they'll be taxed on. Nothing is free.

What to do with your gift, then? Save it. Buy from a local store so that money will stay in your community. Invest in yourself by learning something new. Whatever you do, do it responsibly.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Where the $ comes from and where the $ goes

Check out this website: Money Track at Political Base

I knew this kind of information was available, but now it's even more available than before. You can home in on your state, county, town, neighborhood, or street to see where political contribution money is going. I closed in on my little town in Queens and found out that of the 7 contributions 5 are for Guiliani and 2 are for Clinton. The two for Clinton were given by Chinese folks. None of the contributions for Guiliani were given by Chinese folks.

See who's giving what in your neighborhood.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Film Screening and Presidential Candidate Encounter

We made it through our weekend film screening with a respectable crowd, smaller on Friday than Saturday as it was rainy and nasty Friday. But we're grateful we got the number of people we did. Several of the people I invited came, my colleague and friend from the midwest, Rita, and my co-worker Aleksi and his girlfriend Lisa. The panels on both nights were diverse and interesting, including Karen Washington of NYC Community Gardens Coalition, Eli Ishchayil of the Black Socialist Organization, Paula Lukats and Owen Taylor of Just Food, Ian Marvy of Added Value, Cleo Silvers of For a Better Bronx, Abu Talib and Bobby Watson of Taqwa Community Garden and several others.

Through the panel, we were really trying to stress that our community includes all races and some of the folks with the strongest community ties are black. Consequently, on Saturday, we had a very special guest visit from Cynthia McKinney, who is running for the Green Party nomination for president. Cynthia could only stop by for a short while, but I can attest to her credentials. She is the only candidate who has the courage to talk honestly about the issues that are affecting us as a nation. I applaud her courage to run for president and hope that the Green Party and others accept her.