July 31, 2007

Vacancies are few. Can you imagine sleeping in this? I would think I was in a you know what. I am a bit claustraphobic anyway.

July 17, 2007

I am finishing up another in the Toby Peters series written by Stuart Kaminsky. This one is entitled SMART MOVES. As all of his books featuring Toby this one is set in the forties. As in all of his adventures Kaminsky works in notables of the day. This time it is none other than Albert, frizzy head himself, Einstein, and the baritone, actor Paul Robeson running afoul of trouble and needing Toby Peters help extracating themselves, actually Einstein is the one needing protection and Paul gets sucked into the trouble.

As in his other books Kaminsky manages to work in some historical events along the way. In one scene he has Toby attending the Paramount theater in New York when Tommy Dorsey and his band appeared on-stage after the feature film starring Bob Hope finished. He finds himself nearly the only male in the audience of young teen-age girls waiting for Dorsey's band singer to appear. The band singer, of course, was Frank Sinatra and the girls went wild. It was the first time something like that happened in those days. It was not unlike the girls screaming when the Beatles appeared back in the sixties.

He adds other pieces of history as the story proceeds. The Toby stories are not expected to be taken real seriously, but to be enjoyed as you are transported back to those days of the forties.
From American Heritage. Com. I miss the lunch counters of stores like these and some drug store chains. They are from another day I understand, but I still miss them them.

Why Woolworth Had to Die
By Joshua Zeitz

Ten years ago today, on July 17, 1997, F. W. Woolworth announced that it was closing the last 400 of its “five-and-ten-cent” stores, laying off 9,200 workers and drawing to a close 117 years as the flagship retailer of downtown America. “Woolworth was 100 years ago what Wal-Mart is today,” the historian Robert Sobel pointed out to The New York Times. It had once seemed to be a store that would last forever.

Frank Woolworth opened his first dry-goods store in 1879, in Utica, New York. His first sale was a five-cent shovel—the most expensive item he had. Later that year he opened a larger store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and with business booming, in 1880 he raised his price ceiling to ten cents, thus ushering the term “five-and-ten” into the American lexicon. In 1910 the Woolworth lunch counter made its debut, at the 14th Street store in Manhattan, and in 1912 the fast-growing business subsumed five competing chains to build an empire of 596 stores nationwide, with $53 million in annual sales (equal to $1.1 billion today).

Woolworth, who died a very rich man in 1919, wasn’t the only entrepreneur to build a retail empire as America urbanized and gained wealth. By the turn of the century, with work hours on the decline and real wages rising, millions of ordinary people were patronizing not only Woolworth but also department stores such as Macy’s and Filene’s, where they could find a wide variety of goods at low prices. Even farm families remote from cities and towns came to rely on the stores. Rural free delivery and parcel post, two services introduced in 1896 and 1913 respectively, enabled anyone to purchase by mail order.

But fundamentally, the rise of chain stores like Woolworth took place in cities. On the eve of the Civil War, less than 20 percent of Americans qualified as “urban,” a category that then included all persons living in towns with a population of at least 2,500. By 1920 more than half of all Americans lived in towns or cities, and the number of people living in cities of at least 8,000 had jumped from 6.2 million to 54.3 million. In this new environment, Woolworth became an anchor of the downtown business district.

It didn’t happen overnight, though. As late as 1930, working-class city dwellers still did most of their shopping at corner groceries and mom-and-pop stores, where they often were allowed generous credit. A survey in 1926 revealed that chains accounted for 53 percent of grocery stores in the upscale Oak Park suburb of Chicago but just one percent of stores in the working-class towns of Joliet and Gary. The Depression changed all that, as mom-and-pops found it harder to extend credit and customers found the lower prices at chains like Woolworth impossible to resist. A survey in 1939 showed that 91 percent of lower-income shoppers were now paying cash for their purchases, having evidently abandoned the old neighborhood store for the cheaper, cash-only chains. Woolworth was a prime beneficiary.

Yet even as the downtown chains spread, the groundwork was being laid for their slow but steady death. In the 1950s and 1960s America’s suburban population grew by more than 40 million, led out of the cities by cheap, quality housing and a massive federal highway construction program. By 2000, shortly after Woolworth boarded up its last stores, an outright majority of Americans were suburbanites. Firms like Woolworth had trouble adapting their cut-rate downtown model to the new suburban shopping centers that sprang up around the country. The company stuck to an updated version of the old five-and-ten even as postwar affluence brought a higher standard of living to many of its customers. So it couldn’t compete with new outlets designed for the shopping centers and malls, like Kmart, Target and Wal-Mart, all three of which came into being in 1962 and offered more household goods at bargain prices. By 1970 those “big-box” budget retailers, to be joined later by new discount franchises like Toys “R” Us, Circuit City, T. J. Maxx, Office Depot, and Best Buy, outsold traditional department stores as well as five-and-tens and rang a final death knell for the downtown business districts that Woolworth had long dominated.

In 1993 Woolworth retrenched, closing 1,000 of its stores. The company shifted resources to its more competitive franchises, like Foot Locker and Champs Sports, and gave the Smithsonian its most valuable piece of memorabilia, the lunch counter where four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, had staged a landmark civil rights sit-in in 1960. The writing was on the wall. “Closing of the Woolworth stores is long overdue,” a retail consultant remarked in 1997. “Today’s Woolworth store was just not viable.” By then, the company was losing as much as $31.5 million per quarter.

Several weeks after its 1997 announcement, Woolworth auctioned off all its display cases, store fixtures, soda fountains, and furniture. It was the end of an era.

July 13, 2007

The internet abounds with video these days. I remember when my wife and I first became members of the internet community back in 1997 watching a video was an adventure. Streaming video was not so much a streaming stream, but a jerking, jumping film that your patience would give up on long before the video was finished. Now days it is like night and day. The videos, most of them anyway, look good, don't start and stop along the way, and sound good. Video has also become a big business item, Youtube sold for lots of money, bought by Google I think. This is all preface to a couple recommendations to add to your daily business of staring at the also refined flat monitors we use mostly now. Charlie Rose, an interviewer I think is tops, has been on the tube for a long time now, but he's on at or after 11:30 at night, a time when I am dozing and not at my most receptive. I have had to copy his show from time to time, but that is not really a remedy. But now Charlie has released thousands of his shows for us to view at our leisure. I am loving it. Check him out at charlierose.com.

Another great resource is C-SPANs series on American writers and American presidents, available to view whenever you are in a history kind of mood. If you're interested in writers, presidents, or just about anyone on Charlie Roses show you should be loving these things.

July 10, 2007


end of the world in 4 years? what is happening to bees?

July 7, 2007

I love running into these old, I repeat old buildings that are still in business. This mill is so old I don't think it could be fixed up. Any construction boss would say they would have to tear it down I am sure. But the business still runs and things are looking pretty neat, just old.

July 6, 2007

What the devil is going on here Tom Batiuk? I was misdiagnosed ten years ago and told I had two years to live, and I can tell you there was no good humor in any of it. I can also tell you there is no humor in the plight of Lisa and Les. Comic strips, I thought, were supposed to be exactly that, comic, funny or maybe a little surreal, but certainly not real life with real nightmare scenarios. Each time you wrote about Lisa and Les I expected you would employ an out for their dilemma. Perhaps a new experimental drug, or at least put her cancer in a forever state of remission, but no you seem determined to kill her off. For crying out loud Tom give us a break from real life and save Lisa.

July 4, 2007

Independence Day 2007. Freedom USA style works. If we lose it we won't lose it on a battlefield, but by a politicians ineptness. Study what your representatives stand for, and don't let them get too comfortable in the job.