Sometimes It's Hard to Remain Calm
When It Comes to Banners and Dead Trees
Yet, as I get out and about these days with a pace-car sticker on my rear window and try to help calm matters on city streets, I find myself in need of serious calming.
I wonder about those banners that have been attached to utility posts in the downtown. It is near impossible to make out the signage, but on very close examination – at about two feet away – it seems the letters spell out Northampton – in RED letters on a field of RED. Doesn’t work, especially for the stranger to town or someone driving calmly in his car. A pedestrian with binoculars has a better shot at figuring out what the banner says.
And what is the meaning of that obscure slogan in tiny white letters – “walk into something wonderful.”
We recently drove through a number of tiny towns between Lake Placid, NY and Lake Champlain and many of them displayed bright bold celebratory pennants that told us unambiguously what town we were entering.
Each of the banners in Northampton carries the name of its sponsor – and we are told that the cost of such sponsorship is greater than the $350 fee for the banners that adorned the city last year during its 350th celebration. Not a good media buy.
And speaking of walking into “something” wonderful in the downtown, don’t look too carefully at the overall condition of the sidewalk trees. The ones at 37, 56, 114, and 144 Main Street are dead and yet haven’t been put out of their misery and removed.
As the city has no budget for planting new city trees, it might occur to the chamber or individual merchants, especially prosperous ones – for example, one of the dead trees is in front of the Florence Savings Bank, another in front of the Bank of America office - that healthy, good-looking trees could enhance their businesses and the streetscape generally.
Money spent on replacement trees might actually do more to appeal to pedestrians and visitors to Northampton than unreadable banners.
When It Comes to Food Coops
As I calmly drove along North King Street and came upon the sign identifying proposed site of the much promised river Valley market, I was reminded of the popular wisdom that an investor or shareholder of a business enterprise will eventually sell that share should the firm, after a reasonable period of time, fail to live up to the investor’s expectations.
The popular wisdom doesn’t work in the instance of this cooperative grocery store, which first sold shares in its business in 1999.
I bought into the idea and sent off my check for $150, not expecting any financial return but as a very small venture capitalist who wanted such a market to come into being as an alternative to the globally owned Stop & Shop and the large Big Y chain.
After years of delays caused by sites that did not work out, fund-raising that lagged, barriers erected by the Stop & Shop, I concluded that I had made a bad investment, so I tried to cash in my share. No luck. I was told I could not, so now it is seven years since I wrote that check.
Yet, I read that the cooperative needs another $3.5 million in order to move ahead.
At the rate of having raised its current total of $1.5 million in seven years, it will only be another 14 or 15 years before the coop gets the rest of its financing in hand and the market can break ground. At that point, my $150 investment ceases to be venture capital, but a bad debt.
I have to wonder what possible kind of operation the coop has in mind when it finally comes into being, and can I trust it to make sound decisions about purchasing, pricing, staffing and marketing its store.
During the intervening seven years, the marketing landscape in the area has changed dramatically with the arrival of Trader Joe’s, the expansion of Whole Foods, the new emphasis on organic food products at mainstream grocers, as well as the retail giants, Wal-Mart and Costco.
The coop was an admirable idea, but then ideas are easy, follow-through is the hard part.