Sunday, January 24, 2010

Another TOTUS Appearance

Knowing better than to allow wily sixth-graders to lure him into discussions of political philosophy, mathematically complex "jobs-saved-or-created" calculations, or unbalanced health-care equations, the President made sure to stay on Teleprompter as he spoke to a group of middle-school students...

Yes, the great orator made another superb appearance, and he brought the Prez along with him!..

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Three Score and Ten

How long is a life?

There's no set answer to that question, obviously. I'm convinced, though, that just as a person has a finite lifespan, so does a business. I've mentioned this to friends in the past; the best business is ultimately destined to die, as will the worst business. The difference is the duration between a business's inception and its demise.

Just before Christmas, someone who grew up near Dr. No's and was a regular customer during his high school years came back to visit. He moved to the West Coast almost two decades ago and had only been back once or twice to visit since then, and had not been able to drop by the store on those earlier visits. "It was so weird," he said. "I drove down Canton Road, and I realized that other than a few fast food restauarants that were still in the same place, every other business that I remembered from my childhood wasn't there any longer--except for the Ace Hardware store and Dr. No's."

Today I found out that the Ace Hardware store went out of business at the end of 2009, a little more than a week after that former customer remarked on its longevity.

Rich's. Treasure Island. Food Giant. Revco. Turtles. Gateway Books. Oz Records. Liberty News. The Paper Chase. Bruno's. Big K. Drug Emporium. Couch's Grocery. Book Trader. The Record Shop. Godfather's Pizza. Miller's. Wyatt's. Service Merchandise. Norwood Griffin. A&P. People's. Music Music Music. Esserman's. Harris Teeter. Laserdisc Enterprises. Parisian. Premiere Video. Reader's Den. Conn's Grocery. Gass TV and Electronics. Candler's Drugs. The EZ Shop. Petro's Pizza.

Just a few of the many businesses that I have frequented over the years that have thrived, declined, and failed. While a few (A&P, Bruno's Harris Teeter) are still successful elsewhere, none of them still exist in this area--and there are times when I think back fondly on each and every one of them and wonder what went wrong.

Are you old enough to remember when every major mall had a Hammond organ store (or something similar) that loudly played synthesized-rhythm tracks along to accompany syncopated arrangements of recent hits? Do any of those stores still exist today?

Remember when every major mall department store had a sizeable tech and entertainment department with televisions, VCRs, stereo systems, and the like?

Times change. Interests change. Technology changes. Means of selling merchandise change. And as a result, every store will fail eventually.

I say this at a time when Dr. No's, my comic shop, has posted one of its best years in history, so I don't want you to think I'm concerned about my comic shop. We're doing great, and I think we have the prospects of doing even better in years to come.

At the same time, though, I know that there will be a day when Dr. No's won't exist any longer. And there will be a day when people will reminisce about the store and wonder, "Whatever happened to that comic shop on Canton Road?"

I had to make a trip to the mall tonight--perhaps the third or fourth time I've gone to the mall in the past twelve months. As I walked the length of the mall upstairs and downstairs, I started thinking about the time before there was a Town Center Mall; I remembered its opening in 1986; and I thought about the many stores that once occupied the mall and are now gone. Most of them had their glory days, went into decline, and went away.

Tonight I stopped in the Lindt Chocolates store to pick up some dark chocolate truffles (a weakness of mine). They were on sale for 50% off... because the store is closing. Next week will be their last week of business. After that time, the Lindt store in Lenox Square will be the only remaining Georgia location. And yet it seems like chocolate is more popular than ever right now. So it's not necessarily the decline in popularity of the product itself--it's just a change in public tastes, shopping habits, and economic trends.

It's not a sign of a bad business, or bad management, or bad products. It's just a part of the life cycle.

Had someone told me when I bought Dr. No's from Artie Decker in 1982 that the store would still be open and setting sales records in 2009, I wouldn't have believed it. If someone told me today that the store was going to be gone by the year 2037, I would find that equally hard to believe. We don't like the idea that things change. We count on sameness, we assume that businesses will be here tomorrow and next month and next year and so on.

But every business has a lifespan. And just like people, we don't know in advance how long that lifespan is. (Of course, my goal is to keep my business healthy and thriving for as long as possible, just as my goal is to keep myself healthy and thriving for as long as possible. But neither is immortal.)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Post-New-Year's Post

New Year's Eve... New Year's Day... both have come and gone, and neither was very eventful for me. I have never been one who perceived of New Year's as being particularly significant; it's one day later than the day before, one day earlier than the day after, and other than the changes dictated by societal and governmental dictates, it doesn't even feel like a holiday to me. Since I don't drink and don't enjoy fireworks, I'm uninterested in two of the most ubiquitious celebratory practices associated with the day.

Nevertheless, I recognize that there's a certain significance to the changing of the last numbers in the date--it's an easily recognized marker of the passage of time, the inexorable march forward that we all experience if we're lucky.

I'm always surprised when people say things like "let's hope next year is better than last year," because I've never really thought in terms of a bad year or a good year. Bad things happen in every year, and some years are remembered for the particularly bad things that happen--but every year also has a thousand thousand good things that happened during its 365-day span, whether or not we choose to remember them.

At the same time, I acknowledge that for some, there seem to have been significant sorrows and stresses in 2009, and I hope that changes. I hate to see friends enduring seemingly relentless hardships, and a change for them would be most appreciated.

(I also acknowledge that 2009 was a difficult year economically; we've been on a downward economic slide as a nation ever since the elections of 2006 put the Democrats in charge of the House, where financial policies are made. Things got even worse in 2009, when the Democrats wrested overwhelming control of the Senate and the the White House. If you know me, you know that I find the current Democratic policies to be nationally destructive, both fiscally and ethically, and I see little chance of improvement for at least another year and most likely for three more.)

I had less to say in 2009 than in the prior three years; it's too early to say if 2010 will see a return to my former level of posting or another relatively quiet year.

Van Go

For the first time in almost five years, I find myself van-less.

In early 2005, I bought a Honda Odyssey minivan, primarily to ensure that I had a vehicle large enough to handle comics shipment pickup for the three stores that were in our shipping group at the time. A van had never qualified as my dream vehicle, but it was the only viable option to hold three stores' weekly comic shipments. After a couple of years, though, I discovered a major design flaw in the Odyssey (the air conditioning compressor was placed too low in an unprotected position, so rocks thrown up from the road had a disconcerting tendency to puncture it--something that Honda acknowledged as a design flaw that they corrected in later models, but they still refused to cover any of the repair cost) that led me to trade the Odyssey in on a Toyota Sienna.

The Sienna was a better vehicle than the Odyssey in every way--drove better, improved sound system, more comfortable, quieter--but it still left me with the problems of second-row seat stowage. Since I used the van for cargo, I had little need for second row seats, so they kept taking up oodles of space in my garage when I took 'em out of the van. Furthermore, while the sound system was improved over the Odyssey, it was still lackluster--weak treble gave a flat, tinny sound rather than a crisp, rich sound.

So the Sienna gave way to the 2009 Nissan Quest, which I still rank as the best van on the market. The Bose sound system was rich and vibrant compared to the Odyssey or the Sienna, the second-row seats fold almost flat (and while they weren't perfectly flat, they were flat enough--and I no longer had to store seats in my garage!), the cargo space was voluminous, the handling was perfectly adequate...

But y'know, I really never wanted to own a van, and I didn't enjoy driving it. I didn't hate it, mind you, but I didn't enjoy it.

Back in September, the third store in our shipping group dropped out, leaving just two stores. And as soon as that happened, I began keeping shipping records, box counts, etc., because I was considering foregoing the van at long last. I had really gotten tired of driving what I felt I should drive to benefit our shipping group; I really wanted to drive what I enjoyed driving.

The last medium-cargo-capacity vehicle I had driven was the Acura MDX, and I had loved its performance, sound, and build quality. So I continued to look at the Acura as a possible replacement, and I let Paul (the owner of the other store in my shipping group) know that I might be making the trade, because it would mean that he might have to make occasional trips to the warehouse on larger weeks. (I thought it only fair to let him know a change was under consideration.) Paul understood, and even joked that he thought it was about time for me to get another vehicle.

When the details on the 2010 MDX were announced, I decided that was the vehicle I wanted. And on December 31st, I became the owner of a 2010 Acura MDX.

I've only had two days to play with it, but it seems to have everything I want in an SUV. For 2010, Acura added a six-speed transmission, cooled front seats (they were already heated), a superlative iPod interface, a hard drive for music storage, a blind-spot alert system, an improved rear camera system, and a few other features that made the vehicle even more appealing--but they kept all the things that made the Acura so enjoyable to drive previously.

Got it from Jackson Acura in Alpharetta, one of the most impressive dealership facilities I've ever visited. Based on my experiences thus far, I'll be doing business with them many times more in the future.