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10 Years After: The Beginning of the End for Big Boxes?

Note: Today I am re-publishing here a couple of articles that originally appeared in the Genesee Sun online newspaper. Thanks to Publisher Josh Williams for giving me a new platform!
Many local people were surprised by the Jan. 3rd closing of the Geneseo Staples store. At the time, much blame was placed in this news outlet and elsewhere on a supposedly greedy landlord jacking up rents. Readers of the financial press, however, may be aware that there is a little more to the story.
If you search “Staples store closing” you will find that there are a rash of similar stories from all over the country. In fact Staples announced in November that they expected to close 170 stores in 2014! This comes amid a continuing trend of falling sales and earnings and a proposal last week that Staples merge with arch-rival Office Max. It seems that the miracle economic engine allegedly created by Bain Capital wunderkind Mitt Romney some 30 years ago is growing a little long in the tooth!
Of course most people are aware that the economy has never really recovered from the Great Recession that started in 2008, but another big reason for Staples’s problems is the prevalence of online shopping which has continued to bleed bricks and mortar retail in many categories. (See
The fact that this column is appearing in an online newspaper is just one example of the dramatic changes that have occurred in our economy over the last 15 years since the Internet Anschluss. As publisher of my own quaint “ink on crushed wood” venture not so long ago I am intimately familiar with this process. (At one time I even owned my very own brick and mortar building on Main Street!) That perch provided me with a front row seat on the Great Geneseo Big Box War, in which I eventually became an active combatant.
Looking back through the Clarion archives I see that this year marks the 10th Anniversary of the opening of Geneseo’s 205,000 square foot Super Wal-Mart, the King of all local Big Boxes. That event created a big vacancy in the Geneseo Plaza when the old mini Wal-Mart (only 94,000 square feet) moved out. It took almost three years to fill, but eventually Staples moved into part of that space opening in the fall of 2008. A little more than 6 years later they are gone!
Even before the new Super Wal-Mart had opened, a proposal was floated in March of 2005 to build a 170,000 square foot Lowes across the street in the so-called Gateway District. I can still remember my horror when I first heard of this monstrosity at a presentation by then Town Supervisor Wes Kennison at my weekly Rotary Club meeting. As I recall, Wes had read a book about the “invisible poor” and dreamed of being their champion by bringing the Gospel of low prices to the masses.
Space does not allow me to recount the entire history of that War, but the interested reader can refer to the archives of this “Clarion Call” column or my partner in crime Bill Lofquist’s excellent blog “Preserving Small Towns.
The bottom line, however, is that the rag tag group of rebels known as PDDG (Please Don’t Destroy Geneseo) won the war after losing every battle. We won not because our cause was just (even though it was) or because of the brilliance of our strategy (which goes without saying), but because in the end the Lowe’s proposal, in fact the whole dream of a Big Box Utopia, was fatally flawed.

As amply documented in Professor Lofquist’s blog, in the early years of this century (until the rude awakening of 2008), the United States was caught up in a huge Retail Construction Bubble that was simply not sustainable. In fact the Wall Street Journal reported in 2008 that projected retail demand “will justify only 43 percent of the new space delivered this year and last.” At the time I thought that some of Bill’s  “Dr. Doom” predictions were a little gloomy, but history has proved him very prescient.

As economist Herbert Stein said, “Things that cannot go on forever, will stop,” and that is what eventually happened to the Lowes proposal.  Looking back with our 20-20 hindsight, I dare say that was a good thing. I note that the Lowes store that opened in 2008 in Batavia (a much larger market then Geneseo) lasted barely 5 years before closing, so we may have dodged a bullet. Although, perhaps not as vulnerable to Internet competition on their big ticket items, if you search  “Lowes store closing” you will find dozens of other communities that have not been so lucky.
On a personal note, sensing the direction the wind was blowing, I moved my printing business, Genesee Graphics, off Main Street in 2009 to a much lower cost location: my home. Now that I sense a change in the weather I am going to re-establish a retail beachhead. This week I will be moving my copying and printing business to 61 Main Street in Geneseo (the former Frugal Fashionista). Why don’t you stop in to order some copies or printing and talk about the good old days!

My Nabokovian Winter

In my previous post I wrote about my major physical project of the Winter, rebuilding my broken down 62-year-old body. In this column I address what I have been doing to keep my mind active.

Winters are long in Western New York and one can easily develop a bad case of cabin fever, especially if you limit yourself to watching television and browsing the other vast wasteland of the Internet.

Although I have been a voracious reader for most of my life, I confess that in the last 15 years or so, since the rise of the Internet (and especially since getting an iPad), most of my reading has been of the online variety. Although some would say that there are no accidents, it was an unexpected twist of fate that restored my love of books.

While participating in the Lima Farmers Market last fall, I took a quick break to grab a cup of coffee from a local convenience mart. In the store I discovered a local library group had placed a bookshelf of free books.

Not expecting to find much of any interest, I made a quick scan of the titles. Much to my surprise I found two titles by Vladimir Nabokov: “Ada or Ardor” and “King, Queen, Knave.” Although I had read Lolita a number of times and counted it one of my favorite books, I had never tried to read any of his other work, so I picked them both up and left a small donation for the library.

When the farm season wound down I picked up Ada and tried to read it. I had no idea of the difficulty of the task. I later learned that the first few chapters of Ada are considered to be the most difficult that Nabokov has ever written.

It was almost impossible to decipher what was happening in the plot, almost as if the author was deliberately trying to scare off the casual reader. Of course, any work by Nabokov is a House of Mirrors in which nothing is ever quite what it seems, but Ada, published in 1969, the 16th of his 19 novels, may be the most extreme case.

Luckily, before I gave up, I happened upon an online version of the text which was annotated (at least up to page 200 of the 600 page tome.) With the help of the annotation I was able to decipher not only the plot, but the many puns, literary allusions and the many untranslated sections of  French and Russian phrases!

Once you can read it at the level, you will quickly find yourself in a most amusing Fun House with a least one chuckle or an outright howler in almost every paragraph. After finally finishing Ada, I found the much more conventional King, Queen, Knave much easier going.

Written originally in Russian in 1928, and then translated into English and revised by the author in 1968, KQN was Nabokov’s second novel. The plot is easily followed, despite a few surprising twists, but the literary talent is already obvious. I was hooked!

In rapid succession I have devoured the novels “Pale Fire,” ” Pnin” (twice!), “Bend Sinister”and Nabokov’s first novel in English, “The Real Life of Sebastian Knight,” written in 1938, but not published until 1941. Along the way I also read his autobiography “Speak, Memory” that covers his first 40 years before coming to America.

Currently I have his two last completed works “Transparent Works” and “Look at the Harlequins” on order as well as another of his Russian language originals “Despair” from 1934, also translated and revised by the author in 1965.

When I finish all that I can’t wait to re-read Lolita again, the annotated version of course! In addition to reading the books I also keep my computer by my side to look up all the unfamiliar vocabulary words and references.

Upon finishing each book I go online to try to figure out what I have just read. It is gratifying to me to discover that I am not alone in being perplexed. If even the greatest experts have trouble untangling the ambiguity that Nabokov loves so much, who am I to worry about it?

In any case it has been great fun and I highly commend all of these works, or really anything that he wrote, to the serious reader, although I would not recommend that you start with Ada! Pnin, or Pale Fire might be the most easily accessible.

To have such an obsession with the works of one writer is not that unusual for me. Earlier in my life I went through similar infatuations with the works of Henry Miller, Doris Lessing, Carl Jung,  John Updike and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. (In fact I took a little break in January to re-set my pallet with Marquez’s “Autumn of the Patriarch.” )

While I still love all these authors I bow down to the new master: Nabokov must surely be the greatest literary stylist of all time!

Der Kaffeeklatsch

For the last few years I was a member of a very small but remarkable group that met once a week at a local coffee shop. In fact there were only three regular members of this group, with my 61 years roughly equalling the age difference between the other two: my friend Bridgette, who is in her early 20s and expecting her first child and my long-time friend Bob Redden who died this week at age 96.

I would have called this group a coffee clatch, but I think that Bob would have appreciated that I googled the term to find the correct spelling and came up with the original German for the title which translates as “coffee chat.”

Bob was many things but most of all a scholar. He had a PhD from Syracuse and was chairman of the Geography Department at SUNY Buffalo before coming to Geneseo in the 1960s to eventually become Dean of Instruction. Although I liked to kid him by telling him that most of his knowledge was “out of date,” the fact was that he read voraciously, particularly in the areas of history and foreign policy.

On Friday mornings he would stop into the cafe for a short visit while his wife was having her hair done next door. The three of us would sit down to solve the problems of the world over a cup of coffee.

We never did solve all those problems but we did share a great deal of fun and both Bridgette and I benefitted greatly from Bob’s long perspective and his gift for friendship. We were even able to reconvene our group a few times at the County Nursing Home  where Bob spent his mercifully short, final days.

I can attest that Bob’s mind was remarkably sharp right to the end, but sadly, he lost the will to live after having to give up his home of many years on Westview Crescent. He knew the end was near and died peacefully in his sleep last Sunday night.

There will be a memorial service today at 11am at the Catholic Church in Geneseo. It seems appropriate that it should be on this day and time because that was the day and time of our weekly coffee klatsch.

So Bob we will meet one more time before you move on to that Great Coffee Klatch in the sky. Save us a seat!

BTW I know I have spelled Kaffeeklatsch four different ways in this short piece but, as Bob would no doubt correctly quote, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Bob’s was certainly not a little mind. In fact he could probably tell you not only who said that (Ralph Waldo Emerson), but also what a Hobgoblin is.

Bob saw the great sweep of life in this world for 96 years and despite growing up in the Depression, experiencing prejudice against his Irish Catholic roots and seeing the horror of war in WWII, he maintained a great and abiding faith in our country and the ability of good to triumph over evil. I hope you were right Bob!

All the lonely people

As I mentioned in my last post, I now find myself for the first time in about 35 years truly single without any prospects on the bench. How did that happen? Well for one thing I got myself into a monogamous relationship that I thought was going to be forever, so I didn’t worry about developing a farm team.

Everything was going great (I thought). We were cruising down the sunny highway of love. Then we hit a few small bumps in the road, and the next thing I know the car was upside down in a ditch! (Of course her version sounds a whole lot different, but this is my blog!)

So anyway here I am and I wanted to pass on what I’ve learned in my first month of singledom about the state of dating today both online and off. Of course online is a lot easier than trying to pick-up a girl in person. You don’t have to punch up your nerve too much and mercifully you don’t have to see their body language and facial expression when they turn you down, or more likely ignore you!

Actually I’ve been greeted quite nicely by the four girls I approached in person. It’s not my fault that two were married and the other two had boyfriends. Is it true that all the good ones are taken? One of the married ones seemed to be trying to hide her wedding ring as we were talking. Is that a good sign?

Anyway on to the Brave New World of online dating. Actually I did dabble in this once before about 10 years ago during my last short period of semi-singledom. A lot has changed in the technology. The biggest change is that now you can see who has looked at your profile and who has actually opened your e-mail.

This is a great improvement because when you find out that they never opened your e-mail you don’t feel so bad about them not responding. It seems that all dating sites have a lot of stale profiles and people that are just lookers, but don’t want to pay the monthly fee so they can actually read or respond to your e-mail. Some sites also seem to have some fake profiles but that’s another story.

Having a lot of time on my hands, and being highly motivated to end this wretched single life as soon as possible, I have signed up for about a half a dozen of these services (although not necessarily as a paying customer). My theory is that its a numbers game. The more women you approach, the more likely you are to find one stupid or desperate enough to take an interest.

My biggest problem is that like most active (and virile!) men of 61, I want a woman in her 40s. (Get over it you feminists, that’s the way of the world!) Of course, that considerably lowers my chances of success. Most good looking women in their 40s are getting lots of online attention. There seems to be a general rule that the hotter the girl, the younger the man she is willing to consider. Most really hot chicks would not consider anybody more than a couple of years older.

Fortunately there are a few exceptions to that rule. Unfortunately a lot of the people in this category come under the heading of what we call fake profiles, golddiggers or scammers. And yet there are a few genuine ladies out there who actually understand the value of experience and that age is just a number, I hope!

Another problem that raises its ugly head in these times is politics. I have to admit that the last three years under Obama has driven me from Plain Old Conservative to Angry Tea Party Ultra Conservative. Unfortunately a lot (or probably most) of the single women are liberals. Let’s face it, if we could somehow ban single women from voting, Obama would still be a back-bencher in the Senate! Needless to say this is also limiting my chances for success in the mainstream sites.

So here is my review of the sites I’ve tried so far. is the 800 pound gorilla of dating sites, but for me I doubt I could get a 800 pound gorilla to write back to me on this site. In the last month I have sent e-mails to 16 women on Match, 8 of which eventually got opened. Number of responses: 0.

The typical girl on Match seems to want to be wined and dined at expensive restaurants, taken for long romantic walks down the beach and then spend the rest of their lives taking exotic vacations. Sorry girls, but that ain’t me!

I found a more compatible type of girl for this old country boy on Here you find girls who claim to know what life on a farm is really all about and incredibly they still say they want it! A typical girl on this site says she wants to work 7 days a week getting her hands dirty. My kind of woman!

Again, however, stale profiles, inactive members and getting the few live ones to write back is still a problem. To date I have written to 36 women, with about 12 of them actually opening the e-mail. (The percentage is only this high because I finally wised up and stopped writing to non-paying profiles.)

Of those, four actually responded, although only one seems to have any ongoing interest. Part of the problem is that I am looking for a women to re-locate to my farm here in western New York, but I am casting a wide net. I’ve written to women all across the country, and some are just not interested in re-locating to Siberia. Still my numbers are much better on this site, so if you are a farmer looking for a farm wife (like I am) I highly recommend it.

A related site I tried was Earth Wise Singles. This is for your environmentally sensitive types, but I figured as an organic farmer I could maybe fool somebody. Unfortunately when I tried to narrow my search terms to find conservative women there were none! I actually did get one girl to write back on this site, but I knew it wouldn’t work so I dropped her before I broke her green little heart.

I also signed up for another site called Harvest Dating because it came up when I was searching for other farm singles sites. I think the only harvesting this site is interested in is harvesting money from your credit card. I’m ashamed to say they got me for one month for $39. This brings up the most important rule of online dating: If it looks too good to be true, it is!

They got me by having impossibly young and beautiful and no doubt fake people wink at me and send me e-mails. Of course as soon as you pony up to respond these people disappear like mirages in the desert. Of course if I was looking for people in 3rd world countries this site would be great. I’ve had cute 20 and 30 something girls winking at me from Turkey, The Phillipines and Kyrgyzstan!

Perhaps the most annoying site I’ve tried is As soon as you log into their site you feel like you have entered a busy pinball arcade, complete with flashing lights and ringing bells. About every 15 seconds they offer you the opportunity to have an online chat with a succession of what they deem age-appropriate dates. Suffice it to say, if I wanted to date women like this I would start hanging around the local nursing home!

I could go on with a few other sites I’ve tried but you get the idea. Online dating is for the most part a virtual House of Horrors filled with lonely people like me. I’ll probably hang in for a while with farmersonly but the rest have seen their last nickel from me! I have the feeling however, that if I ever am going to meet the girl of my dreams its probably not going to happen online. I think I can do much better in person.

Oh, and just in case you or somebody you know thinks they might be that girl of my dreams, let me describe her: She is in her mid40s, tall, slim and athletic, beautiful, emotionally ready and willing to re-locate and work 7 days a week in the dirt. if she plays tennis too, that’s a perfect match! Shouldn’t be that hard to find, right?

And finally for those who think that I am being cruel to my Ex by posting this publicly, let me point out two things: First, as the dumpee, my feelings must take precedence. And second, as I have tried to say in as many ways as I know how, the door is still open Darling if you want to come back . . . for now!

FOPs for Newt

I am hereby founding a new political group called FOPs for Newt. The acronym stands for Fat Old Philanderers. Believe me, I am well-qualified to be a member of this group: I have weighed north of 250 pounds for most of my adult life, I am now over 60 years old, and about the philandering, well the less said about that the better, but let’s just say I would not be qualified to cast the first stone.

I am speaking out now because I feel that there is a lot of subtle and (not so subtle) prejudice against Newt because of these three traits that he shares with so many of his would-be constituents. Let’s take these one at a time:

Fat: I don’t exactly know how much Newt weighs but I’m pretty sure it is less than Pres. William Taft who reportedly tipped the scales at over 300 pounds. Does anyone seriously think that in this age of televised political beauty contests, that a fat man (even Chris Christie) could ever again be elected President?

If you read any of the comments posted online after any article about Newt it won’t be very long before the words “fat slob” are flung as if that ended the debate. As a fat slob myself I highly resent that.

As Henry Miller pointed out years ago, fat men may be fat in body but they are usually anything but fat heads. As he observed in his novel Sexus (don’t even go there!), “Fat men were often most dynamic, most engaging, most charming and seductive. Their laziness and slovenliness were deceptive. In the brain they often carried a diamond.”

Any fair observer of this year’s Republican debates must have come to the same conclusion. Newt mind has run circles around the competition! Do we want a truly smart president or simply one who can look pretty reading a teleprompter?Don’t answer that!

Age: At Age 68, Newt is getting toward the far end of the traditional Presidential range. Of course Ron Paul is 75, but nobody (not even Ron Paul) really believes that he can be elected.

On the other hand, if elected, Newt would be a few months younger than Ronald Reagan was when he won his first term and he didn’t do too badly! It’s also important to remember that improvements in health have extended the lifespan of almost all Americans, so that 70 is looking more and more like the new 60 or less! (BTW over our long history the median age for a first term President at election is about 55. You could look it up!)

As Newt could say in any debate with Pres. Obama, “I’m not going to make an issue of my opponent’s youth and inexperience!”

Philandering: This is a tough one, but I have to say that it is not even clear that Newt meets the strict definition here. According to the free online dictionary,” A Philanderer is one who carries on a sexual affair, especially an extramarital affair, with a woman one cannot or does not intend to marry.” (emphasis added).

According to everything that has been reported, Newt did carry on affairs during his first two marriages, but he ended up marrying both of the women! This is not so much philandering as it is premature serial monogamy.

OK, I admit adulterers are never going to win that argument, but if adultery were a disqualification for high office, our nation would have been much the poorer for it. It is not necessary to pick on recent Democrats by recounting the sleazy sexual habits of President Bill “Alley Cat” Clinton or John “The Fornicator” Kennedy.

We can go all the way back to our Founding Fathers and discover that Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton (and maybe even Thomas Jefferson) were not immune from such foibles and they all got their pictures on our currency!

Although, fortunately the press in prior times was more circumspect, it is pretty much accepted that such otherwise great Presidents as FDR and Dwight Eisenhower strayed from the marital bed, although at least Ike had the excuse that there was a war on.

And as for divorce, I thought we laid that one to rest when we elected the Gipper! Case closed!

So, in conclusion, if you don’t like Newt’s ideas or policies then don’t vote for him. But if all you can bring to the conversation is stupid prejudice and a holier then thou attitude than please spare us the hypocrisy!

The FOPs for Newt is not authorized or paid for by any political committee, although I would be happy to accept donations!

Remembering Ted

I wasn’t there at the beginning. I have no memory of Ted Bondi student athlete and All-American soccer player at Brockport, or Ted, the three-time sectional winning coach at Geneseo Central School. I only had the pleasure of getting to know Ted, who died over the weekend, in the last few years of his life as a member of the Downtown Geneseo morning coffee klatch.

As a little bit of a stranger in Geneseo, having spent most of the first 25 years of my time in the Genesee Valley in Avon and Caledonia, Ted took me in as a friend and made me feel welcome. Of course the fact that he had known my mother Alice Wadsworth Strong (who was just a couple of years older than Ted) growing up in Geneseo probably didn’t hurt.

When you think of small-town tradition in Geneseo, you naturally think of Ted and his surviving sidekick Bob McDonald. They loved nothing more than to recount local history and if I had a question about anything that ever happened in Geneseo I knew that all I had to do was drop in to the coffee shop on a weekday morning and Ted and Bob would know the answer. And truly, as I discovered on many occasions, if they didn’t know, nobody did!

Ted’s death comes as a shock because even though he was 81 he gave the impression that he could probably still go out on the soccer field and score a few goals. I repeatedly tried to recruit him to join our tennis club but he claimed his hips and knees wouldn’t stand it.

I saw Ted for the last time just a few weeks ago at his regular perch at the coffee shop. As always he greeted me warmly. In fact, I had gone into the shop specifically looking for Ted to try to recruit him into playing in my Genesee Croakers Croquet League.

I explained to him that this was the perfect game for him, since he would be able to revive his competitive instincts without putting undue strain on the body. Ted heard me out in his good-natured way and said that maybe he would give it a try. I almost called him last week when I had a vacancy, but it was never to be.

Ted leaves a huge hole not just in the coffee klatch but in the soul of Geneseo. It is for those who knew him better to recount all the many contributions he made to the community. I will just miss his friendship and uncommon decency.

How the cold weather saved my life

Unseasonably cool temperatures in October helped me solve a mystery that was threatening my life. When the leaves started to fall in September, I went on Craigslist and found a small leafsweeper to keep the new lawn tennis court playable.

In order to protect the court in wet conditions I choose a model that you have to push, instead of the tractor-drawn style. It was a little more work, but the area wasn’t that big, and being in fairly good shape, I figured I could handle it.

As the weather turned colder, however, I found it was harder and harder to push that darn thing! A couple of minutes pushing and I would be so winded that I could hardly breathe.

Like most people, of course, I tried to ignore the symptoms, but they kept getting worse. After all, I could still play tennis because you get to stop between points and catch your breath, so how bad could it be?

As the weather got colder, however, even tennis became a problem. I found there wasn’t enough time between points to recover my breath no matter how much I stalled. I was also having trouble keeping up with my farm and construction work.

About 10 days ago I finally went to the Doctor. He ordered a chest X ray and some blood work and suggested that it might not be what I was afraid it was. When all those tests came back normal, however, I knew it had to be my heart.

On Tuesday I took a stress test and my fears were confirmed. They immediately scheduled me for an angiogram and on Thursday morning at 6:30 am, I found myself at the Catheter Unit at Strong Hospital.

For those who have never been so lucky, the process is not as bad as it sounds. They stick a wire into a vein (in my case in the wrist) and fish it up into your heart while they watch on a special X ray machine. By injecting dye into your coronary arteries they can tell whether you have a blockage.

I insisted that they use as little sedative as possible so I was awake and alert during the entire procedure. Except for a little tugging on my arm, I felt nothing.

As I suspected, they found a 95% blockage of my OM 1, the Obtuse Marginal artery, a small branch off the Circumflex Artery that serves the midregion of the heart. The OM 1 may be small, but apparently it is big enough to cause a big problem!

In less then an hour they had inserted a balloon to open up the artery and placed a metal stent to hopefully keep it open for a while. As a precaution I spent one night in the hospital hooked up to a heart monitor with an IV to keep blood thinners pumping through my new stent.

As I write this early Friday morning on a hospital computer, I expect to be released in a few hours. I don’t yet know what limitations I will have, however, I don’t think they will be major. Hopefully, I can get back to my tennis and my farm work in short order.

It’s a great blessing that we live in an age of such medical miracles, however, I have been warned that this treatment is not a cure for Coronary Artery disease. I will have to go on a number of medications to protect my heart from further problems and give renewed effort to weight loss and controlling my blood sugar.

As a Type II diabetic, my risk of heart disease is at least 3 times greater than those without that problem. In fact two thirds of all diabetics eventually die of heart disease. I guess I’ve got a lot of work to do to end up in the other third.

If there is a lesson here it is that “Da Nile” is not just a river in Egypt. If you have shortness of breath don’t try to ignore it. Your body is trying to tell you something!

Thanks to all who have sent their best wishes and love. I love you too!