Exile on Main Street

This headline in the Times Union caught my eye:

Wolf Road, region’s ‘Main Street,’ struggles in pandemic economy

In what godforsaken dystopian world is Wolf Road your “Main Street?”

Far from being our Main Street, other overbuilt retail areas in the region are described as being, “like Wolf Road.”

Don’t get me wrong: there is a place for the Wolf Roads of America. You may hate the acres of parking lots, soulless chain restaurants, and mind-numbing traffic, but for better or worse, big communities need big retail. But Main Street? I think not.

You want to talk Main Street? Walk down Broadway in Saratoga. Visit Altamont. Stroll down Warren Street in Hudson. Pick any number of spots in Troy. That’s Main Street.

Main Street is part of our collective culture. The greatest fictional Main Street may well be what we see in It’s a Wonderful Life, with it’s hometown shops and colorful characters. Wolf Road? That’s more like Mr. Potter’s nightmarish parallel world ,where George Bailey gets schooled on his place in the universe.

No, not my Main Street.

I hate to say this, but after decades of places like Wolf Road destroying Main Street, is it time for a little payback? It could be that this COVID mess will leave people wanting to shop close to home — on Main Street, even. We could do worse.

Talking Turkey

Ah, Thanksgiving, the most American holiday.

There’s so much to be thankful for this year, that I don’t know where to start. I could only be more thankful if Donald Trump were walking down the street and a safe fell on his head. Anyway, a few holiday observations:

Electric Turkey Fryers
Electric countertop turkey fryers are all the rage this year. No doubt these are considerably safer than the outdoor propane versions, but any time you’re around enough boiling oil to fry a turkey, there may be trouble. Please be careful. It is my sincere wish this Thanksgiving that you don’t burn your damn house down or suffer hideous grease burns.

Turkey Skin
According a story in the Times Union by food writer Deanna Fox, local strip club Night Moves will offer turkey and exotic dancing on Thanksgiving. Club owner Steven Dick Jr. tells the paper, “We offer a chance to get a nice, hot meal and enjoy the show.” Yes, his name is Steven Dick!

Early Black Friday
Are you one of those people who will be starting your Black Friday shopping early by heading out on Thanksgiving? Well, fu*k you, then. Yes, some stores should be open for part of the day, like supermarkets, but c’mon, do you really need to go shopping at Best Buy on Thanksgiving? If you do shop on Thanksgiving, you’re part of the problem. Give it a rest.

Finally, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if I didn’t share one of my favorite holiday recipes, Albany Eye Sweet Potato Crunch. It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since I first urged you to cook this extraordinary side dish that will guarantee you praise and adoration. Remember, don’t ever use canned sweet potatoes. That would be as bad as shopping on Thanksgiving.

Basket Case

So, here’s the thing: lately when I go into my supermarket — I won’t mention which one, but let’s just say they are committed to chopping prices — the cashier sometimes asks this question:

“May I help you with anything on the bottom of your cart today?”

To me, that sounds a little like:

“Are you planning to steal something by ‘forgetting’ it in bottom of your cart today?”

Hey, just because I haven’t shaved in three days and didn’t take a shower doesn’t mean I’m going to steal sh*t from your store.

It could be that they’re just being helpful, you know, for customers who can’t reach into the bottom of their cart. Except I’ve also noticed that there are discreet little signs posted near the cashiers that read What about BOB? BOB stands for bottom of basket.

There’s no question that theft is a problem for supermarkets. That’s why chains, like the one that chops prices, have a serious commitment to security; little things count in an operation that operates on a narrow margin. I once heard some crazy stories from one of their security workers about nabbing brazen grocery thieves.

It’s worth noting that they also now ask customers if they need help to their car. Could this be to have a look at what we’re hiding in the trunk? Perhaps, perhaps.

The Cats Must Be Fed

There are three things that will send me to Price Chopper at 5am: cat food, coffee and toilet paper. I’ve been in the store at that hour buying those items — or some combination of those items — on many occasions. Sometimes all three of those items.

Not such a big deal; Price Chopper is just five minutes away and open all night.

There’s a guy who’s worked there forever on the third shift who I think of as “The Russian.” He could be from any number of places, but to my American ear he sounds Russian — and at 5am that’s close enough.

He looked down at my bag of pet food and said, “The cats must be fed.”

Now, I want you to say that out loud in your best faux Russian accent and hear how cool it sounds. Pretty deep, huh? Now say it in your American voice. Yes, ridiculous.

I don’t know anything about The Russian, but chances are he is not some sort of exiled philosopher or poet making ends meet on the supermarket’s overnight crew, but he sure sounds that way. Gotta go. The cats must be fed.

You Gotta Look Sharp

A long overdue closet cleaning got me thinking about local retail.

I found the pants from one of the first suits I ever bought by myself, from Kelly Clothes in Latham. Kelly shut down in 2003, so I will never have the opportunity to ask them how I ended up with a taupe suit. Now, there’s nothing wrong with taupe — but if you’re going to have one or two suits, they should probably be navy blue or charcoal.

I also found the jacket of a snazzy black double-breasted suit from Spector’s, also more than 20 years old. The pants were MIA. Spector’s closed up shop this year after being in business since 1917; not even moving to the mall could save the clothier, facing stiff competition from big department stores and large menswear chains.

I did work for both Kelly Clothes and Spector’s during my days as a commercial producer. Menswear spots were always tough because nobody wanted to spend money on models. If you think dealing with empty suits all day is tough, try shooting video of them.

Independent bookstores get loads of ink as examples of little retailers battling for survival, but they are not the first to fight that fight. Small family owned businesses like clothing stores have been practically wiped out and nobody ever shed a tear for them. Unlike most independent bookstores, I was always able to find what I wanted at a those clothing stores.  — and they always made sure it fit just right.

For the Record

recordsThis comic somebody posted on Facebook really caught my attention.

I’ve told my kids about the days before iTunes, when you’d have to go to a store to buy music. Yes, there were even stores that sold nothing but vinyl records! Really, it’s true!
Making a special trip made music buying a ritual. From my house you could walk to Korvettes or to Record World at Roosevelt Field Mall.

Korvettes, while it had a smaller selection, always had the best price. Record World was more for connoisseurs — plus, going to the mall meant the compulsory visit to World Imports to see the groovy dayglo posters in the back and gawk at the bongs in the head shop.

Then you’d walk back home. Unseal the package, take out the inner sleeve — it always felt like a bonus when it was a printed inner sleeve — and put your new treasure on the turntable. Was there anything as good as that first perfectly pristine play of a new record?

Don’t get me wrong, I love that anything I want to hear is a click away. Everything is so easy now. Back then nothing was a click away.

Beer Alarm!

I was in a local convenient store in a not-so-great Albany neighborhood recently when I set off the beer alarm.

Yes the beer alarm.

It seems the South End Stewart’s has the beer cooler rigged with an alarm that goes off when you open the door:

The alarm sounds for as long as the door remains open. It’s possible that this is effort to save energy, a reminder not to keep the door open unnecessarily, but I’m guessing it’s actually a loss prevention measure.

If you’re like me, you feel slightly self-conscious when buying beer at convenience stores. It’s like everyone standing their with their eggs and milk are looking at you saying, “Oh, sure… here’s the miscreant buying beer. You gonna drink those in the car on the way home?”

So, having an alarm go off when you open the cooler doesn’t help.

I’m hoping my wife doesn’t catch wind of this. The thought of an alarm on my refrigerator door at home is beyond disturbing. It’s bad enough she can see me poking my head in there from the family room.

A Dollar and a Dream

When it comes to shaving, I go with the cheapest. The cheapest shaving cream, the cheapest blades and no fancy balms or lotions.

But it’s not just about money.

One time my wife brought home a big bag of remarkably elaborate and expensive looking razors. They came from someone who works in R&D for a big razor company; he was hoping me and the boys would try these fancy things and provide feedback. I didn’t touch them. Nope. Just give me my plastic disposable twin blader. You, know, the kind of razor they let prison inmates use. Seems to work just fine!

Being so cheap committed to the basics,  I was intrigued by the Dollar Shave Club. It seems that a dollar — and another two dollars for shipping — will get you five blades a month. They even throw in a free handle. Very well, let’s give it a go. This could mean I never have to even think about razors again, and that I like the sound of that.

I’ll let you all know how this goes. In the meantime, watch this tremendous video from Dollar Shave Club. It’s one of the big reasons I signed up.

The Ballad of Bohack Pete

There was a kid in our town that they used to call Bohack Pete.

Felix Unger, melon shopping at Bohack’s.

To those of you who grew up downstate, the Bohack name may be familiar. Bohack’s was a chain of grocery stores; it was along the same lines as A&P, back in the days when groceries were still fairly modest compared to today’s megastores. In the movie The Odd Couple, it’s where Felix Unger goes shopping.

Anyway, Pete wore sneakers that were clearly not Keds or Converse — in fact, they appeared to have no identifiable brand at all. Someone decided that such cheap and generic shoes could only have come from Bohack’s, and so he was christened Bohack Pete.

Did Bohack’s even sell sneakers? Doesn’t matter.

We’ll never know if Bohack Pete minded his nickname. I hope not, because if I remember him being called Bohack Pete, I’m sure he does too. It’s hard to say when kids became brand conscious. This story is from the 1970s — and by 1979 when I graduated high school, canvas sneakers were falling from favor and Puma and Adidas shoes were the accepted footwear.

It’s a small thing, but to kids, small things become huge things. I wish I could go back in time and tell Bohack Pete how in the future his sneakers would be the envy of hipsters everywhere.