Sunday, May 28, 2017

The 500 and Me

Memorial Weekend Sunday

I live an hour from Indianapolis. That means since as long as I can remember, I’ve listened to the Indy 500 on the radio. When I was young, it was WIBC AM radio. Now it’s a Bluetooth speaker that looks something like a lime green grenade via my cell phone and WIBC online.
We’re currently under caution that followed an extensive red due to a crash featuring Scott Dixon among others.
I’ve just enjoyed some grilled brats, hotdogs, some quac and a delightful Spanish-influenced salad. And I’ve just cracked my third lo-cal longneck.
I’m on the front porch, a cool breeze lingering; Sandra is catering and Alyssa & Slater are inside finally delving into The Godfather. That leaves me alone. With my thoughts. And the 500.
No one gets excited like the radio crew at the Indy 500. They’re yelling. It’s exciting. And also, as anyone knows who’s seen the Greatest Spectacle live, it’s flippin’ loud!
Rossi still in the lead, now to turn four!!
I’m at the 500 but I’m also in the world of 500’s past. I can’t help but think of my parents cranking it up on our hi-fi in the living room on Washington St circa 1972. Even then it was the television era, but not on Memorial Day Sunday. We all dialed it in and listened to the radio much like (I can only imagine) people did before the 1950s ushered in the TV.
And so my mind is in the past now. I don’t remember my parents grilling, seemingly like every Hoosier feels obliged to do during the race. But the soundtrack in our house on that day in the ‘70s was never anything but the race.
Then later, just out of high school, I was never too far away from my friend, Eric Foust and if you were close to Eric, that meant you were close to his incredible parent, Jack & Carmen. Both of them are now passed, but their memories remain.
The race is back under green and those AM radio-sounding DJs are yelling at us through every corner. And if I close my eyes, I’m in Jack & Carmen’s backyard.
Carmen always cooked up a storm (she was the kind of grandma everyone would long for) and Jack would man the grill. Oh, and there was always ample amounts of ice cold cans of domestic beer either in an icy cooler or the garage fridge.
Carmen would be keeping score: Who’s out, who’s leading, what’s happening. And even though I’d never call Carmen a race fan any other weekend of the year, she seemed so sincerely concerned.
Even though they lived in the middle of the city, “THEY GO THREE WIDE INTO THE TURN!!
Even though they lived in the middle of the city, their garage was in essence, a barn. The huge door facing the house, slid open. Some years we stood inside the garage watching the drizzle enjoy food and brew. Other years, we were in hiding from the sun. But the food was always inside under cute little bug screen food covers. And Carmen always delivered.
The best thing about the race at Jack & Carmen’s was that you felt loved just for being there. Carmen & Jack had a way of making you feel so welcomed. They did everything short of thanking you for eating their food and drinking their beer.
I wonder how many 20-somethings would want to have had their own hang-out; they’d want to create their own thing, apart from their parents. But Jack & Carmen’s was always the best picture of two generations doing life together. They loved us and we knew it. We felt it. And we liked it.
What a great word for me know, as I creep up in age. If more than anything, my kids and their friends knew that I loved them. More than my so-called wisdom or experience, these younger people crave my love. Love trumps everything and love paves the way for anything else I could ever hope to pass along.
Simon Pagenaud comes into pit road!
I love the Indy 500 and I suspect I always will, for the backdrop of one’s youth is always sacred. And people like Jack & Carmen and the crew I ran with then, Eric, George & Lisa and so many others, are part of a golden time.
Now back to the race.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Sky Isn't Falling (Thoughts on Retail Closings in America)

Sears recently closed in Kokomo. So did MC Sports. JC Penney has announced more store closings in recent days. And now the negative chatter about America's retail economy escalates. According to who you've overheard or whose posts you've read, "The sky is falling."

For the record, when stores close, it isn't always the economy's fault.

Take Sears for instance. They've been Sears (or Sears & Roebuck) since 1893! They were the original one-stop shop for everything, including: mail order houses, tombstones, minibikes, live chickens, clothing, tools and about anything you can name that we use in and around a home.

If the economy is guilty of killing Sears then the accomplice is Sears itself. You see, the culture keeps changing; it's a moving target. And business models that don't figure out how to adapt to the economy, I suppose, succumb to it.

Sears' business model of being the place for everything hardly fits into a culture that goes to Lowes/HomeDepot for tools, (insert clothing store of your choice) for clothes, Best Buy for appliances and to a Carnival for shoes.

A while back I noticed old-timers saying, "Craftsman tools ain't what they used to be." And at the same time I noticed Lowes lifetime warranty on their Kobalt Tools. At that point, I knew the jig was up for Sears. When you're no longer the industry standard in a market you owned, you're in trouble.

The economy didn't kill Sears. Sears closed because it failed to remain attractive to the market.

And MC Sports...When they rolled into town, was I the only one who wondered why we needed two 10,000+ sq ft sporting goods retailers in Kokomo? Sometimes the economy is fine, but we cut the pie into too many pieces. Sometimes, two big dogs is one too many.

And you'd better sit down: Malls. Are. Dying.

2006 was the last time an indoor shopping mall was built in America. Do you know why? Culture changes and the economy goes along for the ride.

In the 1960s the culture shifted. People started to move away from the center of towns, toward the periphery and to the suburbs. Downtown businesses across America started slowly closing up. Why?

Because they could drive to this super-cool new mall, have boat-loads of parking and shop at scads of stores all under one roof! No more trying to find street parking downtown and feeding the parking meter. No more getting wet, chilled or sweaty going from store to store. The mall was the answer. And it was cool.

And the mall will have had a 60+ year run in America, which is pretty amazing! But people are tired of the mall, which is normal, because the culture naturally and seemingly autonomously, seeks change. And this change has been slowly happening--it's just starting to become painfully obvious.

Pardon my cheesy metaphor: Change often comes from deep below the surface of the water, slowly ascending, often taking years. But then one day, it breaches the surface and we're all aghast, "My word, where did this come from?" Change comes slowly over time, yet there comes a moment when we actually see it.

Have you been to Clay Terrace? They basically built a "mall" that looks like what? A downtown!

Guess where millennials are seeking to live in record numbers: downtown. They're migrating from the burbs to the center of the city. And cities like Kokomo are trying to lure businesses downtown because that's the latest cultural trend.

"But Morgan, we'll never have enough businesses downtown to satisfy everyone's demands!"

Since you and I are buying so much of everything-we-need online these days, a downtown doesn't need every kind of store to be a great downtown. Because we don't buy everything from brick and mortar stores any more, a downtown needs some cool shops, a great coffee shop, some cool restaurants--it needs cool spaces that people can connect in. And the reason the spaces need to be cool is because the culture has always liked what's cool. And the downtown needs housing, which isn't available at the mall that people are tiring of trekking to.

The sky isn't falling; the culture is changing. And as culture changes, how retail looks and functions will change along with it. Sometimes a closing is a sign of change. It's a sign that there are new paradigms afoot and new ways of doing things. When we look back at these moments, we call this progress. In real time, it can feel more like growing pains.

One last word to my friends who are in the last half of their life: When we become tired of change, we become old. When we want things to stay just the way they are, we become grumpy, because things are always changing. Young people love and welcome change--the same way that we did. As mentors and elders, we best serve younger people when we help navigate change rather than complain about it.

Peace, my friends.

(editor's note: To those who have lost jobs as stores have closed, my heart goes out to you, and I hope you are able to find gainful employment. As I wrote about business and cultural change, I never wanted you to feel slighted or disrespected. The American worker is the backbone of so much that is great in America. All my respect and best wishes to you.)