Thursday, April 9, 2009

On the Road-On Foot

There are clearly signs that it’s Spring. Easter and Passover. Flowers blooming and trees budding. Colorful fashions in designer and department store windows. But the most poignant sign for me is seeing the topsoil being spread and tamped down on the infields of the softball fields in New York’s backyard, Central Park. It’s not baseball, which I lost interest in many years ago when money became more important than team loyalty. But rather the going out and playing in the early evening or the Saturday or Sunday morning in Bayonne, NJ on an unlikely named team called The Al Slootsky Association(really!).

I haven’t seen any vacant retail space in NY that doesn’t have a sign saying “Prime Retail Space for Lease.” And I’m sure that they’re right; sort of like Prime Aged Beef, which I believe has to pass some kind of measure, similar to calling Champagne Champagne or Napa Valley wine. But if all these locations are so prime, why are they vacant? We all know that retailer failure is not necessarily related to the location. And in this day and age there are a lot more complicated contributing factors. But one thing to remember is that not all vacancies, whether it be retail or office mean that the landlord is not still collecting rent. That is until the tenant goes bankrupt. And, in this past Era of Excess a lot of retail landlords, both street, shopping center and mall, forgot (or never knew) the basic principals of how much in gross sales a certain type of retailer can afford to pay in rent, aka overhead. So, now that things have changed so dramatically it’ll be interesting to see if retail rents are brought more in line with those basic tenets.

Some things I heard or read this week:

1. The fiscal stimulus package is not a free lunch.
2. Big question: can the Fed withdraw its various liquidity measures early enough to avoid over-stimulating the economy, but late enough to allow a nascent economic recovery to take place?
3. Gold prices going up may indicate a fear of real depression.
4. Reality Check: Dateline Abruzzi, Italy: “But there were small signs of improvement. Five red and black espresso machines had arrived in the mess tent. Finally today we had a coffee” said a smiling Serena Tenina. “It might seem like nothing, but to me it’s at least a sign that things are moving forward.”

And here are some excerpts from an excellent op-ed piece by Sir Martin Sorrell in today’s Financial Times. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything he writes he offers some things to think about (and discuss):

• It must be said plainly that capitalism messed up – or, to be more precise, capitalists did. We – business, governments, consumers – submitted to excess; we got too greedy. Life was easy in the late 1990s and early 21st century.

• Just as business is poor at government, so government is feeble at running business.

• Countries previously viewed as suitable only for charity will become the new powerhouses. Africa, long seen as the continent of war, poverty and disease, will become a continent of opportunity.

• Conspicuous consumption will be frowned upon. Women will no longer buy a handbag as a mere badge of affluence. Men may be more self-conscious about extremely expensive cars. Luxury goods will still be with us but they will be judged by their authenticity and craftsmanship, not price tag.

• Democracies always have a propensity towards ugly protectionism in a recession. But the nihilistic voices raised against the disgraced masters of the universe will eventually cease. It is possible to imagine that one day investment bankers may again be welcome at dinner parties. It might take a little rebranding, though.

And some reminders sent to me by a new friend (who I’ve never met but is part of a small e-mail group set up by my friend in New Zealand, John Boyd:

8 Secrets of Happiness

1.Count your blessings: Write down once a week 3 or 4 things for which you are currently thankful from the mundane to the magnificent.
2.Practice acts of kindness - these should be random (let someone ahead of you in traffic) to the systematic - take an elderly neighbour's garbage in and out, volunteer to do some door knocking for the Salvos
3.Savour life's joys - pay close attention to momentary pleasures and wonders. Focus on the smell of a rose the beauty of a sunset. Take a mental photo to review in less happy times
4.Thank a mentor - if there is someone whom you owe a debt of
gratitude for guiding you at one of life's crossroads express your
appreciation in detail and in person.
5. Learn to forgive - let go of anger and resentment by writing a
letter of forgiveness to a person who has hurt or wronged you.
Inability to forgive is associated with persistent rumination,
forgiving allows you to move on.
6. Invest time and energy in family and friends - strong personal
relationships is the single biggest contributing factor - get balance in your life....
7. Take care of your body - sleep exercise, stretching, smiling and laughing can all enhance your mood in the short term. Practiced regularly they can help make life more satisfying.
8. Develop strategies to cope with stress and hardships – positive self talk, religious beliefs can make a huge difference.

I went to Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night. Andre Previn (who is 80) conducted The Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance of Symphonia domestica, a mock-heroic musical depiction of family life, with themes representing Richard Strauss, his wife, and his child. It was wonderful (and I got a ticket on the same day). But what I did for the first time was attend a pre-concert lecture given by a professor from Duke University talking about Strauss and the piece. I love music but never studied it and listening to Professor Bryan Gilliam explain the nuances of the piece made listening more meaningful. It got me thinking that maybe I should get involved in studying classical music from a historic standpoint (I’ve always wanted to play classical but can’t read music and would need to overcome a mental-block about that).

Help needed: Some of you may have read about this horse breeder Paragallo who has been severely neglecting more than 170 former thoroughbred horses at his farm in upstate New York. “It’s really bad. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen in a thoroughbred situation. The animals themselves are in horrific condition. It’s a sad, sad scene", said a representative from the humane society. There's a group called Equine Rescue Resource that needs our help. If you can, call Cornell University Equine Hospital (607-253-3100) and make a donation (small ones add up) to the vet bills of the neglected case brought in by Equine Rescue Resource. I hope this guy gets the book thrown at him.

Where I'll be:

Apr. 10-11: New York to see Umphrey’s McGee at the Nokia Theatre. Anybody going?
April 19-25: Athens, Greece for INREV’s Annual General Meeting and Conference
Apr. 26-Apr. 30: Chicago to record my second CD of original music for the benefit of Keys-4-Kids.
May 14-16: North Palm Beach, FL to attend the annual Homer Hoyt Institute and Weimer School sessions with some of the industry’s leading academics.

If you’d like to reach me the best email address is (

These are my personal views and not that of my employer.

Blog Archive