Friday, February 26, 2010


In Davenport, IA where I live there is an intriguing building for the arts in what is known as Bucktown. By arts I mean music, paintings, sculpture, fabric, jewelry and unusual items.

Artists, being artists, some of them seem less than concerned about making money (and many of them don't and are gone when their lease is up) until it finally hits them, "I am paying $600 a month for rent and I've only sold $300 worth of beautiful art I made." No pay for themselves, this doesn't include utilities, etc. If they have someone help them, that is even more. Pretty soon, savings are gone. (BTW, a guy who sells photo prints of doors from around the world does okay, but he also has a highly paid government job in the day time.)

But on Final Friday, that is, the last Friday of the month, they are open into the evening with food, coupons, mini-shows, etc. Lots of people (often other artists) come, some with dates, others for something FREE to do during this damnably cold winter. It's not always easy to fork over dough when you think about walking outside into the cold to your car carrying some item you could've picked up earlier or later when it warms.

Borders (and Barnes & Noble) have their cafes where people, ostensibly, drink coffee, eat cookies or sandwiches, etc. while studying, playing cards, chatting etc. Not always. This one guy, an old hippie wearing professorial clothes (cargo pants, tweed jacket) comes in to read a guitar magazine and Rolling Stone, every so often. He buys nothing and is totally unconcerned about taking up a comfortable chair while there. I've never seen him meet anyone either.

Similarly, in my business, I get emails from people who never buy anything from me, but they want my advice on such and such (you know, I've been around!???), tell me stories about their late father and what he did for the chess world, etc. Borders has rules for their cafe (basically, don't throw the customer out, he may buy something 3 years down the road!) and I have rules too. I want to get to my real customers and get their merchandise out the door. Sure, I don't mind being pleasant, but I am paying for the daytime use of my cell phone and I have newsletters and journals to get out.

My grandfather (Gilbert of the G&L part) asked certain people to not come back to his restaurant when all they did was just get coffee. Back in the day he discovered a cup of coffee was costing him 7 cents when he was charging a nickel for it. (There are other horror stories.) He was running a business (just like the artists in Bucktown are trying to do.) There's a good ending to that story for my grand dad. He borrowed $20,000 (a lot of money in the fifties). The bank loaned it to him greedily setting their eyes on his property (the only building on the block they didn't own) when he failed. A year later he paid the complete loan off! A few years after that he sold his restaurant business, moved west, and started a farm and cattle ranch. That made him happy.

I was talking to an artist one night on Final Friday and she told me she had been there over a year and didn't have much luck selling her stuff. (I didn't like any of it, she seemed to think "shading" was only for real life, not on a canvas!) I suggested something to her which she took with equanimity but I am sure that inside when she went home she wanted to kill me.

I said, "Why don't you and some other artists band together in a parking lot and put out your pieces that aren't going any where--put them on an easel and sell tickets of $5 for the show?" She said, "What show?" I replied, "It's like when school principals sit on the dunking board to raise money for the school. Only in your artist's case each purchaser would be allowed to stand so far back and toss a small sealed bag of paint at the works until they are covered with a Jackson Pollock type of insanity!" Or perhaps use a Paint Ball gun from a greater distance.

This would be news for the newspapers who are always looking for something different. Others would come to watch. Some "might" buy the painting before it got destroyed but at a lesser price. Everyone has a good time and more money is raised than those paintings, unadorned, would ever bring. Ever.

Naturally I knew the chance of this idea's success was very low. Now she's gone from the premises. I was thinking out of the box and having a good time (and not necessarily at her expense), but she was klopping along because no one had the ability (including me) to tell her that her stuff was awful. I've seen Jackson Pollock stuff, up close, so don't write me that "You must've watched a movie or looked in a book!" He's dead and probably laughing himself silly.

Yesterday I had a sale of all my Quality Chess books. An insane sale. What sold? What I knew would sell: new books and expensively priced books. The older stuff? Nada. The opening stuff? Only two. There's a lesson for me here: start thinking about how to move opening books! Once upon a time they were the darling of the chess world, now, they aren't. One of these days we are going to hear about chess publishing companies going down the tubes for publishing weak books on the openings.

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