Friday, January 11, 2008

An Unlucky Number

#345 An Unlucky Number

The unlucky number is eighty eight.

Ask the skinheads. They use it to signify allegiance to their long-dead leader. This was a big secret until someone figured out that H is the eighth letter and that 88 meant "Heil Hitler." This makes people uncomfortable with the number. In one case, New York radio station WCBS, which used to call itself "News Radio 88" took to calling itself "News Radio 880." The owners say the change was made to more accurately describe its dial position (880 Khz,) but maybe not.

Then there was the most famous model of one of America's most famous car. The Oldsmobile 88. The Olds, named for Ransom E. Olds, who also built the Reo, turned into typical GM tin and plastic in its last decades. And one day, one of the financial geniuses at General Motors figured out no one needed the Olds. So goodbye, "88."

Then there's the sort-a general store that recently elected to close its doors after doing business for 88 years.

Are these 88s really connected? Probably not. The problems of the skinheads (redundant as that phrase may seem, since BEING a skin head is the chief problem of being a skinhead. That there's an 88" involved is probably incidental.

Was it the model 88 that killed Oldsmobile? No. They had models with other labels, though the "Rocket 88," was the most famous. Olds was just a homeless brand amid other slow selling GM cars whose division heads probably had more clout with the board room wheels.

And the store that closed its door? Yes, it was 88 years old. But they probably could have closed it at 78 or 68 with equal justification. And maybe they could have hung on until they were 89.

The guy who started it wanted, he said, to have a place where "...people could come for anything from flat (roofing) shingles to a steak." And that's what they did for most of those 88 years.

Announcement of the closing was made only three days before the event (or, more accurately, the non-event,) itself.

Fifty people out of work.

And while there are plenty of other places around where you can buy roofing shingles and steaks, and the canned goods and window curtains and work clothes and furniture and appliances and coffee makers and shelf knickknacks they sold, there were things you could get that you CAN'T get anywhere else.

The houses in its neighborhood were built early in the last century; some of them in the century before last. These buildings require plumbing fixtures that they don't sell in Wal-Mart, Home Despot or Plastico's Home Improvement Centers. It's going to be tough when the sinks and toilets start breaking and Joe Homeowner has to get custom made elbow joints from.... from.... well, from somewhere.

The place had character. And characters. And an elevator that made you obey a list of obscure and anti-intuitive laws before it would deign to carry you, wobbling, to the upper floor or the basement.

Walking into that building was like stepping into 1948. While it was decently clean, it had a World War II era sag and dinginess to it that a lot of customers found endearing.

Well, not a LOT of customers. A FEW customers. If they'd had a LOT of customers, they'd probably be open today.

It's tough to compete in the Big Box era. Some still manage. Would that they all could.

I'm Wes Richards My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©2008 WJR

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