Bricks & Mortar

Bricks and mortar is changing retail , but retail is not dying.

We’ve seen the headlines.

Macy’s closing stores.

Bed, Bath and Beyond closing stores.

Forever 21 going bankrupt (but being revamped).

It’s a “retail apocalypse” screams the headlines caused by Amazon and the big bad world of e-commerce.

Yes, the numbers look tough for brick and mortar retailers. More than 9,000 stores closed in 2019 which was more than 2018 and more than 2017—all record years.

Ugh…

But there’s a deeper story here.

My eyes were opened recently after reading a report by University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee. And as we plan our local cities and lament the lack of retail in places such as downtown Delray and Boca Raton we need to pay attention to societal trends and adjust our expectations and maybe our codes accordingly.

First, there is no doubt that e-commerce is growing by leaps and bounds. Twenty years ago, about $5 billion worth of goods were purchased each quarter online. Today, that number is about $155 billion per quarter.

But while that’s an impressive number it still represents only 11 percent of the entire retail sales total.

So almost 90 percent of goods are still purchased in a brick and mortar store and of that percentage, more than 70 percent of retail spending in America is in categories that are fairly well insulated from the internet due to the nature of the product or because of laws governing distribution.

These categories include cars, gas, food, beverage, drugs, home improvement and garden supplies.

So what’s going on out there?
Why is it so difficult for physical retailers to make it in the 2020s?

Goolsbee puts forth three societal trends as causes.

The rise of Big Box Stores—super centers and warehouse stores such as Costco actually ring up more sales than Amazon.

Income Inequality—as the middle class has been hollowed out, stores that cater to them have suffered or died. Retailers aiming at the high and low end of the income scale have found some success. So “dollar” stores have grown along with some high end designer retailers while retailers serving the once vast middle class— J.C. Penney and Sears have suffered.

Services Have Grown, Things Have Not—According to Goolsbee, with every passing decade Americans have spent less of their income on things and more on services and experiences. We are spending more on our health, more on restaurants, education, entertainment and business services than we used to and less on products sold in stores.

Here’s a cool stat: In 1920, Americans spent 38 percent of their income on food and 17 percent on clothing—almost all through traditional stores. Today, 10 percent of our income is spent on food and clothing eats up just 2.4 percent of our incomes.

So how does this affect our local communities?

Well, it might explain why Atlantic Avenue has become more of a food and entertainment destination than a traditional downtown where people go to shop for things like clothing and decorations.

The issue becomes more acute when property values sky rocket alongside rents. It’s hard for traditional retailers to pay high rents per square foot, especially since we still have a seasonal economy.

While we all (well some of us) love mixed-use development, it’s challenging to make retail work due to economic and societal trends. Of course, mixed-used does not have to be exclusively housing and retail, it can also include food and beverage, co-working, an educational use or something in the health or fitness space.

I have some very smart friends who have succeeded in real estate and they are having a hard time imagining what will happen to all the retail space we have built in Boca, Delray and Boynton Beach.

We definitely have a need for more housing, especially attainable housing and some of the overbuilt retail space can surely be used to add to our stock.

But that’s going to require some deft planning and a whole lot of political courage/hard work to convince residents who already live here why we need to make room for more people. P.S. if we do want our existing mom and pop retailers and family owned eateries to survive, density cannot be a dirty word. Let’s repeat: density done right is not a dirty word.

There was a time in Delray when density was encouraged in our codes and plans . And guess what?

It brought the town back to life.

Al Gore would call that an inconvenient truth, candidates running for local office would sooner break out in hives than embrace the concept but density designed properly and used strategically can do much to support the mom and pops and independent merchants we say we cherish. It’s also better for the environment than traffic-inducing sprawl like development.

Events too play a role too, by bringing people to town where they might stop and shop or come back to check out stores they might see while attending an arts show or festival.

As the son of an independent pharmacist, I have a deep appreciation for how hard it is to make it in retail and how important good retail is to a vibrant and vital central business district.

As we sift through the barrage of campaign attack ads already hitting our mailboxes and inboxes, it would be useful to see if any candidate offers ideas on how to grow the local economy in a high rent, seasonal environment with tons of competition from nearby cities, without an Office of Economic Development (the two member team resigned and have not been replaced) in a changing world being disrupted by technology and things we can never anticipate such as coronavirus.

It’s not an easy challenge, but real leaders…effective leaders…. ask the questions that matter and focus their communities on issues of substance. Or we can continue to accept vapid statements saying we are against crime, for good schools and against development.

Give me substance over tired canards.

It’s time.

We live in changing and complicated times. We need ideas and leadership.

Things We Loved in February

At 6’11” Reilly Opelka is the tallest player on tour. He’s also the new Delray Beach Open champ.

Things We Loved In February

We know the month is not quite over, but close enough.

Attending the Delray Beach Open.
Nothing like watching world class tennis under the stars on a beautiful February night.
Kudos to Match Point for producing a great event.
The addition of hometown fave Coco Gauff was a master stroke. Coco played an exhibition under the lights against the NCAA champion. Great stuff.
Congratulations to the Bryan Brothers on their record sixth Delray Beach title. The brothers—arguably the best doubles duo ever—come to Delray every year and have been great supporters of the event and the city. They will be retiring so it was great to see them go out with a win.

Also congratulations to Reilly Opelka who battled weather and determined opponents to claim the singles title. He may be someone to watch. He is hard to miss at 6’11” with a serve in the 140 mph range. He has a big future and the Delray event is becoming known as the place that launches stars: i.e. Frances Tiafoe, Kei Nishikori.

Seeing Doris Kearns Goodwin at FAU. She packed them in like a rock star and we could have listened to her for hours and hours. Just a wonderful storyteller.

Having the great and vastly underrated Steve Forbert play The Arts Garage.
A great performer and wonderful songwriter, Forbert is a joy to watch and listen too. Although we were forced to give our seats away, we were told he was great and drew a big crowd. I’ve seen him several times and won’t miss him again if he comes back this way.

Art on the Square—in a word: terrific.

The new Whole Foods on Linton looks great. A most welcome addition.

Another whopper of a real estate deal: Menin Development’s $7.3 million acquisition of Johnnie Brown’s.
That’s not a typo.

February weather. We are reminded why we live here. Crisp mornings, gorgeous days and cool nights. And don’t forget the Florida sunsets.

Black History Month is a good time to learn about some of our local African American icons.
Visit the S.D. Spady Museum for a great primer and see if you can find C. Spencer Pompey’s book “Many Rivers to Cross.”

We wish Pedro Andrade well with his new restaurant Valentina’s Pizza and Pasta on Congress Avenue in Lake Worth Beach.
Pedro did an amazing job serving the community for years at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza never turning down a good cause. We plan to visit his new place ASAP.

We had some monumental birthdays in February.
Zack Straghn, a long time civil rights leader, celebrated his 92nd birthday and Bob Levinson, an author, business leader and philanthropist turned 95.
Lots of wisdom and accomplishments between those two gentlemen.
We wish them many more years of making a difference.

We tried Cena on 7th Avenue and it was wonderful.
A great place to spend Valentine’s Day.
I had the pollo parmigiano and it was spectacular. It’s also huge– so we made two meals out of it.
Don’t miss the buttered noodles and the tartufo.

Heartfelt condolences to the Dubin and Evert families on the loss of Jeanne Evert Dubin.
Jeanne was a really nice person and was a terrific tennis player herself during a brief pro career rising to number 28 in the world and top ten in the United States.
She was an owner of Dubin & Associates which manages the Delray Golf Club and Delray Tennis Center.
On a personal note, Jeanne was just a super nice person. She loved tennis, preferring to be on the court teaching or leading tennis leagues. She had a quiet influence.
She will be deeply missed.

We also offer sincere condolences to the pioneering Love family on the loss of  Marsha and Barbara Love.

Until next month…..

And It’s Still Alright

Nathaniel Rateliff

Two weeks along, I find myself unable to let go of Valentine’s Day.

Unable to let go of things I love.

Or maybe I’m just more appreciative than usual.

I’m writing this sitting in my backyard in Delray Lakes gazing out over a lake listening to Nathaniel Rateliff sing “And it’s Still Alright” and watching egrets wade into the canal on a beautiful winter day. Florida in February, when it’s right and today is right, can’t be beat.

The song is sad yet hopeful. It’s about the artist burying a friend and losing his wife. Heavy stuff. But it’s still alright. There’s hope in the darkness, there’s a path back from the sadness.

We have it pretty good here in Florida. We have it pretty good here in Delray Beach.

During the hustle and bustle of the week, I can sometimes lose sight of how good.

I sometimes forget to slow down long enough to absorb the sights and the sounds of life in what most people would describe as paradise.
But not this year. This year I am going to appreciate the little things.

A text from a good friend who says she is thinking of me and my family.

A call from a cousin I haven’t spoken to in awhile.

Watching my two dogs sleep and my birds sing (in between making a huge mess).

I scroll through social media and it’s an odd cross between a highlight reel and a hate rally.
People posting pictures of their weekend trips and outings and the usual suspects ranting on the political pages.
Today, I’m turning them both off.

I’m resolved to write more, to read good books, to listen to more great music.
I’m set on more drives on A1A, more trips to parks, more long walks with the love of my life and more time with family and friends.
More meaning. More good times.
Lord willing….it will still be alright.

 

Building On A Rich Tennis Legacy

Coco Gauff plays on her “home” court at the Delray Beach Tennis Stadium.

I saw the future of women’s tennis Saturday night and her name is Coco.

At age 15, Coco Gauff has become a global sensation. But she’s also a native of Delray Beach and seeing her on the stadium court in her hometown was something special.

In its 23 year history, the Delray Open never featured a woman’s match. So history was made when Coco took on NCAA singles champ Estela Perez-Somarriba of the University of Miami Saturday night before a packed house.

It was a spirited match. Coco won in straight sets and the crowd was loud, large and thrilled to be seeing a local prodigy.

We saw many of our neighbors and friends.  Delray came out to support their hometown hero and it was a moment of civic pride in a city sorely needing one at the moment.

I’ve been watching tennis since I was 8 or 9 years old and every year we used to go to the U.S. Open. So I’ve seen them all from Billie Jean and Chrissie to Steffi and the Williams sisters.

Coco has the chops.

She moved beautifully, has a powerful serve, a deft drop shot, is not afraid to to rush the net and has crisp and powerful ground strokes. She’s the real deal.

But what distinguishes her is her competitive spirit. You can see it, you can feel it, she’s not afraid of the spotlight. She knows she belongs.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her family for years and they are lovely people. Based on her interviews, Coco seems grounded, humble and gracious. She reminds me of her grandmother Yvonne Odom, who is also a local historical figure. Mrs. Odom was the first African American to attend Atlantic High School and has been a civic leader for decades.

In her post match comments, Coco praised her opponent, talked glowingly about her hometown and was self deprecating— noting she lost a first round junior match a few years back at the Delray Tennis Center. She shows abundant signs of maturity, far, far, beyond her 15 years. That’s going to be important as she progresses in her career.

While Coco is the latest great tennis story in Delray, she’s not the first.

Delray has a rich tennis history.

In addition to the Delray Open and Coco, the city once hosted the event that became the Miami Open, is home to many touring pro’s and saw prodigies such as the Williams sisters and Andy Roddick cut their teeth on local courts.

Visionary Ian Laver created the Laver’s Resort off of Linton Boulevard, a project built around tennis. We once were home to the Sunshine and Continental Cups, hosted Fed and Davis Cup ties, senior events, national junior championships and more.

Center court at the stadium has seen the likes of Chris Evert (who hosts her Pro-Celebrity Classic there every year)  Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas, Kei Nishikori, Juan Martin Del Potro, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Lindsay Davenport, the Bryan Brothers, James Blake as well as locals Vince Spadea, Aaron Krickstein and Kevin Anderson who liked the town so much he bought a place here.

And the list goes on.

We should celebrate our tennis heritage. It’s special.

And it brings excitement, publicity and dollars to Delray.

The Tennis Channel is airing the tournament all week, junior events bring “heads in beds” during off peak months and the branding opportunities are endless and global. It is worth our investment and it’s worth it for us to nurture the sport too by giving some thought to how it fits into the bigger picture.

Coco is the latest and may yet end up the greatest of Delray tennis stories.

She’s part of a rich legacy. And a source of hometown pride.

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss: oh the places she will go. And oh the places tennis can take us.

President’s Day Special: Time With Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest  is a History Channel special about George Washington

I absolutely adore Doris Kearns Goodwin.

And who better to talk about on President’s Day than one of our nation’s foremost presidential historians?

My admiration for Doris Kearns Goodwin goes way back, I love her books, enjoy her TV appearances and anxiously await her next work—which now includes film making (Check out “Washington” on The History Channel).

So when she came to FAU, we gobbled up tickets, got lucky and ended up in the front row in what was a sold out house. At age 77, after a Pulitzer Prize, Carnegie Medal and several best-selling books, Doris Kearns Goodwin is a rock star. That alone ought to make you optimistic about America.

Ms. Goodwin was in Boca to talk about her new book “Leadership in Turbulent Times.”
While the book is not about our current turbulent time, the great thing about history is that if we care to look, the past holds lessons for our present and our future.

“Leadership in Turbulent Times” is about Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson—presidents who Goodwin calls her “guys.”

When writing about her subjects, Goodwin “lives” with them so to speak; reading their letters, speeches and diaries and any relevant document that has to do with their lives and times. It does make one wonder how future historians will navigate our digital times. Goodwin muses that perhaps they will comb through emails (if they are kept) and tweets. It is an interesting question.

Regardless, in writing about FDR, TR, LBJ and Lincoln we as Americans can learn what it takes to be an effective leader. Not a perfect leader or a mistake free leader—they simply don’t exist, but a leader who makes an impact.

What makes Goodwin’s writing and speaking so interesting is she shares the “warts” (as she calls them) that all leaders have.

Lincoln lost several elections. He was almost comfortable with failure, but never gave up on winning.

FDR dealt with a Great Depression, a World War and a debilitating bout with polio. He built his upper body strength by crawling around for hours on the floor dragging his body.

LBJ’s legacy includes Medicare, Medicaid, civil rights and voting rights but also Vietnam. He told great tales, had boundless energy, won countless political fights but was broken by Vietnam, which inflicted untold damage on countless people.

Yes, all great leaders have warts. But they also have strengths that enable them to handle difficult times and leave a mark on the world.

Goodwin outlines six traits of great leaders. It’s a great list and very important to review as we vote in a few weeks for national and local candidates.

Here they are:

Empathy-–a feel for other people and an ability to identify with other points of view. Empathy is an essential trait of any successful leader and any successful human being, she added.

Resilience—an ability to learn and persevere when difficulties arise. In public life, in any leadership role, you are bound to get hit with a hay maker punch or two (maybe even more) but great leaders get up, dust themselves off and find a way forward. They are resilient and they get better as a result.

Communication—a leader’s ability to communicate can make all the difference. Leaders frame issues, raise important questions and are able to articulate controversial positions and why they must make some difficult decisions to benefit the greater good.

Openness to growth—an ability to evolve as you learn and as you gain experience. If you already think you know it all or are the smartest guy or gal in the room, you are off track. And you will fail as a leader. Leadership is a growth experience, but only if you are open to learning.

Impulse control- Sometimes knowing what not to say is as important as what a leader does say. Strong leaders know when to bite their tongue—and are better for it.

Relaxation—Our most iconic presidents knew that getting away from The White House could help them become better leaders. We need to balance our lives and find time to renew.

Pretty solid advice.

To these amazing traits,  I would add integrity, which is the basis for all leadership. Vision doesn’t hurt either.

What to watch for?
Narcissism, egomania, bullying, meanness and a need to win every argument. Leaders need to be able to let go—you win some, you lose some that’s the nature of life.

We can do worse than listen to our historians when we choose our present day leaders; that goes for the White House to City Hall.

I’ll stick with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s wisdom any day.

 

15 Years…

Jerrod Miller

Fifteen years is a long time.

Fifteen years is the blink of an eye.

Fifteen years ago this month, Jerrod Miller lost his life at the age of 15 outside a school dance at the Delray Full Service Center.

Just like my daughter, Jerrod would be 30 years old today if not for a bullet fired on a crisp February night by a rookie Delray police officer.

Jerrod Miller died exactly 7 years to the day before Trayvon Martin, 17, lost his life after an encounter with a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida.

People remember Trayvon. I’m afraid that Jerrod might be fading from memory in the consciousness of the larger Delray Beach community.

Oh, I’m sure his friends, family, neighbors, congregants at his church and his teachers still grieve his loss as I do. But the lessons we were supposed to learn, the strides we were supposed to make are at risk on this somber anniversary of a tragedy which also happens to dovetail with Black History Month.

Delray like so much of America wrestles with race. We have a fraught history in this community. We have a dividing line at Swinton. We are diverse but segregated at the same time. Sometimes it makes for a combustible mix.

In a little more than a month, we will head to the polls to choose from among a slew of candidates for two city commission seats. If we are Democrats, we will also vote for a challenger to take on President Trump.

Ironically, I was at Mar A Lago, the night Jerrod Miller was shot while driving his uncle’s Cadillac in our southwest neighborhood, a place now known as The Set. I saw the future president that night as he whisked by and never dreamed he would be president. I was not at his gold leafed resort for a political function that night but rather a charitable event. My phone would ring in the early morning hours with the news of the fatal shooting. I knew immediately that life would not be the same.

When police shootings occur, a dynamic occurs—a tornado of media, lawyers, union reps, police investigators, prosecutors, media, activists, hate mail, threats, anger, anxiety and crushing sadness.

Absolute crushing sadness.

As a mayor, you become isolated—from your colleagues on the commission and from everyone really. It’s a lonely place and there is no playbook to reference.

I think of that lonely place whenever I hear of bad things happening. I know there’s hurting families, anxious policymakers and sad police officers in whatever community bears the byline of tragedy.

For 15 years now, I have had recurring dreams about a young man I never knew in life. I saw him only once—in a casket, at his funeral—at the 7th Day Adventist Church in our northwest neighborhood. I met and admired his pastor. I knew his father—not the biological opportunist who showed up after the shooting–but the man who Jerrod knew as his dad.  And I met his grandmother who sat quietly with us in a room at Old School Square during our race relations workshops.

Over the years, I have met his friends, a cousin and his twin brother Sherrod, a young man deeply haunted by the loss of his brother. We had a tearful meeting a few years back along with several police officers who were on the scene that fateful evening. We tried to reach Sherrod. I think he wanted to be reached. But we failed….he failed too. For now anyway…maybe someday.

Sometimes that’s what happens, but it is so very hard to accept.

In a month or so we will choose elected officials and who we choose matters. Yes these people will be tasked with the usual—how to manage growth, how to keep the millage rate from spiking and how to keep up with the needs and controversies of a bustling city/village.

But they might also find themselves dealing with something wholly unexpected—an act of violence, a natural disaster or in the case of Mayor Dave Schmidt who I sat next to for three years on the dais, the presence of terrorists in little old Delray. Stuff happens, as they say.

Me…I’m concerned about race relations in our community. I have been for a long time now.

There are real issues out there: equity issues, housing issues, the need for jobs and opportunities for our children and grandchildren.

There are social issues too—abuse and neglect, poverty and addiction that touch every part of this city.

And there are political issues too—feuds and splits wrapped up in race that have stoked anger, resentment and sadness.

When you ignore a toxic brew of emotions they tend not to dissipate but to fester. That’s dangerous.

Powering ahead does not solve anything—there will be a reckoning and often times reckonings are ugly.

Here’s hoping that whoever is elected or re-elected in March that they stop and consider the important work of community building and improved race relations. We might not be able to heal our divided nation but we can make a difference right here in our community. We can set an example.

If we don’t try we will continue to fray at the seams—ever so slowly…until one day we break.

 

 

 

 

The Innovator’s Dilemma Applies to Cities Too

 Clayton Christensen, was a Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration.

Clayton Christensen died on January 23 and it’s a big deal and a really big loss for all of us who love business and entrepreneurship.

He was only 67 years old when he died of complications after a long battle with leukemia.

Back in 1997, Christensen wrote a classic book called “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” It has been called the most influential business book of the last 30 years.

Since the book came out, I’ve lost count of how many times I have been in an entrepreneur’s office and seen “The Innovators Dilemma” on a shelf.

I smile when I see the book because it tells me a lot about the entrepreneur I am meeting. It shows me that he or she is not overconfident. It tells me they are wrestling with the great questions that creating anything of value requires us to answer.

Last week, Christensen’s last interview was published in the MIT Sloan Management Review and it’s a good one. Here’s the link: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/an-interview-with-clayton-m-christensen/?utm_source=El1&utm_medium=pr&utm_campaign=Chris0220

The theory of the Innovators Dilemma addresses the issue of disruption. The dynamics that allowed Netflix to obliterate Blockbuster Video or the iPhone to render the Blackberry obsolete. In his last interview, Christensen says companies still haven’t solved the Innovator’s Dilemma 23 years after his book made us aware and gave us some tools to address the issue.

“Companies certainly know more about disruption than they did in 1995, but I still speak and write to executives who haven’t grasped the implications of the theory. The forces that combine to cause disruption are like gravity…they are constant and always at work within and around them. It takes very skilled and very astute leaders to be navigating disruption on a daily basis.

In my experience, it seems that it’s often easier for executives to spot disruptions occurring in someone else’s industry rather than their own, where their deep and nuanced knowledge can sometimes distract them from seeing the writing on the wall.”

Indeed.

I’ve referenced Christensen’s work in the businesses I’ve been involved in and I also put his theory to the test in reference to cities. The best way to avoid being disrupted and put out of business is to foster a culture of innovation. Christensen talks about innovation in relation to prosperity and growth in America in his last interview.

“In…The Prosperity Paradox, we describe three types of innovation…’sustaining innovations,’ which… is the process of making good products better…’efficiency innovation,’ which is when a company tries to do more with less…and ‘market-creating innovations,’ meaning they build a new market for new customers.’ [The last category] are the source of growth in any economy… My sense is that we in the United States, like many other developed countries, are investing far too much energy in efficiency and sustaining innovations, and not enough in market-creating innovations.”

Interesting especially if you run this through the lens of fostering a great city.

Yes, we can take what’s already working and make it better and we can strive to do more with less but the key is to open up new markets. The secret to lasting success is to be open to new ideas, to resist complacency and to try some stuff.

Better an ‘oops’, than an ‘if’.

On the municipal level, most mistakes aren’t fatal. You will never bat 1.000 but you may learn some things that help you figure it out down the road.

In cities, you always try to make what works even better—so Boca keep your pristine parks and Delray don’t mess too much with Atlantic Avenue or the beach—you can always be more efficient but in order to stay on top you need to keep innovating.

Boca can re-invent Federal Highway and Delray can and should transform and improve Congress Avenue and The Set. Create new markets, Professor Christensen advised us, and you won’t be disrupted by that city next door who will steal your jobs, commerce, residents and talent if you are smug, complacent or dysfunctional.

We’ll miss the good professor. When asked how he wanted to be remembered. Here’s what he said:

“I want to be remembered for my faith in God and my belief that he wants all of mankind to be successful. The only way to make this happen is to help individual people become better people, and innovation is the key to unlocking evermore opportunities to do that.”

Amen.

 

 

 

Trying (Desperately) To Live A Well Read Life

Highly recommend this gem of a book.

Before the internet became so encompassing I was a voracious reader of books.

Physical books. You know the kind: with paper, glue and binding.

I always had two and sometimes three books going at the same time—to fit different moods or different geographies in my house and car. There was always a nightstand book to fall asleep with, a book for the den and sometimes a book for the car so I could read a few pages if I got to a meeting early (and I’m always early).

Then the smart phone arrived and my reading habits changed. Now instead of reading at night, I find myself catching up on email, surfing the web or trying to beat Scott Porten in Words with Friends. And instead of reading in my car waiting for a meeting to begin, I find myself returning calls or sending texts.

Oh, I never stopped reading books but now it seems like it takes forever to get through them. I think my attention span has been shortened; retrained by internet videos and memes for the short hit and not the long term commitment a great book demands.

But I still love to read and I know it’s good for me, so I am determined to absorb as many good books as I can. And I am talking the physical kind, not the Kindle versions. I want to make notes, fold pages, underline passages and carry them with me on trips. I want to hold on to the physical experience—too much of our lives are digital these days.

Still, it’s a challenge to balance the demands of the constant barrage of emails, texts, notifications, beeps, buzzes and birthday notices.

So somewhere along the line you have to prioritize and you have to come up with a strategy.

I was reminded of a good one over the holidays when I ran into Steve Leveen, an old friend, fellow book lover and co-founder of Levenger, a company dedicated to serving the needs of readers.

Years ago, Steve wrote his own book, “The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life” and in that book he let us  in on a secret. It’s OK to put down a book you are not enjoying in order to make room for one you might enjoy.

Now that’s a pretty simple concept. But for me it was profound, because typically once I’ve made the investment of time and money, I’m going finish the book even if…well even if the book was boring me to tears.

I’ve slogged through tomes as a result. And guess what, it’s not a badge of honor and it’s not smart either.

It just means I will never get to a book I will love which means that I might miss that insight that could help me or someone else in my life.

So Steve Leveen liberated me. Because if he—a true book lover—can put down a book that doesn’t resonate— well then so could I.

Seeing him over the holidays reminded me of that wonderful lesson. And so I quit a book I was laboring over and opened a great new book which I can’t put down.

I read recently (in the Harvard Business Review no less) that the independent bookstore is making a comeback after years of being devastated by chains and Amazon.

That’s good news. Because there’s a whole world to discover in books and a whole world outside of our phones.

On Being A Citizen

Armand Mouw

Ernie Simon

Last week, author/blogger/marketing guru Seth Godin wrote about “choosing” to be a citizen.

It was a short piece, but impactful.

Check it out:

“Citizens aren’t profit-seeking agents who are simply constrained by rules. Citizens behave even if there isn’t a rule about it.

 

Citizens aren’t craven partisans, voting for party over fact. Citizens do the right thing because they can, even if the short-term cost is high.

 

Citizens live by the rule of community: If everyone did what I’m about to do, would it lead to a useful outcome?

 

Sometimes we call citizens heroes, which is a shame, because their actions should be commonplace, not rare. The myth of success based on short-term self-interest has been disproven again and again. It seems obvious that leaving things better than you found them is a powerful step forward, because you’ll probably be back this way again one day soon.

 

Every successful community, every organization, every family has citizens. It’s the citizens who define the future, because their commitment to the long-term matters.”

 

I loved this piece, because in recent weeks we lost two amazing “citizens” who embodied that word and were devoted long term players who made a tremendous positive difference over a long period of time.

Armand Mouw was a city commissioner in the 90s, a critical time in Delray’s history. He brought gravitas and business acumen to the dais. He was a military veteran, a construction executive who founded Mouw Associates, a terrific local firm and spoke with a no nonsense common sense rationality that seems so rare today. He passed recently and although I hadn’t seen him around town lately, he was a fixture for decades and left a lasting impact. He was a really good citizen.

Same for our friend Ernie Simon, who passed last week.

Ernie was a pillar of the community for decades, a member of a pioneer family, a judge, an attorney, a devoted Rotarian and someone who deeply loved the Delray Playhouse, which is an unsung jewel in our community.

Ernie always wore a smile. He loved Delray Beach and the people in his community loved him back. He was very special.

Mr. Simon was a citizen who was rooted here, dedicated to this place and someone who made a lasting impact as a result of that dedication.

 

A frequent topic of this little blog is this concept of what it really means to be a village; what it takes to build a community, to put down roots, make friends, give something back, invest yourself in a place.

There are many ways to describe this concept but it can be boiled down to a single word. And that word is love.

Making a decision to serve, truly serve is an act of love. Giving your heart to a place for decades is a labor of love. Mr. Mouw did it. Mr. Simon did it and thankfully we have many examples to guide us, inspire us and if we choose— inform us too.

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the concept of statesmanship which is defined as “skill in managing public affairs.”

It seems so rare these days.

To paraphrase a song: Where have all the lions and lionesses gone?

The great ones know how to lead, serve, compromise, take the long term view and commit to a cause. They don’t take their ball and go home if things don’t go their way. They understand that in life we win some and we lose some. They are good at building consensus and very good at explaining why sometimes tough decisions—not necessarily popular in the moment—need to be made.

They are grounded. They are future focused willing to build for a tomorrow they may not see. They are the adults in the room.

We’ve had a slew of those types of people in our community: Libby Wesley, H. Ruth and C. Spencer Pompey, Nancy Hurd, Frances Bourque, Barbara Smith, Bob Costin, Bob Currie, Bob Victorin, Kerry Koen, Bob Barcinski, Rick Overman, Vera Farrington, Chip Stokes, Bump Mitchell, Dorothy Ellington, Lula Butler, Joe Gillie, Susan Ruby, Bill Wood and a woman I have gotten to know and love with all my heart Diane Colonna. This list can go on and on and on—mayors, commissioners, police officers, firefighters, city staff, volunteers, business leaders, religious leaders and non-profit directors etc. etc.

Please don’t be offended if you weren’t mentioned on this list—I’m far from finished telling local stories.

I see more than a few bright young leaders coming up who are making some noise on a grassroots level. So I have hope for our future.

We need more citizens and it is something we choose to be; because it is the Armand Mouw’s and Ernie Simon’s who have made this a special place—unlike any other place. Progress is not accidental—sometimes you get lucky but it never lasts. Real, sustainable progress requires citizens—check that Citizens—with a capital C. It’s the Citizens who move the needle and change the game.

We should embrace them, celebrate them and build around them. We have so much more to do.

Thanks Armand and thanks Ernie for a job well done.

It’s our turn now.

Things We Loved And People We Lost in January

CC Teneal and the Soul Kamotion Band rocked the Arts Garage. If you can, make sure to see them on the next visit to town.

Things we Loved in January

Lunch at Granger’s. It’s always good.
The cool weather.  This is why we live here.
The grand opening of the  new Whole Foods on Linton Boulevard. 
Welcome aboard Jessica Steinweg, the new director of marketing at Old School Square.
Ms. Steinweg comes to OSS from Brandstar, a brand marketing agency. We wish her well.
Sitting outside at the Seagate Hotel on a beautiful evening enjoying happy hour and great conversation. Just perfect. The hummus is awfully good too, just saying.
Dinner at J Alexander’s after a movie. Just a great combo.
A day on the Avenue with friends and family. Lunch at City Oyster and a stroll. Such a nice way to spend a beautiful winter day.
The wings and margaritas at Driftwood in Boynton Beach are as good as these things get.
The stagiano salad at Renzo’s is also as good as a salad gets. Which is pretty good.
The kale salad at Rex Baron in Boca is not too shabby either.
Don’t miss the Linda Ronstadt documentary on CNN on Demand. It’s amazing. She’s amazing. What a wonderful talent and beautiful soul. A true American treasure.
Other recommendations: Knives Out, The Two Popes and Mrs. Maisel season three. Marriage Story for the great acting and Once upon a Time in Hollywood for the great chemistry between Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. Don’t miss Bombshell either.
Nice to see WBO Middleweight Champion Demetrius “Boo Boo” Andrade train at the Delray Beach Boxing Club.
Andrade will fight Jan. 30 in Miami. He’s a former Olympian and undefeated as a pro.
Good to see City Commissioner Ryan Boylston and County Commissioner Bob Weinroth serve as judges at the High School Ethics Bowl at FAU. 
We love dogs. And we love Tri-County Rescue.
So it was cool to see that 30 of the 80 dogs rescued from the Puerto Rican earthquake are ready for adoption now. Visit Tri County Animal Rescue on Boca Rio Road and rescue your new best friend.
A good time was had by all at the sold out annual Arts Garage Gala last weekend. 
Great music courtesy of Ce CE Teneal and the Soul Kamotion Band, great food by Chez Gourmet and a lively crowd made for a wonderful night. 
Another great run at the Australian Open for Delray’s own Coco Gauff. She also made the U.S. Fed Cup team. A grand slam is in her future. Also, great to see her grand mother Yvonne get some props in the Washington Post. She would have made a great City Conmissioner.
We mourn the loss of two Delray icons and civic giants.

We lost former city commissioner Armand Mouw a few weeks back.
He was a nice man and a good elected official too. Why? Because he wasn’t political. He called it like he saw it. He brought a lot of common sense, civility (there’s that word again) and business acumen to the dais in the early 90s when he served.
I was a young reporter back then and Mr. Mouw was always kind and always accessible.
He brought a lot of knowledge as a construction executive to the city at a time when the Decade of Excellence was getting under way. He will be deeply missed,  a true gentleman.

Mr. Mouw had an amazing career as CEO of Mouw Associates and was very influential in his field and in the business community.  He was just a wonderful man.
We also mourn the loss of Ernie Simon.
You can write a book about Mr. Simon who was deeply involved in the Delray Playhouse, ran for mayor in 1990, was a dedicated Rotarian, a city judge (back when they had those), a business leader and a terrific attorney.
He was always so kind to me and was the law partner of my predecessor as mayor, Dave Schmidt.
I remember our chats, his sense of humor, his kindness and the twinkle in his eye.
They just don’t make em like that anymore. Ernie loved Delray and Delray loved Ernie Simon.