Shopping in Delray Beach and Boca Raton

When it comes to shopping you simply can’t beat the options in Boca Raton or Delray Beach.

Boca Raton has several distinct shopping district from the nationally renowned Mizner Park and Fifth Avenue Shops to the Mall at Town Center and West Boca shopping centers there is an endless variety of shopping experiences for all budgets.

Delray is home to vibrant Atlantic Avenue and Pineapple Grove where you’ll find boutiques, shops and galleries for those with an eclectic eye.

Palm Beach’s famed Worth Avenue and Fort Lauderdale’s renowned Las Olas Boulevard are both 30 minutes away to complete your shopping needs.

Eleven Signs Your City Will Succeed

The city won a second All America City Award in 2001. So much has changed since, with many of the values that made Delray special abandoned.

Five years ago, award winning journalist James Fallows wrote a groundbreaking article in The Atlantic entitled “Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed.”
The article was a summation of James and Deb Fallows’s 54,000-mile journey around America in a single engine plane. The trip became a best-selling book “Our Towns” and a compelling series on HBO. I highly recommend both.

Considering the tumult in Delray Beach, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the article to see how many signs of success we can check off.

Sadly, even if we grade with a curve, we are not scoring too high these days. But sometimes a poor grade will force you to buck up and do better. We’re still a great town. We just have lousy politics and that can be corrected by electing better leaders. Take the test yourself and let me know what you find.

Here’s a list of Fallows’ 11 traits of successful towns:

  1. Divisive national politics seem a distant concern.

Grade: The City Commission in Delray Beach is a non-partisan body. Partisan politics has no place in city government. But the last two election cycles were highly partisan affairs, and I would argue that the results turned on party affiliation and  not on ideas about how to make Delray a better place. This is not a healthy development. For the record, my party happens to have a majority of voters in Delray, and I still don’t like partisanship on the city level or anywhere frankly. The divisiveness is endangering our Republic and it has hurt Delray too.

 

  1. You can pick out the local patriots. A standard question the Fallows would ask when they landed in a town was “Who makes this town go?” The answers varied widely. Sometimes it was a mayor or a city-council member. Sometimes it was a local business leader or influential real-estate developer. Sometimes a university president or a civic activist, an artist, a historian, or a radio personality. So, who makes our town go?

Grade: As noted in a recent blog, I would suggest that the volunteer and donor class in Delray have been told to pack their bags. Example: Old School Square eviction. When you lose the patriots, the people who roll up their sleeves and get it done, you risk shredding the civic fabric.

 

  1. “Public-private partnerships” are real.

In successful towns, people can point to something specific and say, “this is what a partnership means.”

Grade: In our town, that project was Old School Square. But after 32 years, OSS was treated as a tenant not a partner and shown the door. Other opportunities to partner are being ignored or bitterly rejected. Example: The Set Transformation Plan has languished because the city refuses to engage the residents in the northwest and southwest neighborhoods. This is in stark contrast to the Southwest Plan, which was done with city commissioners and the CRA at the table with the community.

What resulted was a citizen driven plan that the city and CRA helped to fund with millions of dollars in improvements ranging from a gateway feature and a new streetscape on Northwest/Southwest 5th Avenue to the new Catherine Strong Park and an expansion of the Village Academy.

Today, we don’t see these types of efforts. As noted earlier, the Set Transformation Plan and Congress Avenue plan sit on a shelf gathering dust despite the best efforts of citizens.

  1. People know the civic story. America has a “story,” which everyone understands even if some challenge it. A few states have their guiding stories—California is either the ever-promising or the sadly spoiled frontier, Vermont is known as its own separate Eden.

 

Successful cities have their stories too. New York is the Big Apple, always resilient and always at the center of the national conversation, Chicago is the Windy City, the capital of the Midwest and a place where bold visions come true.

Grade: Who is sharing and teaching our civic story? The local press corps has been deeply affected by changes to the industry and new methods of delivering and consuming the news and many of our past civic heroes have been sidelined by personalities who don’t want to hear from the old timers. That’s a big mistake. There’s a place for elders in every community and if they are silenced or ignored or in some cases disparaged it’s not healthy. That’s what happening in Delray.

 

  1. They have a downtown.

Grade: We have a downtown and it’s robust. However, I would argue that we need to diversify beyond food and beverage and add offices, creative spaces and other uses that will sustain us as a regional activities center. Who is having this conversation?

 

  1. They are near a research university.

Grade: Our proximity to FAU is a plus, so is our closeness to Lynn University and Palm Beach State College. But the question is are we taking advantage of that proximity and are there programs and initiatives that involve the local universities?

 

  1. They have, and care about, a community college. See above.

 

  1. They have unusual schools.

 

Grade:  Village Academy and Spady are “unusual” in that the former is a deregulated public school that has the authority to innovate, and the latter offers a Montessori program. Atlantic’s International Baccalaureate Program has always been impressive and important to Delray Beach.

 

 

  1. They make themselves open. Trying to attract and include new people.

Grade: Here’s where I see our biggest deficit. There was a time when the entirety of city government was designed around the notion of civic engagement, involvement and education. We had charrettes, visioning conferences, neighborhood dinners, town hall meetings, citizen goal setting sessions, citizen academies, police academies, a robust volunteer effort (1,200 police volunteers at the height of the program) and a Youth Council. We sent neighborhood leaders to school so they could become better leaders, we held training sessions for neighborhood associations, supported a race relations initiative and held regular mayoral roundtables. It worked. And then a lot of it, maybe even most of it, was abandoned (and well before Covid). This has been a crippling development. When your involvement is limited to social media, you don’t get good outcomes.

 

  1. They have big plans.

Grade:  I will argue that no city of any size had bigger aspirations than Delray did. We dared to dream, and we executed as well. Yes, we have a state mandated Comprehensive Plan, but I would argue that it’s not a vision and the process— which included citizens— was not citizen driven. There’s a difference. A big difference. The magic happens when the community is involved.

 

Another lesson I learned along the way is that the journey needs to be as fun or more so than achieving the destination. Today, there’s little fun and a lot of division.

 

  1. They have craft breweries

Grade: One final marker, perhaps the most reliable, according to Fallows: A city on the way back will have one or more craft breweries, and probably some small distilleries too, according to Fallows.

“A town that has craft breweries also has a certain kind of entrepreneur, and a critical mass of mainly young (except for me) customers,” Fallows wrote.  “You may think I’m joking, but just try to find an exception.”

This one I struggle with. I love craft breweries and I can see where they are important and send a message but I’m not sure they are an essential trait of a thriving city. Anyway, I love Saltwater Brewery and wish we had more.

 

Conclusion…we have some serious storm clouds to deal with.

And if you think we’re invulnerable because Atlantic Avenue is busy, well there’s no such thing.

 

 

 

Big Dreams & Big Bets

The Delray Beach Market

The Delray Beach Market is the talk of the town.

As well it should be.

At 150,000 square feet, the market is said to be the largest food hall in Florida.

It’s big, bold and brave.

It also represents a colossal investment in the future of Delray Beach so it’s audacious too. I like the audacious part. We cheer big, bold and brave bets on this blog. Small bets too. We like people who try. It’s the risk takers who leave a legacy.

Basically, the market is a food incubator enabling chef/entrepreneurs to pioneer concepts at what’s probably a reasonable cost of entry.

Downtown Delray Beach has become a foodie haven but with that success, the barrier to entry has gotten very expensive. Rents of $100 a square foot are common, build out costs can be exorbitant and competition is fierce. Atlantic Avenue has become its own ecosystem with eye popping statistics accompanying the buzz. Hand’s Stationers just sold for a whopping $1,100 a foot. That’s an astonishing number especially considering the limitations of what you can and can’t do with a building in the downtown. Let’s just say you’d have to sell an awful lot of number two pencils to make those numbers work.

Meanwhile, the new food hall allows entrepreneurs to get into business for much less than the cost of opening a full-service restaurant. It also enables them to gain exposure to the hordes of people flocking downtown these days without having to consult the Forbes Billionaires List to find investors.

I’m sure the model hopes for the vendor’s to succeed so that they can launch traditional restaurants and allow for other fresh concepts to come into the market.

We went to the grand opening party a few weeks back and couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t floored by the sheer scale of the ambition behind this project. It’s a big bet.

Subsequently, I’ve heard a range of opinions (mostly positive) but a few who are questioning how or whether this $60 million investment will work. Speculating on a business model is above my pay grade. I’ve been involved with can’t miss deals that fizzled and have also been involved with impossible dreams that turned into wild success stories including one multibillion dollar brand (Celsius) that was left for dead on several occasions and now has a market cap of $5 billion plus. Go figure.

Personally, I wouldn’t bet against Craig Menin—the developer behind the market and several other huge bets in Delray Beach including the Ray Hotel and The Linton. There’s a strategy unfolding here and it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending a little time with Mr. Menin and he’s a fascinating man. A visionary with a lot of courage.

My advice is to never bet against the innovators. Not every bet lands you in the winner’s circle and you have to have the cash to play, but the big winners in business are those who find the courage to roll the dice and think big.

What I’m seeing is a company that believes in distinctive architecture, luxury amenities and the power of food and beverage to drive value and community.

Anyway, we sure have seen a lot in Delray over the years.

Leaving the party that Friday night, I found myself experiencing a bunch of different emotions.

I thought about how much we have changed since I came to Delray in the summer of ’87.

I thought about how when we did the Downtown Master Plan in 2001, we were dreaming big. Those dreams matched or maybe even exceeded the ambitions that were attached to Visions 2000, the landmark charrette process that led to the Decade of Excellence in the 1990s. Yes, my friends, we were swinging for the fences.

Back then, we were trying to get on the map and build something sustainable—something of value.

We can and we do argue over whether what’s happened here has been good or bad. And I can argue and empathize with both sides of the growth/change divide.

But…here’s one thing I think is immutable. Change is a constant. It’s inevitable.

We can and have sought to “shape” the growth with height limits and other tools designed to maintain our scale.

Despite the rhetoric of the last election cycle, we will never be another Fort Lauderdale. We won’t even be another Boynton Beach. Both cities —and Boca too— allow much taller buildings. We will always be a three and four story town.

But I can see why some people lament the congestion and activity and what they see as the loss of the laid back “village by the sea” aesthetic, although I would argue that you can still find quiet places to enjoy.

I can also see why others are cheering what’s happening.

They like the activity.

They appreciation the vibrancy and they benefit from the value being created.

If you own a home in east Delray, your property values—often a family’s largest asset—have appreciated substantially since the days when downtown Delray was rife with vacancies. If we lived adjacent to a dead and decaying downtown, it’s doubtful we would be seeing the real estate prices we are seeing.

I get it, it doesn’t matter unless you’re selling and it stinks if you want to buy in at this high level, but I think increasing values sure beats the alternative.

Choices.

Change.

The march of time….

Cities evolve.

We can and should do our best to shape that change—incentivize behaviors we want to see, restrict those we don’t wish to experience.

But market and societal forces are strong and it might be better to recognize that and adjust accordingly. It makes for a happier village and it also enables us to exert more control.

Change is going to happen. We are going to like some things and not like others.

You can’t shape what you don’t understand. You have a shot if you meet the world where it’s heading.

 

 

Imagining A New World And The Good Stuff We Leave Behind

Remote work has the potential to upend our work lives forever.

Have you noticed how fast the world moves these days?

Big changes can creep up on you, at first you may hardly notice than all it once the ground shifts and an era is gone.

When I was a kid growing up in 1970s Long Island, malls were all the rage. It’s where we hung out week after week. There was a food court, a Herman’s Sporting Goods Store, a Walden Books, a movie theater and a Spencer’s Gifts. That’s pretty much all we needed unless there was an event that required some new duds—then we moseyed over to Chess King where the polyester flowed like Niagara Falls.

The mall, the neighborhood and school were our world.

My friends all lived within a few miles of each other. I really didn’t know too many people who weren’t from the Tri-State area. Most of our parents were born, raised and lived within the confines of the Island, Westchester, New Jersey and the five boroughs. When a kid from Pennsylvania moved into the neighborhood he seemed exotic. When a family from Oregon moved down the block we lined up to take a look—the Pacific Northwest might as well have been Timbuktu.

 

Today, that’s very different.

Thanks to tech and apps like Tik Tok, our children have friends all over the country and the world. “Friend” of course is a relative term. While my friendships were forged because of proximity and relied on me seeing my buddies every day at school, today young people may never be in the same room with their best friends. They chat, text and play video games with people from all over the world.

It happened slowly and then all it once.

As we begin to see the world post-Covid (we are still very much immersed in the virus and need to be vigilant) what might the world have in store for us?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the fate of retail and office—two big players in our physical world.

Changes in consumer behavior that seemed relatively marginal and slow-moving undermined the value of retail real estate very quickly in the U.S., especially the once beloved shopping mall. Experts believe  the same potential for disruption exists in the office sector, with changes in human behavior being massively accelerated by Covid-19.

I recently read an interview on an influential real estate blog that painted an interesting picture. Here’s what one British expert had to say.

“Offices are not dead; they are very much alive,” RealCorp Capital founder Chris Kanwei said. “But a word of caution I would sound: For most of us, we tend to look at how offices will work in the future from the perspective of our own orientation. An example, if you take UK shopping centers and look back a few years to 2006, shopping centers and retail parks were a huge deal, they were springing up left, right and center. But just on the sidelines there was Amazon. And no one figured out in 2006 where Amazon would be today, and where shopping centers would be. It is just that sort of parallel you have to look at.”

 

Kanwei said part of the inability of retail real estate to see change coming is because a group of people with very similar backgrounds and experience could not envision a future that might be radically different from their own past.

 

“There were arguments put up by mostly middle-aged people at the time: You will always love the shopping center experience, you will always want to go there with your family or your friends on the weekend. And it was a great argument, but it was being made by people to other people who saw life the same way, who had the same future aspirations.”

 

There is the potential for the same thing to happen in the office sector: an expectation that the behavior of future generations will essentially be the same as what has gone before. While the difference might not be as extreme as changes to shopping patterns, they have the possibility nonetheless to drastically alter real estate usage and value.

 

“We have a generation coming up now who are not seeing life the same way,” Kanwei said. “They are not always as interested in going out and playing with their friends. They making friends online in South America, in Russia, in Africa, playing chess games online and interacting. That is the trend: We see more and more people not wanting to engage with other humans directly. Humans collaborating will never be taken away. But we have to understand that there is a generation coming through that won’t just engage in the same way we did. This same generation will be moving in to the offices of the future, and will look to engage differently, and could see the office structure of today as archaic — why would you want to bring all of these people in to the office? And that might well change the outlook people have on offices, in the same way it has in retail. I’m not calling an apocalypse for the office. But if you are investing for the long term, you have to bear in mind, your office investment may have been worth £200M, but down the line it may be worth £5M, as we have seen with shopping centers.”

Yikes.

Still, that scenario is entirely possible.

My 28-year-old son works for a large publicly traded corporation with offices in Palm Beach County. He got the job during Covid, which means he has never worked in the home office. Instead, he’s working out of his living room and thinking of finding bigger digs because his remote working arrangement may prove permanent. He also realizes that he can live anywhere and dial into the office.

He doesn’t seem bothered at all by the situation. As his boomer dad, I can see his point but wonder if he will miss out on the camaraderie, friendship and esprit de corps of working side by side with co-workers instead of screen by screen.

I happen to like the office.

I’ve worked in newsrooms (which are the best)—chock full of characters working on interesting stories and more “corporate” environments where I was able to make some lasting friendships.

As someone who values collaboration and who always has lots of questions for my colleagues the idea of working remotely forever doesn’t appeal to me.

I like the collision of ideas, the rhythm of the day, the ‘hey what are we doing for lunch’ routine that makes the day fly by.

As Seth Godin says: “The optimism and possibility that come from training and learning in groups is a miracle. It means that, with a little effort, we can level up, become more productive and enjoy the work more tomorrow than we did yesterday.”

So as we gradually emerge from our Covid cocoons, I hope we slow down and make some conscious decisions. Do we really want to give up the office?

After all, while millions enjoy the convenience of Amazon and a “one-click” society, didn’t we lose something by putting all those neighborhood retailers out of business?
Trade-offs.

Convenience versus camaraderie. Price versus personal service. Digital versus experience.

There’s no holding back the future—it will come. That’s the law. But we can and should choose wisely.

Here’s hoping we do.

Go Celsius! From Humble Beginnings….

The line-up.

Wall Street is giddy over a local stock that has been on a tear of late.

Celsius, born in Delray and based in Boca, is a beverage company that is delighting consumers, investors and those of us who love a good story of a small company slaying the giants.

When Celsius (CELH on Nasdaq) released record results last week, the stock soared continuing a run up in price that has caught the attention of CNBC’s Jim Cramer of “Mad Money” fame and lucky investors who remembered a time, not too long ago, when the stock traded under a dollar Over the Counter.

While the results reported were stupendous, nearly $37 million for the quarter an 80 percent increase over last year’s results, Celsius is far from an overnight success story. The team, both past and present, has been hard at work building a brand for more than a decade.

Celsius is a tale of belief, commitment, hard work, love, passion, sweat, a few tears and a whole lot of investment— especially from a local entrepreneurial legend who discovered the drink while dining on Atlantic Avenue.

I would venture to say that if you look closely at most successful brands you will find a familiar tale of perseverance. Each company is unique in their journey but there are commonalities including a bedrock belief that you have something special.

In Celsius’ case, there was a unique selling proposition. The energy drink burned calories—up to 100 per can. The claim was clinically proven by more than a half dozen university studies.

That’s pretty unique.

But the beverage business is brutal and capital intensive. The competition includes huge conglomerates and hundreds if not thousands of upstarts all vying for our taste buds.

But my friend and business partner Carl DeSantis knows a little something about picking winners.

He built Rexall Sundown into the world’s largest vitamin company launching hit product after hit product from its headquarters in Boca.

After selling the company for $1.8 billion in 2000 he went back into business running a vast array of enterprises ranging from hotels and restaurants to clothing companies and an up and coming hot sauce company called Tabanero. Keep your eye on Tabanero; friends it’s the next big hit.

My friend Carl has what you might call an eye for what will work and what won’t. He believed in Celsius and never wavered in his conviction that the  healthy energy drink, with the clean label (no sugar, low sodium, vitamin infused and delicious) would be a winner. It just took a while.

Successful brands are built  brick by brick, sometimes you take two steps forward and three back but you keep going because you believe and failure is not an option.

Carl recruited me to be Celsius’ COO in 2008. I was a year removed from being mayor of Delray and while I knew of Carl, I didn’t know him personally. But he saw something in me and we became friendly.

Carl is kind, generous, gentle and sensitive. There’s also more than a bit of magic in his personality.

He has a sixth sense about products, people and places. His instincts tend to prove true. So all of us who work with Carl listen closely when he has a feeling about something.

I’ve seen him predict hurricanes,  whether businesses will work and he even assured me I would survive COVID.

Over the years, Celsius hit more than its fair share of rough patches. As I’ve noted, the beverage business is brutal. Even Coca Cola failed when it released a calorie burner beverage a few years back.

But when you deploy a great team behind a great product you will break through–eventually.

Celsius has been blessed with a tremendous array of sales, marketing, management and board talent currently led by CEO John Fieldly who is a terrific young leader. He had a terrific predecessor in a gentleman named Gerry David.

Gerry and I sit on the board of Hyperponic, a promising startup which provides technology to the cannabis industry. Keep an eye on that company too. We are doing some groundbreaking work in Michigan and Oklahoma.

Still, the business world is a tough place.

Entrepreneurship can be thrilling and terrifying sometimes all in the same day.

All of us associated with Celsius have enjoyed watching this company grow.

There’s a thrill when you walk into Publix and see an end cap. It’s fun to see someone at the gym drink a Celsius and yes it’s very cool to see a company you care about listed on a major league stock exchange and sold at 74,000 stores domestically and across the world.

Those of us who know the story know that none of this would have been possible without Carl’s foresight and fortitude; without his good natured belief in a little beverage brand that occupied a small warehouse space on Fourth Avenue near the tracks in downtown Delray.

Back then, we were excited to see the cans on the shelf at the local gas station. Today, we have a market value of over $2.3 billion and are loved by thousands of consumers who enjoy a healthy energy drink with no corn syrup, preservatives or aspartame.

The Celsius story story is truly inspiring. It’s about the power of belief, commitment, vision and hard work. That’s what it takes to succeed in any endeavor.

Thanks Carl. Your belief in this amazing company has touched a lot of lives.

We can’t wait to see what’s next.

 

 

 

Preparing For Recovery

I moved to Delray Beach just when efforts to revitalize the city were beginning to kick into gear.

The year was 1987, so I had just missed Mayor Doak Campbell’s Atlantic Avenue Task Force, an effort that served as an important precursor to the massive efforts that were about to be launched.

But I was there for Visions 2000, the Decade of Excellence, Visions 2005, Sharing for Excellence (which focused on the city’s schools) the Downtown Master Plan and a host of other efforts that created modern day Delray Beach, a three time All America City, that has earned national acclaim for its redevelopment efforts, successful downtown, events, culture and food scene.

It’s been quite a ride—turbulent at times, but joyous too.
Now in the midst of a pandemic I am reminded every time I drive down Atlantic Avenue about those early years when downtown was dead and buried in a lot of people’s hearts and minds.

Delray came back as a result of careful planning, massive public investment, risky private investment and a playbook that included everything from a downtown tennis stadium and festivals to a focus on culture and a big bet on food and beverage as a driver of commerce and branding. A strong commitment to Community Policing was another indispensable tool. If people don’t feel safe, they simply won’t spend time or money in your city.

In a pandemic, most of those tools are largely off the table—- for now at least. So I wonder how we will fare in the short and long term.
Long term I think we will find a vaccine and effective treatments that will give us the confidence to venture out again and be among people.
That’s what downtowns do best if they are healthy. They bring us together.

But short term it may be a while before we see restaurants packed and feel comfortable enough to attend festivals with thousands of people.

Thanks to societal changes, retail doesn’t appear to be viable option especially in a high rent environment.
Pineapple Grove has done well as center of personal services and hopefully salons, gyms and the like can safely re-open soon.

We never quite had a huge office component downtown and one wonders where that sector will be in the wake of the coronavirus. Many companies are realizing they can effectively operate remotely and may not require the large offices they now occupy.

Still, there are opportunities at Atlantic Crossing and the IPic building to bring workers downtown.
In time, it will also be important to get anchors such as Old School Square and the Arts Garage up and running again.
The arts are a morale booster and an economic development engine.

I also think  there is  a great opportunity to introduce educational uses downtown and perhaps someday (post vaccine) that will be possible too.

Tourism is a huge part of our economy and we finally have a critical mass of hotel rooms after years of lacking capacity.
In time, if the hotels can stay alive, that sector will bounce back and be a critical piece of our economic recovery.
My belief is we need a short term survival plan because long term we can bounce back because the fundamentals are there. But it will be harder to bounce back if we lose too much of what we had prior to the pandemic.
What’s probably needed is a local city specific Marshall Plan.
Is that an overreaction? Maybe, but what we seem to be facing is an economic event unlike any we’ve experienced since the Great Depression.
So in my estimate, it will take big and bold thinking to restore a sustainable local economy that has the potential—if done right—to be better than pre-Coronavirus.
Tall order?
Perhaps.
But we are starting with a decent foundation this time.
Back then, all we had were good bones and a lot of dreams.
A slew of visionaries made it happen then, we can do it again.

Ingenuity in Crisis

There’s a little bit of Edison in all of us.

 

“The value of an idea, lies in the using of it.” -Thomas Edison.

There’s no amount of perfume that you can put on this pandemic to make it smell good.
So I won’t try.
This stinks.
It’s scary, surreal and tragic.
But….
But I’m heartened somewhat by some of the things I’m seeing and experiencing.
As I work the phones, email, Zoom and Chime I’m impressed by the ingenuity, resilience, generosity and innovation I am seeing.
People are doing all they can to make it work, to stay alive and to survive if not quite thrive.
Companies are figuring out how to work remotely, charities and arts organizations are figuring out ways to raise funds and stay relevant and schools are digging deep to find ways to educate their students.
Make no mistake, the pandemic is taking a toll and I’ve had my fair share of calls from friends worried about their businesses and jobs.
I’ve had other calls from friends concerned for their health and the health of their loved ones.
But I’ve also had a lot of conversations about life. And they’ve been good.
I think the pandemic has made us appreciate some of the simple things in life that we might take for granted.
From going to the beach and the gym to visiting local restaurants and stores, it will be a long while before we take these simple pleasures for granted once we are able to return to these places.
As for me, I miss my office mates, the kibitzing, the daily debate over where to eat lunch and the great feeling that Friday brings.
Right now, I don’t even know what day it is.
I miss movies, shows and walking the mall with my brother in law and sister in law.
I miss Saturday night.
You know date night…right now every night is date night which is cool but I’d much rather have a romantic evening at La Cigale than watch (yet) another episode of “Say Yes to the Dress.”
But I digress.
There’s a whole lot of discussion of what comes next and how things won’t return to normal.
So here’s a few general predictions.
Remote meetings are here to stay but I think as soon as it’s safe we will want to congregate again. We are social creatures and let’s face it, we miss each other.
I think the Eat Local, Shop Local ethos is also here to stay and that’s a very good thing.
There’s nothing better we can do than to support local businesses.
It’s not only good for the civic soul, it’s good for the economy as well. Buying local ensures that our money will circulate right here at home.

There will be a lasting appreciation for doctors, nurses, medical workers, restaurant staff, delivery drivers, first responders, grocery store staff, teachers and others who truly make our world go round but are rarely appreciated or compensated for their work. Let’s hope this newfound —or in some cases rediscovered —appreciation leads to meaningful policies that will make people’s  lives easier in terms of housing, health care and compensation. It may take a while but let’s get started.

There will be a lot of focus on local manufacturing, farming  and public health. Long, long overdue. Let’s build that infrastructure, let’s get after it.

Some will rediscover respect for expertise.
Some will acknowledge that Ronald Reagan’s tired old “government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem” philosophy has proven to be ridiculous.
Of course, government isn’t the answer to all problems. But good government is necessary, good government is important and let’s face it when the poop hits the fan we look to government to provide answers.
We need to improve government not destroy it. We need public service to be respected and we need to attract the best and the brightest to the field.
We humans are interesting. Once we absorb the shock, we get about the business of making things work. The best of us seek to help, educate, volunteer and innovate.
I can’t wait to see what this crisis will yield. I do believe with all my heart that it will be a different but better world.

Seizing the Golden Hour

 

Have you heard about the golden hour?
The golden hour is the period of time following a traumatic injury during which there is the highest likelihood that prompt medical and surgical treatment will prevent death.
In a crisis, I have a hunch that there’s a golden hour as well.
While in medicine, the golden hour is literally an hour, in other endeavors we are given a longer time to seize the moment. Not forever. But a season perhaps. 
 
For America, life post Covid-19, whenever that may be, will be different. But will it be better?
 
It can, if we want it to be. 
 
The crisis laid bare some real weaknesses. 
Our public health care system was caught unprepared for this pandemic. We lacked resources and equipment and we found that when we needed to replenish our stocks we had to look overseas. 
We now have an opportunity to strengthen our health care system and recapture our manufacturing capacity to ensure our national security. 
We also have an opportunity to reconsider some of the people we’ve forgotten in our society. 
 
Teachers, hospital workers, delivery drivers, supermarket staff, restaurant workers, pharmacists and support staff, first responders , farm workers (many foreign and undocumented) are essential to our society. That has been made clear by this crisis. Yet many live paycheck to paycheck often without health insurance. During this pandemic, we have asked them to risk their lives to keep us afloat in our time of need. Maybe, just maybe, we will begin to think of these important workers differently. Maybe, just maybe, we can find it in our hearts, to extend them healthcare, a living wage and an affordable place to live. 
Prior to this we haven’t done those things have we?
Maybe now we will look at policies and attitudes that have prevented tens of millions from climbing the ladder and sharing in the American Dream.  
And if we think this work is for someone else to do we’d be wrong. 
Sure, the president and Congress have a role to play and to date they’ve failed to stem the forces that have kept so many from living a secure and stable life. But we have a role too. 
On the local level, we have an opportunity to be better citizens. We have an opportunity to support our schools and our teachers. We have an opportunity to support our first responders and front line workers by advocating for policies that support housing near jobs and transit. 
We can be smart consumers and shop local. 
Delray’s economy is built on real estate, food, beverage, tourism and culture. 
There are other industries in town and they are important. 
 We need to diversify for sure. 
But we also need to cherish what makes us who we are. 
The chef Jose Andres was on 60 Minutes last week discussing his heroic efforts to feed the hungry in America.
The hungry in America.
Digest that for a moment.
The richest nation on Earth has people who are hungry and homeless. Lots of them. 
We have people who struggle and live lives of quiet despair. We can and should seek to help these people. We have the solutions. Do we have the will? 
Will we seize the golden hour?
Mr. Andres says the local restaurants in our community represent our DNA. When we support these establishments we support the men and women who work there, those who fish, grow our food and deliver it to our homes when we decide to take out. 
I think that’s true. 
Restaurants are the largest U.S employer supporting more than 15 million jobs that add about $1 trillion to the economy according to the Wall Street Journal. This month, they are expected to lose $50 billion in revenue. 
We are seeing a yeoman’s effort right now to support and save our local restaurants. 
It’s heartwarming.

But when this crisis passes, will we care about where these workers live? Will we show concern for their health care needs and whether they have a path to a life of stability? 
I hope so.
It’s our choice. 
 
 

Life. Interrupted.

Signs of the times.

 

So much has changed.

In the blink of an eye.
That’s what’s so astonishing.
How everything about our existence can change in a matter of days.
Now intellectually we all know that. We all know that life can change in an instant.
But emotionally I’m not sure how many of us could have truly grasped how a virus could upend our lives—upend our entire world.  Until now.
A month ago, corona was a beer and we didn’t really know terms like social distancing and Covid-19. We sure do now.
There is a twilight zone aspect to this pandemic.
I’m writing this sitting in my backyard on a beautiful night and it feels like I’m living in paradise.
But somewhere out there is this virus that can kill and it’s a sobering thought. There is a Russian Roulette aspect to this pandemic that makes it extra scary.
Some may have it and never know. Some will feel fine and crash. If they do, they will die alone.
I think of my older friends, my father and my friends parents and worry about their well-being.
But I also know that younger people are susceptible as well and that no one is truly safe.
I marvel at the bravery of our medical community, first responders and all those who work in essential jobs. They are at risk but they persist.
All around me are examples of quiet heroism.
People trying to support their favorite local businesses, CEOs and business owners trying to take care of their employees and teachers who are going above and beyond.
A friend of mine told me about what’s happening at Trinity Lutheran School up the street from where I live. Teachers giving up Spring Break so they can keep teaching the children that they are so devoted too.
It fills your heart.
Papas Tapas, one of my favorite restaurants, is feeding first responders and hospital workers at a time when their sales have to be hurting.
I see small business owners reaching out to the Small Business Administration for loans to keep their people employed.
In my dark moments, I feel like a prisoner unable to go anywhere or do anything. It’s no fun to see the stock market plummet and your life savings dwindle. It’s no fun to see business endeavors die and it’s frustrating because we can’t see the bottom yet and don’t really know when or how this will end.
But..in my more hopeful moments, I see all the good in the community and in the wider world. And I wonder, if perhaps, we will come out the other side of this better people.
We will ever take lunch with a friend for granted again?
We will ever decide to skip that party or that trip because we’re tired or there’s always next year?
I will be grateful when this ends. And I’m praying it is not as bad as the best case scenarios are predicting. But when it ends I’m hopeful that this experience leaves us appreciative of all things large and small.
The ability to see your friends.
The chance to have lunch with your dad.
The opportunity to go to a wedding or a birthday party or to visit your favorite watering hole.
We may be a long way from those days. I sure hope not. But it may be a ways off. But that day will come.
Until then, be careful, be safe and use this time to see what you can do to support the simple things we love about our community.

A New Landscape

Empty downtown streets in the middle of season are a stark reminder of the toll of Covid-19

 

A few months ago, we attended the opening of Rex Baron, a new restaurant in the Town Center Mall.

The restaurant’s theme was a post apocalyptic Boca Raton. Little did I know that a few months later we would be living the theme as a reality.
Yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but perhaps only a bit.
Things are mighty strange out there. What a difference a few weeks can make.
Malls are closed. Restaurants are closed. Roads are empty. There are no sports, no events and no shows —only an endless river of bad news.
The world has shifted and  it doesn’t feel very good.
My friends are edgy. We are watching our businesses and investments get crushed, we can’t go out and we are worried about our health.
Is that sniffle the coronavirus?
Will we survive this?
Will our friends and family?
Will life ever return to normal?
How long will this last? What if we get a hurricane on top of this mess?
Sometimes I can’t stop my mind and I get overcome with worry. At other times, I briefly forget and lose myself in a project, a conversation or a book and life seems normal. But something always snaps you back to reality.
Usually it’s the news. Or the fact that everything we know and love about our lives is in jeopardy, disrupted or already gone.
To quote John Lennon: you don’t know what you got until you lose it.
How true.
What this crisis brings home to me is how vulnerable we all are.
A rip roaring economy (for some, not all) gets washed away in a matter of days.
Once healthy people get sick and some may never recover.
But within every crisis there lies a lesson and even some good news which I am resolved to focus on and I hope you do too.
I’m seeing resilience in the community.
I’m seeing ingenuity too.
I’m also seeing generosity and creativity, kindness and concern.
There are so many examples: The Social Distancing Supper Club formed by my friends and neighbors John Brewer and Ian Paterson which picks a local restaurant, takes orders on Facebook and creates a mob of business for those businesses that are surely hurting. This week’s beneficiary: the excellent J&J Raw Bar on Atlantic Avenue.
I have another neighbor who owns Prime in Delray and Baciami in Boynton Beach. He is feeding his 100 employees every night taking away at least some of the burden for his stressed out workers.
I was proud to see our firefighters union step up and offer to help local restaurant to the time of over $5,000 a week. That’s the buying power of firefighters and paramedics spread out over six fire stations in our city. Pretty cool indeed.
Over the weekend, we took out from Anthony’s Coal Fire Pizza which has always been here for the community. We also ordered from Grangers, an incredible restaurant, with a deeply loyal following.
The management is doing its best to adjust its ordering to prevent waste while also meeting the needs of customers who have fallen hard for their ribs and delicious soups.
In the coming weeks, we plan to support many of our local favorites including LaCigale, Caffe Luna Rosa and a few other places owned and operated by friends some of whom have become like family to us.
As a former mayor who experienced several hurricanes that challenged our resolve and patience, I’ve become a student of how public officials react and lead in these situations.
Yes, we live in cities that are governed by a council manager form of government. But mayors and commissioners have roles too, important ones in hard times. They are counted on to be visible, accessible, factual, empathetic, strong and direct with key information. They are also advocates for resources and counted on to provide hope. Not false hope but hope because we will get beyond this.
It will surely change us. It already has and life will never quite be the same. But there will be life.
Crises focus us on what’s most important. And so we relearn what truly matters. Our health. Our families. Our friends. The local businesses that serve and sustain us. Our health care system. Our first responders, health care workers and public servants. Our schools and teachers. The arts and events that give us joy and keep our communities vibrant and alive.
Let’s think of them all as we navigate the unforeseen.
Let’s think of each other too.
Kindness. Patience. Love. Empathy. Community.
Be well and stay safe.

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.