Saturday, September 25, 2010


How long do we have to wait before we can feel the security of having a signed lease in our hands? It’s now been three months since we confirmed our intent to move in to 1227 but bureaucracy has held up its hand like a staunch crossing guard causing us to skid to a halt right in the middle of the road. I can’t really put all of the blame on the Madison buildings commission, our presumed landlord has to shoulder a bit of it. Mark, as sweet a guy as the Midwest can produce, has not exactly lit a fire on his way to get things done. Mark’s aesthetic is terrific but his business sense ranks only a short distance ahead of ours and if you’ve been following this blog you know that’s not saying much. I’m not sure if Mark was trying to do an end run or he just didn’t know there were hoops he was legally obligated to jump through. My guess is the later, but it means when he converted 1227 into a photo gallery for his now ex-wife he sidestepped the local authorities and just went ahead with the conversion. It worked out fine for him, well other than the divorce, but it meant there wasn’t a certificate of occupancy acquired on a building that went from residential to commercial. So in our inimitable way we’ve once again put ourselves out there as the freebie workers at “Bend Over” enterprises. I’ve now done site plans, floor plans, recreated construction drawings, and structural surveys all for the price of a smile and sometimes a pat on the back. Now it turns out that there is one tiny little favor he needs to move the process along. 

Apparently the shed at the back of the lot since it is included in the rental agreement will also need a set of drawings for the planning boards perusal. Does anyone know what a real draftsperson charges. It has to be more than…well nothing. Which brings me to the new Lee. I’ve somehow transitioned from the sissy who couldn’t tell a Phillips from a flathead to this uber-handyman. All I need is a tool belt to weigh down my jeans exposing my awesome butt crack. On my usual gratis basis Rick has been pimping me out to friends and clients, who think ten dollars is an expensive curtain rod, to fix there picture walls and affix handles to their newly painted kitchen cabinets. Actually I did the last thing for Rick to keep peace in the household and chalk up a few extra points on the lifetime tally of chores done by him or me. I have to admit a certain sense of pride and accomplishment has crept into my low self-esteem on the butch scale. 
So last night as Chelsea Handler stopped laughing long enough to let me know she had just peed herself, I finished another two plates of floor plans and elevations then went to bed sated on my drafting accomplishments and one step closer to signing our names on the dotted line. 
The saga to continues. 

Friday, September 17, 2010


I know, I know, I only showed the shabby little bungalow with two overgrown spirea bushes framing a pealing blue stairway leading to that little brown door. Unimpressive to say the least. We weren’t impressed either. Standing outside we thought maybe Tom, our real estate agent, wasn’t the man we needed to find us something that would match the dream we were carrying around in our heads. It wasn’t until we walked inside that we really fell in love with 1227. 

Tom lead us up the steps and unlocked that little brown front door. What we saw in the interior was absolutely nothing like the exterior, a beautiful raw pearl inside a crusty dirty shell. The space was still small, divided into two rooms with a bathroom and work sink area and access to a full basement through a hatch-covered stairway in the back room. 

The interior had been completely gutted and renovated in a way that appealed to our aesthetic. The walls had been taken back to the original concrete block with uneven smeared mortar.

The blocks weren’t the kind we’re used to seeing but concrete the way it looked a hundred years ago. The ceilings had been removed allowing the space to sore beyond its original stunted height. 
The landlord had wrapped the rafters with a rusty corrugated steel and then opened it up with a pair of skylights. The floors were newly laid wood the color of honey. Even the fixtures were identical to the ones we had imagined in our dream space.

The only thing left for us to do is paint out the red trim to Charcoal.

The space had been renovated as a photo gallery for our landlord’s ex-wife. When the relationship ended so did the gallery and the space has remained empty ever since. The overgrown front yard hid the beauty of what was within. There’s not a lot of land here. Pleasant Living sits on is a small sliver of space a vacant rooming house on its east side and a driveway leading to a storage unit and large garage on the west. 

The driveway is sprouting a beard of weeds growing out of its expansion joints. Rick has already been down on his hands and knees pulling out baby oak trees and prickly little nettles. There is a small area in the back where Rick is planning on a little garden and place to put some outdoor furniture. The process continues and so will the blog until the Pleasant Living doors officially open.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Pleasantries was the first tangible movement to tangible forward progress, the first actual rung on the ladder of recovery. I said we had three planned steps. I think it’s safe to begin the reveal of the second rung on our three rung ladder. It resides at 1227 East Wilson Street, a block off of Williamson Street, right around the corner from the Crystal Corners Bar.

It’s a little bungalow built in the early part of the twentieth century, a one-story brick structure. My imagination tries to picture a family living here in what was barely six hundred feet of space. Trying to divide that into a kitchen, living room, a bathroom and then two bedrooms confused my mathematically programmed mind to the point of an overwhelming migrane. Our potential landlord tried to point out the layout to us but the whole thing made those Asian cubicle homes look not so inventive or original.

So this is it, our new store/office, the reincarnation of our New York enterprises. Named by our daughter, this is to be the home of Pleasant Living. Until we actually open the door I’ll be chronicling the progress of how we’re moving along with all the giant steps forward and the tiny steps back.
Early on in our arrival in Madtown we made the rounds of the local retail markets in pedestrian neighborhoods. There's the Monroe Street area next to the university and the East Johnson Street corridor, but the one that fit our criteria best was the William Street neighborhood beginning at the Yahara river and ending just before you run into the Capital Square.

One of the stores on Williamson Street that we fell in love with was the Kitchen Gallery, a beautifully done kitchen store with a professional staff.

It's an anchoring force in this small pocket of retail reminiscent of what we loved about big city retail. The Willy Street alley is the kind of area crammed with tiny shops in pre-war buildings lined shoulder to shoulder like little soldiers holding fort against the big box stores and malls of the current suburban retail scene. 

This little retail pocket exemplifies Madison's diversity by hosting a wide range of offerings like a clock repair store that has graced the street for almost fifty years, the Jamacian Jolly Bob's making you question if you're in Madison or somewhere in Miami Beach,

a home converted into a store dedicated to all products hemp

and the long living Willy Street Co-op - a food collective offering natural and organic local products since 1974. 

The mastermind behind the Kitchen Gallery, Tom Christensen, also serves as the resident real estate agent for the Willy Street – Jennifer area. In the early part of summer when we finally decided it was time to make the move from idea to reality with our business we stopped by to talk to Tom. We had been surfing the net for possible available locations but hadn’t found anything that fit our criteria. It was Tom who showed us the space at 1227. We were in love. Step one completed – finding the right spot. A place just the right size to dip our toe into the market without feeling like we were jumping in over our heads. The lease has yet to be finalized. There are still hurdles ahead but here’s to the hope we haven’t jinxed our karma by a too early reveal.
More to come.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


My calves’ ache from the constant pounding I force them to do walking the sidewalks of Madison Avenue, Chelsea, Soho and the Meat Packing District. The cobblestones of Little Fourteenth Street have made blisters on my pinched little toes, but the pain in my feet is overshadowed by the pleasure of the visual stimulation of a city so filled with magic hiding around every corner. Sure you can still find the ubiquitous box stores that now stretch from continent to continent, but in New York you can still see the tiny specialty stores tucked into decades old niches in neighborhoods where people still call out from fourth story walk-ups to their boy friends on the street below. 

Recession has brought the demise to many a mom & pop but not to all mini-enterprises in this city of retail wonders. For over twenty years I’ve stopped to listen to the click of the game clocks as pairs of combatants duel over a chess match in front of one of the two chess stores that stand in opposition to each other on either side of Sullivan Street. Stores dedicated to a single game still battling along sans a “going out of business” sign bolted over their moat protected doors. 

Down the street a lady sits on the stoop outside the “Little Lebowski” teasing her cat with a feather on a stick. How does a store focused on the paraphernalia of one independent film continue to have a stoop where a lady with a feather can sit in the company of customers buying little look-alike figures of Jeff Bridges or t-shirts with sayings like, “You might fool the fucks in the league office, but you don’t fool Jesus”.

If you go far enough North on Lexington Avenue there’s a store that sells nothing but model making supplies for models of ships and jet planes and racing cars, a place where kids and adults alike can buy miniature dreams of life-size obsessions.

Head into the Village where a little shop has specialized in portraits of man’s best friend for over a decade and across the street you’ll see an amber lit window filled with art glass from the fifties and sixties. 

Then there’s the store in the West Village dedicated solely to cookbooks, still thriving against all odds from the stiff competition of Barnes & Noble and the virtual stores of the internet.

There are stores so small they are barely the width of a doorway and once inside you can touch both walls while standing in the middle. 

There are stores on wheels selling cupcakes baked on site. Red velvet, mocha and aromatic banana spice lasso your nose and pull you to the wagon window. I don’t need a gun pointed to my head to force me to plunk down my three bucks for a taste of the city I wasn’t anticipating.

The ability of these entrepreneurs to pay the rent and succeed from spaces so small and so sweet gives me hope that retail isn’t dead as long as the passion exists.