Friday, February 29, 2008

Looks like I'm going to have take-out from Taste of Thailand once a week for awhile, and a 5.00 tip, and a 'please, hang in there." Why would someone destroy someone's business, like that? It's a mystery.

I've always known that I've got a 'bit' of protection from such behavior by being in a busy downtown core, though it's no guarantee.

Had plumbing problems in the basement, yesterday. (Sorry about the juxtapostion.) The plumber was in awe. "These are cast iron pipes!? This looks like a place a serial killer would hang out."

I gave him an evil grin. "Don't worry, I use lots of lime on the bodies, so you shouldn't smell anything."

Anyway, lost a bit of inventory downstairs. Turns out the main line is blocked, so he has to come back with a bigger snake. I'm hoping that will fix the problem. Was sure I was going to dream about overflowing water last night.

Old wiring, old plumbing, old everything.

Every once in a while I wish I had a fresh clean slate to work on. Something move in ready. Bigger, more spacious.

But....then I watch all the people walking by, I see other places that seem to be isolated and vulnerable, and I think....nah, hang in there. Everything gets old.
More and more it feels like a reset to 2002-3 levels in my core comic business. It's all very anecdotal, but I feel like I'm getting more and more customers cutting back or quitting titles with the comment, "I can't afford them...."

Also have lost more than usual number of regulars to job changes or moving out of town. When you have a CFO who is so specialized that there is really only one job in Bend that fits his criteria, he has to go elsewhere.

One of my long-term regulars has been in Portland for the last year because it was the only place that could pay him for his skills. Another announced yesterday that he's going to Joseph, Oregon for a year.

I don't expect other parts of my store to revert quite so much. The foot traffic is completely different now, because I'm surrounded for blocks by other retail. Ten years ago, I had very little foot traffic. I was in the retail hinterlands.

Meanwhile, two new product lines, new books and board games, are adding 15% to my overall numbers. Three other lines have lost major competitors, sports cards and card games and anime/manga, so even with probable overall declines in the industries (based on what I'm hearing elsewhere) I'm still ahead.

Still, it is a time to be careful. Going home in the evenings, there still seems to be a fair number of people walking around. But when I look in the restaurants I see them all packed into the bars, while the tables sit empty. That can't be good.

Meanwhile, assuming I have an 'average' day, we should be about 20% over last month, and about 10% below last year in the same month. Linda's store will probably be up around 6% over last year. So January wasn't followed by a steeper decline in February, which is a bit of a relief.

Over last 3 years, January has turned into my worst month. Which didn't used to be true --- it used to be there was residual Christmas spirit floating around. February is when I used to really get nailed. But that seems to have flip flopped.

March is usually pretty good, because of spring breaks. We'll see.

So moderate, but fairly slow declines. Predictable, and related to the job market.

I can live with that.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bush has declared we'll have no recession..... Oh, Shit. We're doomed.

Woman who leapt from balcony was 'allegedly mentally ill'..... You think?

Now I know why there are so many lousy drivers around here. They're all driving around with a computer in their lap looking for Wi-Fi connections.

The Dick Tracy Museum is closing. Uh, who's that?

Time for Hitler to make a comeback. Since a quarter of the kids today don't know who he was.

Tiger Lily downtown closes....for 'personal' reasons. They had nice stuff. I can't tell how hard it is to get people to buy nice stuff -- especially if it's expensive. The last five years have been the exception, not the rule around here.

Plan moves skatepark to a more public view. we'll be able to see them misbehaviing...

Squirrel knocks out power in south Bend. I don't blame him. Enough is enough.

Sign of a slowing market? Hike fees. Sign of a busy market. Lower fees. Our government at krow. Back assword.

Honkers....Cousins....Fireside Red. Still a lousy location. (Actually, I don't know this....I'm just being snippy.)

Middle class or Rich. Know one thinks they're rich. They all think they're middle class. Except the ones faking it. They'll tell you.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It's clear to me after family get-togethers that my brothers and sisters don't have the same egalitarian memories of Bend that I have. Maybe I'm just an old hippie, I was 16 years old in 1968, but I remember a Bend that not only didn't suck up to the rich, but frowned on them.

Yes, you can live perfectly well in Bend without granite countertops. In fact, that was part of the deal. You sacrificed the granite countertops in order to move to Bend. You sacrificed the latest fashion. You fell two years behind the world.

The pace slowed down. You breathed in the mountain air in the winters, and kicked up the red dust in the summers. Dogs wandered around, loping out to the sidewalk to scope you out. Hardly anyone built swimming pools because you could only swim two months out of the year (ditto golf courses.)

Maybe if the first bastard to tear down a perfectly nice house on Mirror Pond, and constructing a Jabba the Hutt monstrosity with it's belly hanging out over the river had been laughed out of town, we could have stopped it. Maybe if the first Hummers in town had been pointed at and snickered at, maybe some of these newcomers would have gotten a clue.

We just got overwhelmed. That's all.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I've had a bit of an epiphany over the last couple of days. I'm still feeling it out, trying to reason it through, so bear with me. I'm not sure it's the sort of thing that can be proven or not proven.

It may just be....that the poor minimum wage job earners who service both the tourist industry and the retirement community in Bend.....may weather this downturn better than the so-called rich. After all, they've been managing to survive while costs of living in Bend have gone up and up. A downturn may turn out to be a relief.

There seems to me to be an irreducible minimum of clerks, maids, waitresses, gas station attendants, etc. etc. that an economy like ours needs. I believe that tourism, while it may go down a bit, isn't going to disappear. The massive chain stores and their minimum wage employees aren't going anywhere. Nor are the retired suddenly going to pack up and leave.

Several events have happened recently that made me start thinking this way.

First, I have a customer who started doing renovations last year. He was in today, talking about how last year at this time he was very concerned about the future, even though he had jobs lined up. This year, he said he actually wasn't as worried, even though it looked even more doubtful. He'd become "used to it". I laughed, and told him he had become a true Bendite.

A true Bendite can live with the fact that Bend is a great place to live even without money, as long as you figure out a way to manage it. The old Poverty with a View mentality that was common here 5 or 10 or 20 years ago. So, you don't go out to dinner as often, you wear you're clothes and drive your car a little longer, you relax and breathe in the mountain air.

The second was an article quoted over on the Bubbleblog2, (maybe from the NY TImes? couldn't tell), which talked about the slowdown in Utah and said this:

"Another big part of the West's boom has been affluent retirees, who bring non-wage income to spend and have swelled the economies of places like Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and many other picturesque, once-backwater towns now undergoing "Aspenization." Bend, Oregon and Walla Walla, Washington are two classic examples. These new arrivals may be changing towns too fast and driving prices way beyond what locals can afford, but they do have an economic advantage: Retirees keep on spending during a downturn, since they are living off savings."

I'll repeat, retirees keep on spending during a downturn, since they are living off savings...I may be stretching my definitions here, after all they do say 'affluent' retirees. But I'm talking about spending average money, not crazy rich money. I would quibble with the above definition of what retirees spend and how they act. I suspect most new retirees to Bend are going to spend most of their money in normal, everyday places.

(I admit, this whole argument I'm making breaks down if you include the majority of retirees as the very wealthy.... I'm defining them as people who spend moderate money, who are more likely to shop at Walmart than an art gallery.)

And the third thing was seeing how many tourists have been in my store and by observing the behavior of my own regulars. My regulars are cutting back, mostly, but just a little. I've lost a few, but not so many to be concerned. Most of them weren't earning the big bucks before, during or after the boom. Meanwhile, I seem to be seeing almost as many tourists as before, and many of them are from parts of California that I would've thought stricken.

But see, I've never really noticed that rich spend huge amounts of money in my store anyway.

If a minimum wage customer wants 50.00 worth of graphic novels, he will buy them. Maybe, at the last moment he'll put a 5.00 item back. If a middle class customer wants 50.00 worth of graphic novels, he'll buy them. If a rich customer wants 50.00 dollars worth of graphic novels, he'll buy them, and maybe throw on a 5.00 item.

But really, they all buy the same stuff, at about the same pace -- dictated more by interest and opportunity rather than income. A rich person doesn't suddenly say, Oh, hell, I only need 50.00 worth but I'm rich so I'll buy 100.00.

Not my kind of business.

If you'll all remember, I've always thought it was the High-End businesses that were doubtful. They never did well before this last five or six years, and I have a sneaking suspicion they won't do well now that the boom is over. I suspect that their expectations, their expenses are too high. They overshot. They aren't depending on small tourist sales, or modest retiree buying, or on locals, but on the idea that we're Aspen, that the rich are going to throw money around.

I even suspect it wasn't the rich who was spending all this money, anyway. It was people who felt they had to act rich, eat out in fancy restaurants and drive big S.U.V.'s and live in McMansions because they were involved in industries that demanded the appearance of wealth. Some will adjust down to old Bend, others will crash and burn.

The rich aren't going to save Bend. It's going to be the retired and the tourists, who will spend most of their money in places that pay minimum wage. It's going to be the regular folk who will be at the center of economic activity. Right where I want to be.
There seems to be a full court press on the local blogs to try to hold a positive light to the real estate situation in Bend.

Fine. As long as everyone remembers that these were the same arguments they used to say that there never would be a slow down in the first place. These are many of the same people who sold subprime and dubious loans without a inch of warning. The same people who made no effort whatsoever to put the purchase of a house in Bend in any kind of perspective. The same people, in other words, who dug this hole in the first place.

Ironically, it's not my credibility at stake here. I own a comic shop, for goodness sake. What do I know?

But I've learned that one of the most dangerous things I can do is over-promise something to the customer. Either they will be a unhappy non-returning customer, or they will return and nail me to the wall. Possibly cost me more in the long run because I have to take the product back.

I want the customer to get what he really needs and wants. Promise them that the comic or card will be worth more in the future?

Never, ever.

The collectable market is what happens after they leave the store, is what I tell them. Buy it because you want it, and you want to keep it, otherwise, don't.

So, remember what you say may come back and bite you, folks. But....I suspect you don't give a damn, which is why we're in the pickle we're in.
It takes a brave man to climb out on that limb, put a noose around your neck, and jump because you're sure the rope will break. Looks to me like what Dana Brattan just did. So either he is a genius who can parse the numbers like no one else, or he made the most ridiculous prediction of his career.

But wouldn't it be great if he was right? Hey all you potential customers, you've just been assured the housing market is on the verge of a turnaround. The light is at the end of the tunnel. Our long national nightmare is over.

Please extract as much equity as possible and spend, spend, spend! Please buy an extra house or two! You only have 60 days...yeah, that's it, 60 buy! It's the Best Time to Buy in 20 Years!

But these blogs aren't any fun if everyone just agrees. We need this guy from Forbes to tell us we're all wrong and the housing market not only hasn't declined, but is on the upswing:

"Don't buy it. For months now the debate has been over whether America will have a hard landing or soft landing, the answer hinging on how big 2007's housing disaster turns out to be. Well, there won't be any housing disaster. We won't have a landing at all, soft or hard. Right now the U.S. and global economies are both accelerating.

Did you know that housing sales are up in the last few months, not down, and that inventories are lower than six months ago? We're accelerating, not landing. This is true not just in housing but also pretty much across the board."

- Kenneth L. Fisher
Forbes, 02.26.07

(NOTE: It has been pointed out that this is from a YEAR ago. So...nevermind. Fools, then, him for saying it, and me for repeating it. Still, someone posted that with the intent of trying to convince people that everything is fine....)

I'm assuming this quote if for real, and not some made up piece that someone put onto the Bend Economy Bulletin Board. It seems to me that everything he says is contradicted by actual facts.

So there you have it. Two lone voices in the wilderness.

I know how they feel. I used to be there, from the other side.

Every bubble I've had come through my store started somewhere else, usually California and Washington, usually in the bigger cities like San Fran and Seattle; and they usually ended there also. That is, if you were paying attention, you could see it coming, and you could see it going.

It's one of the few marketing advantages to living in a backwater. for fun, go read couple of days worth of the national blog called, The Housing Bubble Blog. This isn't some crank, merely someone who takes clippings out of mainstream publications (like the Bulletin and the Oregonian) and strings them together.

Then come back and read Dan Bratton's comments. If you can withstand the whiplash, remember that one site is reporting the NEWS and the other is reporting a PREDICTION. (To be fair, we bubble busters were doing the same thing a year or two ago, and saying the news is not the future.)

The housing bust is nearly over. Dana says so.

If he's right, he ought to be congratulated for his prescience. He should be showered in kudo's. He should be nominated for the FED.

What's amazing is that this is a guy's career. I can make all the wild-eyed predictions I want, and it's just me, comic store owner.

But he must believe people have short memories, even if he's wrong.

Besides, if you're having your house appraised, wouldn't you go to HIM! He believes houses are or will be worth MORE!

But, if you read the comments he made, he's more like that drunk friend who is urging you to jump off the bridge into the river, never mind the rocks. Why not! Yahoo!

Monday, February 25, 2008

I'm always going on about how hard it is to stick to a budget, and I thought I'd give you a couple of current examples.

January was no problem, it was extremely slow, and my budget was more than enough to cover everything.

February jumps about 20% on a per day average, so now it's getting a little tighter.
If I just stick to my regular orders, everything will be fine.

But they're offering some great material at substantial discounts. Last week, for instance, they had Pirates of the Cara. and Dr. Who action figures. Now, POTC is well past it peak selling period in the mass market -- but not for my store, I could probably carry POTC for years without it seeming odd. Dr. Who sells just below the range I would consider acceptable for buying at full wholesale, so the sale price makes it a fresh deal.

But suddenly, I'm 400.00 over budget.

So I go into this week, and notice that McFarlane is releasing Halo action figures -- and they are very, very cool. As you'll see with the following paragraph, I'm learning that most things related to a big video or online game sells really, really, really well for us.

So, I order a couple of more cases. Now I'm 600.00 over budget.

Here's the killer. I was carrying all four waves of World of Warcraft cards, both starter decks, and both types of Raid decks. Last week I got a visit from the manager of the Gamestop store in the Old Mill, and he sees I'm carrying the cards. Next thing I know, I'm getting an influx of new customers, who have been sent by the Gamestop. For which I am thankful.

But I'm also wiped out of WOW cards. These are new customers, who could remain customers for years, but it will cost at least 500.00 more to get a stock of WOW in.

So, now I'm 1100.00 over budget.

And so it goes.

I know, I know, I should plan better. But I try. I really do. And whatever plans I make are always blown out of the water.

I prefer the keep the store actively engaged, rather than squirreling a few hundred dollars away -- of course, until I NEED the few hundred a week to pay for some emergency or another.

This whole budgeting thing is my downfall. If I had a CFO who told me how much I could spend each week -- but no, I know I would weasel and cajole and beg and plead and stomp around until I got my way or the CFO quit.

So, back to the drawing boards. Budget must now include 'sale' product a bit better. Extra sales should allow me to increase budget x amount a month.

Until the next time it happens. Probably sometime next week.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The more I look at that 11 building permits in January, (and what looks as though will be a similar number in February), the more alarming it seems.

Just for giggles, I looked up 'General Contractors' in the Yellow Pages, and came up with 400. I don't believe this counts electricians and plumbers and roofers and all the other trades.

But, let's set the construction jobs aside, for now, and check the secondary effects.

There are 50 Furniture outlets listed in the Yellow Pages. Let's assume that all 11 permits are for houses and that everyone who is going to live in those houses is going to buy furniture locally (instead of bringing it with them, buying online or elsewhere).

So, each of you gigantic furniture stores get to furnish less than 20% of one new house per month.

So McMahan's, you get the sofa. Jacob's, how about the beds. Lazy boy, the chair.

Good luck with that.

Lest anyone think I'm over negative (who me?) let's take 'benefit of the doubt' elements out. I of course assume that 'refurnishing' is a big element of furniture business, but I assign that a neutral value, since that happens with or without new houses (though it could be argued, refurnishing is almost bound to slow down, too.)
I'm going to guess that at least a 3rd of those new building permits are commercial. So let's lower the total to 8. Then I'm going to assume that at least half of those 'new' homeowners are bringing their own furniture with them. That lowers the total to 4. Then I'm going to assume that half of those new homeowners will buy online or out of town. That lowers the total to two.

So 50 furnitures stores -- meet two new homeowners. May the best man win.

Not to mention home decor, drapes, carpeting, antigues, etc. etc. etc. In fact, look around and ask yourself how many businesses in Bend depend on new houses.

I think Paul-doh's F#@k laden rants may have been understated.

Jesus, someone tell me where I'm wrong.
When my developer friend was in on the 20th of Feb. and told me that only 3 housing permits and 3 commercial permits were pending locally, for a grand total of 6, I figured that was a mistake.

Until this morning, when I pick up the paper to find that only eleven building permits were taken out in Jan.


Can I repeat that?


You know, everyone is so focused on the real estate market and house prices, that I think they are losing sight of the really important numbers.

Like jobs and construction. Eleven new buildings a month isn't going to employ very many people, is it? Hell, my own customer base could pretty much cover that. You other businesses? All your customers have been laid off....

Remember a year ago when someone popped up and argued the 50% drop figure in building permits? And it turned out, we were wrong -- it had dropped 50% over a two year period.

Well, whoever that was, argue this: Central Oregon building permits fell 70.6% from last January to this.

So this will just allow the overflow to be bought up? Hopefully, but it looks to me like anyone involved in the building trade is going to have to hold their breath underwater for a few years. Don't really know anyone who can do that, do you?

These are my customers, many of them. Tourism is the icing on the cake, but I live off of locals.

Meanwhile, we start to hear that office and industrial space is opening.

("Anyway, in "Commercial Property Values in for Steep Drop, Says Loan Liquidator," Financial Week offers up some insights on the next shoe to drop in the great unraveling.

Banks starting to unload distressed real estate loans; some sellers taking 50 cents on the dollar.")

Next shoe will be retail space, folks. And one thing to remember, many of these commercial buildings were built with the same sorts of dubious loans that torpedoed the housing market; the consequences are just going to take a little longer to shake out.

I worked yesterday at the store, on a Saturday for the first time in a long time, and it was very edifying. Lots of tourists, lots of locals on a lark, not a whole lot of sales per customer, but lots and lots of customers.

If you had told me a few years back that I would have 100 people walk in the door on a day in February, I would've asked: what fad took off?

Instead, our store was positioned right in the middle of all the new development downtown.

My observation was that I've done exactly the right thing by bringing in new books and games, and broadening the toy selection, and so on. I wish I had more space to display everything, but the foot traffic nowadays is to die for. Really. I can't complain about that.

Lots of young families and kids; and I find it very amusing how the adults are always surprised that THEY are the ones buying something, and not the kids. While, I'm not surprised at all -- it's how I've redesigned the store. Because the kids just aren't interested. While the parents can't quite resist the stuff their kids ignore. Very interesting phenomenon.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

It's been busy this month at the store. Not at last year's pace, but last year was extraordinary because I was adding new books and games to my product line. But the good news is, so far, I'm running close to 20% above last month.

It's busy enough to put pressure on my purchasing budget, which has bent but not broke, so far. Budgeting is a constant challenge for me.

Thing is, I was really tired at the end of yesterday. I read once, people wear introverts out, and charge up extroverts. I had plenty of people in, (I think it's some sort of quasi spring break for some Wash. and Cali's...) and I think I've forgotten how to pace myself.

Meanwhile, we've reached that point that I've seen in every fad, where those who can see believe and those that can't, don't. Those who see a problem are dealing with it, those who don't see a problem aren't. Sides have been chosen, and nothing more will change -- until the boosters just sort of quietly disappear into the woodwork.

There is a discussion about the word 'collapse' over on the Bend Economy Bulletin Board. O.K. Steep drop? Severe Correction? Does that do it for you?

I was talking to a restaurant insider yesterday, a real 'foodie' as he called himself, and he said 5 more restaurants are opening soon. "Way too many...."

So, I think we'll see the first battleground in the dining industry. Obviously, a lot of older restaurants are seeing the handwriting on the wall. The second battleground I'll predict -- with absolutely no inside knowledge, just a guess -- is in office space and condo's, especially on the west side. Third battleground are the outliers -- businesses and stores located in what may be zoned retail but not normally seen as retail.

Downtown will probably be last to feel it, actually. Two of the locations across from me have already leased -- Bandy's location supposedly another jewelry store, grabbed within a month.

Still, I wonder how successful they'll continue to be charging the 3.00 ft. range. If these new buildings hadn't already lined up tenants, I wonder if they'd be able to so readily fill in. Meanwhile, there is a restaurant every 15 ft or so....

I believe, and this is just a personal observation, that for businesses to be truly healthy, rents need to be closer to 2.00 a foot in downtown and the other hot zones, and closer to 1.50 a ft. in other vital shopping areas, and closer to 1.00 a ft. in slower but still active zones. From what I can see, most leases are 20 to 30% too high. And, I'll tell you what, if I'm going to pay 30% too much for a lease, I'll do it in a 'hot' zone, where there is at least a chance of succeeding...

I'm not holding my breath that rents will actually come down. It would take such a severe downturn, prolonged and chronic, to get the landlords to come down, that I can't wish for that. But maybe, just maybe, they might start moderating the increases.

Friday, February 22, 2008

More rumors.

Steady drumbeat of that, lately. Was wondering if it is just a surge due to tax issues, or time of year, or what?

RobbyJ's Bistro, and today heard from a customer that Denny's is going to be closing after more than 20 years.

Curiouser and curiouser.
For the third or fourth time, I've gotten into trouble for talking about another business.

Thing is, they're right. It's none of my business, I don't know what's going on behind the scenes. I wouldn't like it if they talked about me that way. all comes back to the basic presumption that no one is reading. I might write the same thing in my private journal in the old days, and it would have just me talking to me.


Again, I've got to step back, examine what I'm doing.

I don't want this to turn into a weather report, you know. Or what movies I like. Or whatever innocent subject won't offend anyone.

I think using 'in general' examples might be less offensive than actually using the names of other businesses.

I especially hate the idea that someone's feelings got hurt.
Have to work four days in a row all by myself.

Man, have I gotten spoiled if that seems daunting.

My suppliers 'lost' a box of product yesterday. This is really rare -- send to the wrong place? All the time --- actually lose, not so much.

Dave Goodman of E-musings was in before the big bloggers social -- sounds like an oxymoron. (err...the blogger social is the oxymoron, not Dave.) Blogger social. I thought that was why we blogged, so we didn't have to be social. Unfortunately, I had a prior commitment to the big Hermit's Conclave. (It's a wild hulabaloo, I tell you.)

Anyway, he was spinning off ideas to help promote Pegasus, and mentioned he didn't want to 'lose' another bookstore.

I realized, I needed to reassure him that we're doing just fine. When I STOP talking about business, that's the time to start worrying.

I was trying to explain why we were O.K. and I think the answer is -- this slowdown was predictable, thus manageable. When I've had trouble in the past was when I had a sudden, unpredictable drop; because I order so much material in advance, it can take up the six months to get orders in line with sales, and if it continues to be unpredictable, then even longer.

So, frankly, all I have to do is adjust the spending to the sales, and I'm fine.

Fortunately, I started adjusting early last year, so guessed really close to the dropoff in August.

This month looks like it's going to be a much smaller decrease, less than 10% for sure. Add in the leap day, which I just noticed yesterday, and we may even come close.

Item: Apparently, cat owners have a lower rate of heart attacks and stroke.
Don't tell my cat. I'll never hear the end of it.

Item: “Observers say Castro will either be replaced by his brother Raul, or by his idiot son, Fidel W. Castro.” David Letterman.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wow, the economy around here is going south even faster than I expected. With every turn of the screw, I just back away another couple of feet, quietly drop another purchasing order I was going to make, buy a ream of paper instead of a case, and so on.

Not sure anyone is going to totally escape the bear. But if I get a nice little head start, maybe the bear will catch the other guys first. By the time he gets to me, maybe I'll have found some shelter or something. Maybe the cavalry will be on the way....

The lady cutting my hair yesterday would have none of it.

1.) there was no real problem with the economy (this after telling me that some of her builder clients were complaining.)

2.) it didn't matter to her. (I pointed out a several ways it may impact on her, but she just kept shaking her head.)

3.) and why was I stomping on people's dreams?

Hey, I'm all for taking a risk, of following your dream. But there's a difference between the calculated risk of playing blackjack with some knowledge and experience, or taking a wild-ass spin on the roulette wheel. Hell, I can even understand betting on red or black; (scary risky, but I can see the allure) -- but some of these new businesses are basically putting their entire bankroll on one number of the wheel and hoping to hit.

So? She asks.

I have a friend who mortgaged his house to start a business that had no chance, I say. He lost the business and the house.

That was his choice, she says.

Well, yeah, of course. But it seems kind of a brutal way to find out the true risk.

Linda pointed out that we had people tell us, we had no chance, we had no business, and here we are 28 years later and they're all gone.

But I had worked for Pegasus for 4 years; I did my homework before buying. My estimates turned out to be right on. A gamble, yes, but a calculated gamble.

Bend is completely overbuilt, and I can't understand why my barber lady couldn't understand that. I felt my voice rising, and myself going into an anti-growth rant, which was weird, because while these blogs may sound like a rant, they are at least measured and (driving bilbobuster crazy) even-handed. I was surprised by my own response and the resentment I felt.

Oh, well. What's going to happen is going to happen. I don't have the power to 'stomp on people's dreams', thank goodness.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Apparently, the building across from my store, that DesertScape had owned, in now back in the hands of Dr. Wadsworth, the previous owner.

Interesting rumor, no?

Wonder what happened.
A continuation of my e-mail correspondence with the artist who did the covers to my books oh, so many years ago, who I just found.

Dear Duncan,

I'm Romas' wife, Allison, and I must tell you this little thing about Star Axe: You mention not noticing the ethereal head on the slab before your great warrior. That little element - not called for by the art directors but inspired by your manuscript - was Romas' first leap into interpreting the books he read, as opposed to simply painting what he was told. He managed to maintain that level of communication betweenwriter and artist for 27 years. Oh, and our son, Guy, made us turn the painting to the wall until he was 10, thanks to the ghostly head you missed! He's now 14 and will get a huge kick out of "Frog Axe".

It is interesting but not surprising that you've heard of the "Goofyfoot Gurl" series, but I was surprised you discovered it in a blog only yesterday. What blog was it and how/why did you find your way there? Are you familiar with PreTeena?

Since I have you and we're on my favourite subject: What comics/books/graphic novels do you love/hate? If you have time, I'd genuinely like to know. I grew up reading illicit, hidden Playboys in our drunken neighbor's garage; I used to tear out all the full-page colour comics and kept a portfolio of styles and jokes, beginning when I was about eight or nine years old. I loved the simple reduction of line (the rosy-cheeked fat exec in bed with the bursting ingenue: He says: "Of course I share everything with you -- that's a Mouton Cadet de Rothschild 1948 . . . ").

Does Pegasus of Bend stock the Vertigo series of graphic novels ("Lucifer", "100 Bullets", "Sandman")? I was and remain a big fan of "100 Bullets" and think it would make a fine TV drama for a cable company like Showtime or HBO.

Thank you for letting me blab about comics. My life-long aspiration is also my passion, and I love to exchange opinions (the more spirited the better) about the genre.

We will recover the paintings for your books. Ro is meticulous about preservation - not so much about cataloging. I think I know where they are.


To which I answered:

Well, howdy, Allison!

Yeah, I carry all kinds of books. Full runs of Lucifer, 100 Bullets, in fact every Vertigo title in print, I think. I try to have every good book I can find. I do lots of cartoon books, fantasy art, children's books (Where the Wild Things Are...), Edward Gorey, Silverstein, and lots and lots of pin up books. Think Bud Plant in a store. It's kind of a strange mix; packed into a very busy downtown tourist area, in a very active but isolated tourist area.

My wife, Linda, who I met in a writer's group 25 years ago, owns a used bookstore, called the Bookmark. She sticks strictly to used books, whereas I'll carry anything that interests me.

Lately, I've started carrying regular fiction, of course, science fiction and fantasy, but also anything else that catches my eye. The beatnik authors, Kerouac, Burroughs, the hip new authors, Palanhiuk, Eggers, the cult authors, Phillip K. Dick, Lovecraft, hippie authors, Robbins and Vonnegut. Just anything I think will catch the casual browser.

I have thousands of art books, which because of lack of space, are mostly carried spine out -- pretty ridiculous and hard to sell. I just consider them my collection until they sell, I guess.

I sort of threw out trying to choose which subjects to carry a while back.

I'll try to find Frog Axe for you, and get it scanned. Your son might get a kick out if.

I'm not very technical. I'm very, very active blogging -- it's where I can get my writing jones fixed. But you'll see it's all words.

Is your strip an online strip? Forgive me for not knowing -- but even our little art world is huge, if you know what I mean.

Haven't delved into the online strips, yet.

I check out Comics Reporter, Journalistic, and the Beat every day....that's probably where I heard about Goofyfoot Gurl. Ironically, I had just put the title into the notebook I keep by the computer of stuff I need to buy for the store.

Also not real conscious of current strips.

My favorites. I tend to look for authors more than artists. Garth Ennis, Gaiman, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, the usual. But I have very broad taste, and nothing is out of bounds.

I love kind of guiding people off the street from the material they recognize, the the material they've heard of, to the material that seems familiar, to the material that is slightly out of their comfort zone, and onward.

Like I said, check out my blog, Best Minimum Wage Job a Middle Aged Guy Ever Had, if you want to know where my head is.

Thanks for looking for the paintings...I can't wait.



And later;

Dear Allison,

Wow. Good stuff. Looked it up. I'm pretty sure our local paper doesn't carry your strip, the Bend Bulletin, and most every other paper I read online. I'll check tomorrow, for sure.

I get the bulk of my material from Diamond comics, but use Baker and Taylor every week now as well. I'll check for your books first thing tomorrow.

Sorry I wasn't up on your work. It looks interesting.


And then this morning:

hello, ramos and allison,

The picture a bit sun-faded, because it was above my desk for years. I hope this is a big enough scan.� Maybe you can touch up the colors.

Our friend, Brad Lesher did this. (Sorry, don't know how to get it on the blog, folks.)

In a rather amazing coincidence, I had come across a review of Goofyfoot Gurls the very morning of the day I e-mailed you. Considering that I browse dozens of sites a day, and ignore most of them, I find it fascinating that I had written down the title in my notebook to order. I found it on a site called; Occasional Superheroine. And I noticed that Journalistica has a link.

I've got PreTeena bookmarked now.



Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cool things happening. The exciting thing for me is at the end, so you can skip to that...

This is going to sound egotistical at first, but bear with me. It's anything but.

I googled my name last night, as I do on a monthly basis. Mostly, I want to know if my musings have been picked up by anyone else. Find them in odd places, a blog about airport security, Jay Leno's official site, a random business blog, a random comic blog, etc.

Anyway, what pops up mostly are my books that I wrote in the early '80's; Star Axe,Snowcastles and Icetowers. They seem to be all over the place, but interestingly enough, they are in England, New Zealand and Australia as much as the U.S. because they had an English publisher as well. I find my name on lists of books people have read.

And I get a fair amount of ridicule. Mostly, because it belongs to a genre, sword and sorcery, that get little respect, even among the fantasy and science fiction folk. Thud and Blunder. You know. So people will pick up things out of context, and make fun of it. That's fine, especially when I see that I'm in good company....many big name authors, who I enjoy, are roasted as well.

An example is a guy getting excited, (in a very snarky way), to have found a "cross between Conan and Star Wars!"

Well, not really. I actually had the title Star Axe before I ever heard of Star Wars.

But, it's O.K. It makes me much more sympathetic to other artists, actually. I think people can say pretty mean things about artists, and it never occurs to them that the artist might hear it.

Strangely, after this much time has passed, I have a pretty nuanced view of my books. First of all, I think the author's voice is very different from the author himself. If you come in my store and say you read my blog, I'll immediately say, "I'm so much cooler online," just to forestall expectations and possible disappointment.

And I've learned, too, just from my own reactions, but also from what I get from others, that people who know you.....probably won't like what you wrote. Whereas, a complete stranger just might. I won't go into all the explanations as to why I think that is.

Fortunately, early on I ran into enough people who had read my book before they met me, who genuinely seemed to like my books, a couple of them really, really liked my books! The majority don't say anything at all, and I take that to mean their mommy taught them right.

Still, I know that I was beginner, I poured my heart and soul into them, but what did I really know about writing? It is what it is. I still think that a 14 year old in England, who has read Conan and LOTR's and see's those great Ramos covers and buys the book, might really enjoy it.

There never were any real reviews of my books. I ran across just one a year or so ago that gave me a 2 stars out of 5 review. But since he gave a Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin a 1 star, I kind of laughed. The Song of Fire and Ice cycle by Martin is the best fantasy written since Lord of the Ring's, and as far as I'm concerned, Martin is the American Tolkien.

Last night, I came across two reviews on Amazon. One, by a guy named Blue Tyson, who seems to review every book in sight, was less than complementary:

A Two Star review, out of Five Stars.

"Pretty ordinary sword and sorcery style novel, with, you guessed it, a Star Axe.

Not much of a story or character to be found here."

Hurts me to the core. But the other review was pretty cool:

A Four Star review, out of Five Stars.

"A small gem of fantasy, November 24, 2005
By dissimulo
While this book is not ambitious or unique, it is a tight, engaging fantasy story. I'm surprised it has never been reprinted and that there are no other reviews here.

Star Axe is a coming-of-age, sword-in-the-stone, epic-fight-vs-good-and-evil sort of fantasy. It is a similar style of writing to what you would find in Sterling Lanier's books, such as Hiero's Journey and Menace Under Marswood. It is a fun and easy read, but memorable. Not a fantasy great, but well worth picking up."

Another interesting thing that's happened is that my books are being put online; by three or four sites. Not sure why. They don't seem to be making money off them. Seems like a lot of work. Since my publisher hasn't paid me anything in 25 years, what do I care? It's kind of flattering to know that my books will be floating around in bits on the internet...well, forever.

I've thought it interesting that my books seem to be more interesting to people 25 years later than they were when they came out. That there are myriads of sites selling the books -- and after all, they are only getting older and more historic. So they are still going to be around after I'm gone, I guess. And it shows, there really is no substituting for having a real, live national publisher, otherwise how could my books have made their way to places like Finland and Norway and New Zealand?

Anyway, this all preamble to this.

I finally found the last name of the artist who did the covers to my first two books. I loved the art on these books, and felt very, very lucky. In fact, if my books have sold at all over the years, it probably has more to do with Ramos's covers than my writing. They were 'sword and sorcery' in appearance, while I thought of my books as 'heroic fantasy' which isn't quite the same thing, but I couldn't very well make demands.

The artist's name is Ramos Kukalis, and it appears he's had a successful career since doing my covers. I was able to find his homepage and e-mail him.

The following messages have been exchanged so far....:

"I don't know if you'll remember this, but my name is Duncan McGeary. We never communicated. I suspect we were both near the beginnings of our career, and my career of writing pretty much ended when I got married and started a business in 1984. Star Axe was my first book, Snowcastles was my second. I suppose this is a forlorn hope, but you wouldn't happen to have the original art, anymore? Or know who has it?

I've owned a bookstore here in Bend, Oregon for the last 28 years, specializing in S.F. and comics, but carrying pretty much anything else, as well.

I was delighted with your artwork; amazed really. I certainly liked them better than what Lundgren did to the third book, Icetowers....

I know it's been a long time, but maybe you have the artwork squirreled away in an attic or something.

Let me know.


Duncan McGeary

(If you want to know what I've been up to, I have a blog: The Best Minimum Wage Job a Middle Aged Guy Ever Had.)

Hope to hear from you, and glad that you're still doing your art. Good for you.

To Which he answered:Dear Duncan,

Well, memories came flooding back with your email this morning. "Star Axe" was one of my first major book covers and is one of my all-time favorite paintings. Whenever I give a talk or presentation, "Star Axe" is always the first image I show. It does indeed go back, and I have only the vaguest idea where I might have put it. I will look over the next few days through my "archives" (my wife has a less attractive name for it) and hope I can find it for you. If I find "Snowcastles", would you be interested in that as well?

By the way, my wife is a syndicated cartoonist ("PreTeena"), and has written a new graphic novel series called "Goofyfoot Gurl". The first four volumes are out, and she just completed V and VI. You might run across them in your capacity as a bookstore owner.

Thanks for getting in touch, and I'll do my best to locate the painting(s) for you.

Best wishes,

To which I answered:

Brings back the nostalgia, doesn't it?

Yes, I'd be interested in buying either painting, though I admit Star Axe is my favorite. Funny thing, I actually had to have someone point out to me that there was a ghostly head in the painting. too cool. Had a friend do a parady of the painting, with a frog, called Frog Axe. :>

Yes, I just heard about Goofyfoot Gurl reading some blogs yesterday. Has a Christian theme? I will definately order them for my store, thank you.

I am very very interested in getting the original art. Please let me know.

The name of my store is, Pegasus Books of Bend.


This is all very exciting to me. I'll let you know what happens.
Return of the Jedi (old Bendites).

Who would've expected hard-hitting investigative journalism pieces in both issues of Bend Business Review? The first, by Allan Bruckner about Juniper Ridge, the second about Mt. Bachelor, by Kevin Max. The rest of the articles aren't unnecessarily sugar-coated, either.

For instance, the beginning paragraph on the news item about Independent Bookstores:

"Defying the national trend of independent bookstores dying like flies, Central Oregon has indies springing up like weeds." Kind of puts it all in perspective, don't you think?

There's a look at the water resources problems, and bless them, there's even an article on local real estate that is fairly realistic.

The rest is pretty much fluff, but interesting fluff. Fluff about people and stores that actually seem to have actual substance. Not completely deluded. If Bend newcomers were all like the people profiled in these articles, I wouldn't be as worried. (Instead, this is the cream....)

Very impressive.

Especially for a magazine that depends so much on advertising from the same types of businesses that they are critical of. Bend Living, especially, needs a kind of rich, yuppie advertising. Still....when you think about it, it's kind of like the old rich looking down on the new rich. The Jedi vs. the Sith. (We're just Ewoks, I suppose.) They are the Establishment, the Man if you will, looking down in dismay at all these hustlers and scam artists.

What's interesting to me is how they invoke the sainted 'Bill Healy's dream for Mt. Bachelor.'

Make no mistake, this is old Bend speaking. Bilbobuster has a thing for Hollern, well here's some more targets for him. Kiki Cutter, publisher, is old Bend to the max, a successful Olympic skier. Allan Bruckner is a former mayor. Half the people quoted, Benji Gilchrist, Kathy DeGree, etc. are old Bend.

It's pretty clear they're not completely happy with what's happened to old Bend. Ambivalent at best. And they seem to be targeting thinking readers (rich and influential readers?) who aren't going to accept nothing but fluff.

It appears that the Jedi, like Obi-wan, were just laying low.

So interesting.
I absolutely understand the temptation of opening a store in a small town. There is always the hope that you will be some kind of town center for whatever you sell, a place for like-minded people. And especially that you will have the field to yourself.

Unfortunately, it actually usually works the opposite. Small towns more often than not have even more competition, not less; possibly because the barriers to entry are a bit lower. It only takes one person to open a store; it takes a whole lot of customer to keep it going.

Anyway, I'm not immune to the temptation. There is a new building on the east side of Hwy. 97 just as you reach the outskirts of Redmond, just below the 'old' Walmart. Kinda of a new retro looking building. (Frank's Landing?)

How much fun it would be to put a rocketship on the side the building, call the place, Rocketship Books, carry a bunch of future retro toys and steam punk and designer toys and -- oh, just everything I don't have room for in my store.

If that same building with the same visibility and size was in Bend, I'd be so, so tempted.

But... alas. I already have all I can handle.

So I can still get excited by the prospect by new enterprise. A clean slate. A chance to apply everything I know. I still get a charge out of creating something new, of fighting off disaster, or nurturing a new business. To me, babysitting a business is nowhere near as fun as creating a business.

But what happens when you realize you are 55 years old? I mean, maybe I should just sit back and enjoy.

But, I stopped using the word 'old' a few years ago, because I found myself using it too much, and not enough people demurring. It still pains me to get the 'senior discount' at the theater. I still throw away the ARRP mailers.

I've always looked for business opportunities, I've always enjoyed seeing if I can make something work. If I could clone myself, I'd probably have half a dozen businesses going; I've no shortage of ideas or inspiration.

To me, to say, this is it, this is all you're going to do, just because you're 55 years old feels like laying down and dying.

And yet, and yet. I need to be realistic. I need to 'grow up' at some point. I can't go charging off starting new businesses just because I feel like it.

To hell with that, yes I can.

Retirement has no appeal to me. I still like having something to do every day. Linda, on the other hand, wouldn't mind. I'm hoping that we'll find a middle ground as easily as when we bought a house.

Beforehand, we seemed to have completely different ideas about what house we wanted. I wanted an older, stand alone house, she wanted a newer, necessarily sub-division, low upkeep house. I wanted a big lot so I could garden, she wanted a minimum of three rooms for bedroom and offices for each of us.

Turned out to be no problem at all, we found a 1986 house in an older subdivision with big lots, new enough not to require maintenance. Perfect compromise.

I'm such a unsocial, solitary person (by choice, I think?), that I need that daily stimulus of work. For me, isolation breeds isolation.

So, she'll probably retire, I suspect, and I'll keep working. And I'll probably still have half-baked business ideas in play when I keel over.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Another one of those arguments has erupted online between the retailers and publishers: Who sells more 'art' comics and graphic novels, comic book stores or mainstream bookstores?

As usual, the publishers seem to blame the comic retailers for not selling enough of their material, and assert that mainstream bookstores do a better job. Comic retailers feel hurt because we aren't getting respect. Publishers are angry because their material doesn't sell in the average comic shop. To hell with the Comic Book Guy! Bookstores are the answer!

O.K. I'll believe them. If nothing else, they would seem to have no reason to antagonize an entire segment of the market. So it must be true.

I carry lots of art comics.

Way more than I should. I make it work only with great difficulty. I like the challenge, but can understand why less experienced owners might be holding back.

Because, well, while I agree that a good comic store should carry more than just superhero comics, and in fact, carry all kinds of books from mainstream fiction to kid's books, to comics, to art books, I also have to admit that the independent comics just don't sell all that great.

There are always a few exceptions, and it wouldn't be all that hard for the 'comic book guy' kinds of stores to carry Fun Home, Maus, The Arrival, Blankets, and so on. But once that top list is covered, the rest are more problematic.

One comment really caught my eye. Fantagraphics, publisher of Eightball and Acme Novelty Library among other great titles, was saying that at any one month, perhaps only 25% of the stores are ordering their product.

Well, there are months when I fall into that camp. At the same time, I have an inventory of hundreds of their books in stock.

What is says, sadly, is that the Fantagraphics I have in stock haven't sold yet, so I'm a little leery of buying more mid-list product from them. The new Love and Rockets, but of course, but titles I'm not familiar with and haven't been asked for? I'll usually try one or two per month, and they just add to the other books on the Fantagraphics shelf. For me, it works best to wait and see which titles gain traction with the critics, and eventually with the customers.

I have a several thousand independent graphic novels, minimum, that turn over less than once a year, or never sell at all. So blaming comic shops for not carrying their material seems a little backward.

I want to make it clear. I promote this material. I dedicate as large a section to this material as I do to all the mainstream comics, I probably give them more faceout space, I eagerly show people. any one time, among my 100 or so regular shelves, I'll have maybe one customer who actively buys independent comics to any depth.

I have a tourist clientele, so can carry product I wouldn't ordinarily sell. I have a high tolerance for low turnover rates and I believe in the long tail theory of retail. I think independent comics add a certain class to the store, and I suspect I sell more regular type stuff because some customers insist that a store have a wide variety (even if they don't buy the odder stuff.)

I like the material. And I was canny enough to buy them on a steady basis, adding each month, until I have an admirable selection. I think the stores that don't carry this stuff are missing a bet -- if they are willing to do the long haul, and to look for bargains at every opportunity. (Bargains are often to be had with independent titles....wonder why.)

And yet, I can understand why some stores aren't willing to make that commitment. I understand that the 'art' comics sell poorly for them. Even as I think they are short-sighted not to try. But the argument is anything but clear cut. More like 60/40 in favor.

So...while I understand why comic books stores don't carry independent comics, but think they're wrong, I also understand why the publishers are frustrated, but think they're wrong to blame us, also.

I'm not sure what the answer is. If it's true that only a few comic stores actually support the independent comics, then subverting them, mocking them, seems kind of counter-productive. I believe that only a few of these independent publishers would survive strictly in the mainstream bookstore market.

They still need us Comic Book Guys.

***This is the most muddled blog entry I've ever made, but it just reflects the ambivelence I feel toward the whole subject. Kind of pissed at the publishers for being so disdainful, when I try so hard. And exasperated with my compatriots for not also trying hard.***
After seeing Spiderwick, -- (fun movie: "I love that we go see so many kids movies." "Yeah, why should the kids have all the fun?") -- Linda and I went bookstore a-visting.

We checked out Between the Covers first. Great building. When I talk about the 'funk', that's what I'm talking about. The inventory nicely matches the building. A great concept. Clerk (young lady) was well aware of Pegasus and had shopped there. I hope the location isn't too far off the beaten track. Bought a Bend Business Review.

Then we drove the Redmond, hoping the two new bookstores there would be open. Paulina Springs was right in the heart of downtown Sixth. Couldn't get out of the car for five minutes because of all the traffic. Huge store, guessing about 3000 sq. ft. or more, very corporate looking and feeling. My inner cash register kept ca-chinging up the costs of the bookshelves; looked to be about 100 shelves in the 300.00 to 500.00 variety; so 30k to 50k in fixtures alone. Which blows my mind. Clerk (young lady) had never heard of Pegasus or the Bookmark, though a Redmond resident. We left without buying (it being so corporate feeling, Linda said she didn't feel the need to buy anything.)

We got directions to Shelf Life, but drove by it twice before finding it. Also on Sixth, a few blocks north on the west side of the road. Nice building. But we've driven down Sixth half a dozen times in the last weeks, and never seen the store.

The sign is a small one, a couple of feet in diameter, mixed in with about 5 other signs; and so understated and tasteful as to disappear. No signs in the windows. Nothing to indicate Bookstore(!) to the bibliophiles. Was closed. Looked in, and it appeared gorgeous. Big and tasteful and nicely designed. Again, a big, big store.

Both these stores are bigger than any of the Bend stores. I assume they came in without knowing about the other store. In any case, I think they made a big mistake going into Redmond instead of Bend. I say this as a owner who had a Redmond store and at the same time, two Bend (Pegasus) stores. The Bend stores always did much better, and I used to just see the Redmond people shopping in them. There is always a temptation to move to a smaller town and try to 'corner' the market; whereas,I believe you're much better off trying to get a portion of a much bigger market; especially if you do a good job and get more than your share

The bigger the population base the better, I always say. Imagine one of those really nice bookstores with nice signage in one of the strip malls on Hwy. 20, on your way to Barnes and Nobles. Suspect they would get lots of visits.

But what do I know?

Total overkill for Redmond, though. I firmly believe Redmond people bop onto Hwy. 97, drive the 15 minutes to Bend, to do most of their shopping. I'll admit, the town has doubled in size since we had a presence there, but I suspect the psychology hasn't changed much.

The other thing that strikes me is the sheer investment exhibited in those two stores. I think I can pretty safely say that they are both have more money invested than I do after 20 years of trying: certainly, in fixtures, they blow me away. Inventory, too, isn't cheap. My business is scaled to what I think --no, what I know -- I can do, within the 1000 sq. ft. of my space. I'm not certain that getting twice as big or three times as big would result in significantly higher sales. I suspect they would, but not enough to gamble and give it a try. Especially not in trying times.

So investing 75k to 100k in a new bookstore in Redmond is mind-boggling. Even if they succeed in getting into the black in the first few years, there is that initial investment to pay off, and I'd have to assume that money was borrowed. It's a tough hill to climb, especially when you have a glass ceiling -- 20k people, who have been trained to shop in Bend.

Whereas in Bend, you have 75k people,(160k in the metro area) and all the outlying areas who have been trained to shop in Bend, plus hordes of tourists, to draw upon. Hell, I complain about the glass ceiling of Bend. How would my store have done after 20 years in Portland? How many more people might have found us? I do know that similiarly stocked and experienced stores in bigger cities do up to 5 to 10 times the business I do, and it ain't because they are (just) 'better' stores.

Maybe it's just one of those counter-intuitive things you have to experience to understand. I remember thinking that having a second store in Bend was a strange choice, but from day one it did twice, thrice, quatro what the Redmond store did. It was far enough away that it didn't seem to impact on the downtown store. The only reason I gave the store up was because Linda wanted to move on, and because I could see the the Mountain View Mall was a Dead Mall.

So, if either of you two Redmond bookstore owners are listening. Get out of your lease, pack up and move to Bend! Not both of you, mind you. Just the smart one.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"Too Big for Our Britches."

"Supply and demand imbalance."

"Close to saturation."

"Some will move here with half-formed dreams of economic success, then fail and move away."

Nice phrasing.

I'm not a redneck, I don't think, but I admit to being a reverse snob.

Eat the Rich!

I cringe when I read about a 'personal chef' who's going to New York for vacation, and who has lived in Bend for all of six months, (and specifically mentions she buys on trips and online, but no worries, she drives to Redmond to buy beef jerky!) Somehow, I doubt she's a working stiff.

I've got to be careful here, because half my possible readers probably drive SUV's and live in McMansions, but, really, I hope if I ever have enough money, I'll be more socially responsible than worrying about if I have the right 'brand' of kichenware.

I'm always torn by this; I understand nice, quality things. Maybe it's the tone of seeming smugness I read. Our town really does seem to be turning into a town of have's and have's nots. Linda and I probably trend somewhere in the middle. Strictly middlebrow.

Much of the disdain for Californian's we see in these blogs come from the sheer ostentatiousness of it all.

I feel for Dianne down my block at Kitchen Complements. I've always felt our two stores are similar in scale and experience. I think it is a real working store, run by a woman who lives off of it. I'm trying to imagine how I'd feel if a 6400 sq. ft. store selling what I sell opened in the Old Mill.

Dianne uses the words "I just see the dollar being cut that much more." Rudy at Newport Market says, "I think we're getting close to saturation."

Close to saturation. No kidding. I mean, this is really throw up your hands in exasperation time.

Hell, the rent (and fees) alone of this new store in the Old Mill have got to be over 15,000 a month! (Break-even to pay rent at 50% margins, 30,000 in sales for rent alone.) That is an insane number unless you are a major chain, and can subsidise it. My guess, this is a major chain in the making wannabe with a huge amount of money borrowed or invested.

I think we've definately gotten too big for our britches. I mean, come on people!
Cry uncle! Enough, already.

We are so out of scale here, that I don't think anyone can see it anymore.

I'm trying to envision a future in Bend where there will be enough business for all these stores. And no matter how I do the math, I come up short, by a minimum of half. We've reached a crazy level, folks. And -- though I never comment on restaurants because I don't know their economics -- I'm going to venture a guess they are out of control also.

Looking at the two beautiful new bookstores in Redmond. Nice looking stores. And at least one too many of them. Same thing in Bend. Three nice stores, and probably at least one too many.

I know, for instance, that we couldn't even support one sport card shop. One game store. One anime store. We seem to be able, barely, to support one comic shop, two used bookstores, etc. The dynamics in the area's I know something about haven't changed all that much -- sure there are more people, but they are buying from the big boys apparently, because none of the existing stores are getting rich.

What all the surge in population has done in my store is make it more likely that people will stumble into my store -- so, what, maybe 15% of my sales can be attributed to people I don't know, up from say, 10% a few years ago?

It just doesn't compute.

I wish someone would calculate the square footage of retail in Bend, because I think it would be an eye-opening number.

Turning to the in-migration article in the Bulletin, I'd like to quote the owner of the local Atlas agent City Moving and Storage Co. "We had some things going last year, but jeez, there's nothing going on this year," Perry said, calling this year the worst winter he's seen in the local moving business since the early 1980's."

Which if you were around in the early '80's is really saying something. It's a bit of refreshing honesty from someone affected by the housing slowdown who doesn't need to mince words.

"You could almost go to sleep and not miss anything, so it's bad. Whether it comes back or not is anybody's guess."

Meanwhile, I was talking to a local developer on Friday who had been in the local office and said that only 3 housing permits and 3 commercial permits were being currently processed. That, my friends, is a number that is hard to believe. "Are you sure?" I queried. He just nodded. "Yep."

And again, of all the big boys out there, only Brooks Resources seems to be willing to give us a reasonable estimate. (As I pointed out late last year, I think Brooks was well ahead of the competition in getting their house in order, so to speak.)

"...home prices may have to work their way back roughly to 2003 levels before the market regains some semblance of supply-and-demand balance." "That would bring median home prices in Bend back to the mid-$200,000 range." If I'm not mistaken, that is a one/third drop. This is an actual builder, talking.

So much for Best Time to Buy in 20 Years.

Supply-and-demand balance.

That's what I'm talking about! There's been an imbalance in the housing market.

What scares the crap out of me, is that the commercial imbalance is even crazier. We are a high desert town, isolated, no interstate, no real four year college, no major industry, dependent on building. Yeah, that should really work out well for us in a major downturn....

"Meanwhile, Nancy Lynch who's owned local United Van Lines since 1981, said she expects the migration patterns to continue,even if they happen in reduced numbers."..."Some will move here with half-formed dreams of economic success, then fail and move away."

Some will move here with half-formed dreams of economic success, then fail and move away.

These are delicious quotes. An absolute feast of reality checking observations. I love it.

"...the ones who have either brought jobs or money with them -- or both -- have the best luck sticking." Yes, Bend is very good at sticking it to them. Bring your money and your jobs and your 'half-formed dreams of economic success.' Otherwise, we're doomed.

The Bulletin still cushions the bad news between feel-good starting and ending paragraphs, but the blog fodder is there for anyone actually reading the meat of the articles.

And it's only February.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I suppose much of this new comfort level with economic realities comes from the removal of uncertainty. It's no longer of matter of trying to guess when (or if) there is going to be a drop off, but more a matter of managing it.

The stress of trying to not cut off growth too soon, or taking the risk of growing too much or too fast. I figured if I reached a level of sales 20% higher before cutting off growth, then I'd have that much more of a cushion. But if I guessed wrong by too much, I would be extended out too far. It was a close call.

All I knew was that there was a housing bubble. Followed by a commercial bubble. That's all I knew. So I guessed there would be slowdown through late 2006 (when I started blogging) and on through the spring, and then -- I guessed -- the psychology would change to the negative sometime around late 2007 or early 2008.

I was six months too optimistic.

I didn't see the credit crisis coming. I didn't know what the mechanism for the housing pop would be. Frankly, it could've been any number of things, and the credit crisis would have been the result, so I don't suppose it matters. A bubble is a bubble. They are bound to burst.

I probably pushed the store six months too long, but as I said, I can't really regret adding games and new books and all the other new product. Gambit Games, Anime Mt. and American Sports all went out of business last year: how could I not try to take advantage of that? And at the same time, my own observations of what I hope is the real world has been validated. When I first started talking about the housing bubble to customers 4 years ago, everyone looked at me as if I was crazy.

Frankly, people still haven't figured out that the commercial bubble is worse for Bend, and so much more dangerous. (See below....) That uncertainty is still out there, but the die is cast, and I'm making changes, so it's just a matter of degree.

The following is today's SLATE article on the retail bubble:

moneybox: Commentary about business and finance.
America Has Too Many Stores

Should anything be done about it?
By Daniel Gross
Posted Saturday, Feb. 16, 2008, at 7:12 AM ET
A shopping mallA shopping mall in Illinois

The carnage in retail hasn't been this bad since an anarchist bombed Chicago's Haymarket Square in 1886. In January, Liz Claiborne said it would shutter 54 Sigrid Olsen stores by mid-2008. Ann Taylor announced that 117 of its 921 stores would be closed over the next three years, and Talbots axed the Talbots Mens and Talbots Kids concepts and 22 Talbots stores. (Those muffled screams you hear are Connecticut preppies trying to suppress their rage.) Even Starbucks has scaled back its yearslong saturation-bombing campaign.

Blame that exhausted marathon run­ner, the American consumer. Fueled by cheap credit instead of PowerGel, she looked great at mile 16, but bonked at mile 23 and is now crawling to the finish line. Retail sales fell in December, putting the cap on a miserable Christmas season. Last week, the government reported that retail sales rose 3.9 percent between January 2007 and January 2008. But account for in­flation and sales of gasoline, and retail sales fell in real terms in the past year. Clearly, demand is down.

And supply is up. This decade's build­ing frenzy produced a bumper crop of new retail space—from McStrip malls built near new McMansions to hip new bou­tiques in the ground floors of hip new Mi­ami condo buildings. But the occupants for new retail space haven't ma­terialized. In the fourth quarter of 2007, the national retail-vacancy rate rose for the 11th straight quarter to 7.5 percent, the highest level since 1996, according to research firm Reis Inc. With new projects coming online—34 million square feet of retail space will be completed in 2008—the rate is expected to climb further to 8 percent. In the parlance of the trade, many chains are simply over-stored.

Developers opening new malls this year clearly timed the economic cycle poorly. And the cultural cycle isn't helping matters any. The extreme consumption of this current gilded age has inspired a backlash. In December, hedge-fund bil­lionaire Ray Dalio ran full-page advertise­ments in newspapers urging Americans to eschew Christmas gifts and instead make donations to charity. Maybe he's just run out of things to buy. Or maybe he's surfing the zeitgeist. "There's a glut of stores," says Judith Levine, author of Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. "Our physical, intellectual and emotional and psychological space is filled up with consumption." Levine laments the wholesale transformation of open spaces into enclosed retail environments (like, say, Barnes & Noble superstores, where you can buy Not Buying It). And the in­cessant bombardment of advertising may be inspiring a backlash that pushes people to consume less. The anti-con­sumer freegan movement—urbanites who try to get by through recycling, scrounging, and foraging—are taking it to the extreme. These modern Henry David Thoreaus have opted out of the whole rot­ten capitalist system. Working 60 hours per week and chasing job promotion "for the sake of buying the latest crap off the Sharper Image store shelf is no way to live," says Adam Weissman, spokesman for (Hey, dude, one might say the same about diving into Dumpsters in search of day-old bread and discarded futons.)

The cultural anti-retail moment will likely pass. Thoreau lasted only 26 months in his cabin by Walden Pond. The eleva­tion of frugality into a virtue seems likely to last about as long as modern recessions do—about eight months. Still, retailers should be worrying about a real long-term threat: the Internet. The 1990s-vintage boast that e-tailers would destroy brick-and-mortar retailers all but disappeared after the NASDAQ went bust in 2001. But e-com­merce has quietly been growing at a rate far higher than that of the overall econo­my. For the last four years, online retail sales have grown at an annual rate of more than 20 percent. In 2007, such sales, ex­cluding travel, rose 21 percent to $175 bil­lion, accounting for 7 percent of total retail sales. "Online retail is growing a heck of a lot faster than the rest of the pie," says Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester Research. Last year, online sales accounted for 45 percent of computer hardware, soft­ware, and peripheral sales; 19 percent of toys and videogames; and 19 percent of baby products. In the coming years, retailers, who are integrating online sales into their business models, simply won't need the same amount of acreage. The upshot: Demand for retail space is likely to grow at a pace far slower than that of the overall economy.

For 2008, Reis projects there will be 159 million square feet vacant—that's 5.5 square miles, or roughly six times the size of Monaco. But landlords shouldn't lose faith just yet. While vacancy rates are high in some depressed markets—15 percent in Syracuse, N.Y.—there's no imminent danger of America's malls turning into ghost towns. The minute the credit crunch breaks, consumers will surely hit the malls with a vengeance. Americans have always excelled at adaptive reuse. Judith Levine suggests that superannuated Sears and Kmarts could be turned into municipal swimming pools or community buildings. Some empty strip malls could be repurposed into warehouses for online retailers. I'll bet a few rogue freegans are already planning to monetize all the junk their colleagues collect by opening secondhand stores.
I can't tell you how familiar, almost comfortable, this slowdown feels to me. It's like finding an old, worn coat and an old, comfortable pair of shoes in the closet. It makes me realize that, for most of my 28 years in business, this has been to normal, fall back position. Bear with me as I try to explain, because it will probably sound contradictory.

My first eight years saw tremendous growth -- which put a huge burden on my cash flow. I was always short of money, always short of product. Sales were exploding, almost doubling, but I was nearly always in debt to my ears. Having no reserves, no credit.

Then, it came crashing down, with a short uptick, and then crashing down again. Over the next 8 years or so, I survived on a series of fads, each of which were cashflow management problems, and I learned how to make the most of every dollar.

Finally, around 2000, things started to stabilize at a very low level, and I was able to build my business slowly and steadily, again watching every dollar. It was almost as if I was starting over, this time with a better beginning inventory and tons more experience, and even a bit of credit. Finally, over the last 4 years or so, I've had the backup cash and credit to really do the job right.

You'd think I'd make money when sales are good, but I always seem to find a reason to expand my selection.

I've often thought, the same syndrome that has kept me in the 'minimum wage' level of income is what has kept me in business.

At any rate, it's ironic that I often actually do better when sales are bad, because I'm watching my budget so much more. I'm not as tempted to try to add to my inventory, or to add new product lines. I'm not as tempted to dump all my profits into inventory.

Last January, I had a choice of maintaining my level of inventory and attempting to make a profit, but chose instead to add games and new books. Reduced competition was the spur, but I'd always wanted that as part of my product mix.

It pretty much nixed any chance I'd be able to turn a cash profit for another year. And we all know what happened in August. But I'm not all that sorry about it, because the extra product lines seem to have put me over the top as far as being stable. The revenue coming in covers the overhead comfortably.

The sales dropoff I've seen is almost exactly split, in my reckoning; about a third due to my not adding new product lines, a third due to a natural slowdown in the product lines I carry, and a third due to the economic slowdown. I could probably override any one of these alone, turn a small profit with any two of these, but with all three looking to get worse before they get better, my focus is just going to be on watching every dollar. If it turns into a profit, so much the better.

Still, I'm back to the strict budget maintenance, and if feels very, very comfortable to me. I think my personality thrives on crisis management -- so much so, that I probably put myself in that position. Fear of success? Don't know. Loving the underdog role? Possibly. It's something I'm constantly fighting.

I've managed not to do anything too stupid, lately. The risk of opening Linda's bookstore, the Bookmark, proved to be a great gamble, and I dodged a bullet by not opening a second store myself.

Once I let go of my disappointment in not making a big profit this years, it's on to the challenge of weathering the storm.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Snork. Snork.

The Broken Top Borealis 'home' is great. (See Bend Economy Bulletin Board.)

I especially love that it's situated on Snoot Wine Ave.

That's kind of how I feel after reading Cascade Arts, Cascade Discovery, Cascade Business News. Snoot Wine. Makes me feel a little insecure; all these sophisticates. All the skinny blond ladies, and artistically groomed gentlemen.

Reading the biographies, my joke of everyone living here for 5 minutes longer than the other guy, seems to be borne out. Makes sense, they would be lassoed into the 'local' art scene. Snoot Wine.

Funny thing is, even though most of the news stories are more or less press clippings, there is actually quite a bit of information contained.

I don't actually have any hard feelings toward the Cascade publications. They are what they are. There is something almost pure in the sheer promotional desperation of it.

I mean, if I feel a Snoot Wine effect from these pubs, I'm sure that Bend Living would send me into exile. I'd have to become even more of a hermit than I am.

Some of the art portrayed is rather nice. And yet, you know I'm exposed to art everyday in my store, and I think many of the current illustrators are so talented that local art can seem...predictable.

It's great that there is an art scene. The prices are way, way out of my range. I think, frankly, if I had an urge to collect art....well, I'd see what I could do myself.

I'm artistic. Really.
Answer cloudy. Ask again.

I have a feeling we're about to get an absolute blizzard of fluffy statistics in the next few months. Stats which can be interpreted any which way, such as leading an article with the figure that Oregon is 49 out of 50 in foreclosures, but burying the fact that, even so, it's the worst in 10 years.

So a lot of fuzzy stats are going to be flying around, just in time for the crucial spring selling period. And I do mean crucial. I think maybe the sellers are so anxious, they've already started. We have a friend in Redmond who showed her house 4 times last week.

In my store, I've learned that whatever is currently happening to me is most likely happening to everyone else, won't really get confirmation of that for at least 6 to 8 months down the road.

It's almost going to be a waste of time to listen to the local news over the next 6 to 8 months. We won't know until the dust settles.

It's a very effective strategy. I can't believe how unaware the average person is about the economy. They have a general idea, but almost always exceptionalize themselves. I keep going back to the day sports cards fell off the table for my store, circa 1991. For most of the industry, it seemed as though nothing had happened. There seemed to be very little awareness of the dangers, even among insiders. But rot was eating at the core. Finally, the 1994 baseball strike came along and was a convenient whipping boy.

But even then, I don't think I had an actual customer comment on the drop off for another 3 or 4 years after that!


People are aware in general, but totally unaware in specifics, especially how it concerns themselves.

Anyway, it's not like I'm going to wait for a government economist to tell me if my sales are going up or down. It appears that my guess is as good, no better, than theirs....

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I have to admit, it's a pretty interesting statistic that Oregon is "49th in the nation is serious delinquencies -- mortgages with payments 90 days of more behind -- in the third quarter of 2007."

I'm assuming these are percentages of delinquencies, not raw numbers, because Wyoming is number 50, and Wyoming, if I'm not mistaken, is just about the lowest population state out there.

Still, as always, I have to far.

Even in the meat of the article, one of the credit councilors mentions we're about a year behind the rest of the country. And, oh by the way, we have the highest rate we've had in 10 years.

Which means, in a sense, that we're 49th in a very bad situation. I'm not sure being 49th in line in a firing squad is anything to be too sanguine about.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

According to the news today, retail sales rose .3% instead of dropping .3%.

One, that seems an awfully small number. Again, it would seem like the margin of error could make either number suspect.

Two, retail apparently including things like tractors and soda pop, not sure they have much to do with me.

My sales have been pretty consistently down about the same percent for the last three months, which means, as far as my planning goes, that it's no fluke. My wife's store sales are staying almost exactly even with last year for the last three months, which considering her constant and steady growth, is pretty much the same thing.

My sales have dropped to the point where it can still be absorbed without damage, and I figure, with the spring 'optimism' is likely to stay right about where it is. Summer business will without doubt pick up from where it currently is, (though the percentage from last year will be probably down) so that should give us a boost.

Fall? Probably it will drop again, but that enough time for me to keep making adjustments.

Like I said the other day, there is still money in the account after all the bills are paid, and I've never managed that before in a slowdown.

After hesitating, I even did my double mortgage payment as usual.

I'm so much more cheerful about this slowdown than ever before. I'm not sure if it's totally because I'm more economically secure, or because I've been through it so many times, that I've learned to accept it.

I remember the first few times it happened, I got very upset and even angry. Very vocal. Not helpful. But I took it almost personally, which is pretty silly. I remember even having a casual customer say to me, "If you are going to get upset about these things, you're in the wrong business."

He was right....but he was also wrong. ANY business I might be in could get me upset, instead of lowering sales, it might be my boss, or co-workers, whatever. Secondly, I have to believe that it was same passion that caused my emotional reaction that kept me going, that made me keep working at it.

Nevertheless, taking it in stride is much more preferable.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Describing Crooked River Bob's trick makes it sound cooler than it was. It was pretty lame ass. But he was a genial old guy, and a fixture of my teenage T.V. viewing. He and buzz cut Tom Peterson, hawking furniture from Portland, knocking on the inside of the T.V. screen yelling, "WAKE UP! WAKE UP!"

Spent many a night past my bedtime with Tom and Bob as constant bombardment. Before there was Turner Classic Movies, there were the old classics on late night telly.

If I remember rightly, Crooked River Ranch was a slow starter. Pretty much stalled for most of '60's and '70's.

Meanwhile, I remember distinctly the conversations we would have between Bend and Redmond. It was a half hour drive back then, on a two lane black top. We'd do a lot of passing, because the traffic was pretty light. Redmond was more of a separate town back then, our high school rival, they'd come and rearrange the letters on Pilot Butte before the big homecoming game. We thought of them as hicks, because you know the Bendites of 11,000 population were so much more sophisticated. But Redmond had a drive-in theater, so it was good place to take a date.

Anyway, we always thought the side of the highway from Bend to Redmond would be full of businesses for the whole 18 miles, sometime around, gasp, the turn of the century! (Because that was a million years away....)

Probably would've happened, too, without the Oregon Land Use laws.

Driving into the high desert just seems to bring back these memories. We took a little detour to Lone Pine, yesterday, but ran out of daylight before we got there and headed back to the highway. Amazing though how many pockets of the old isolated ranch life are still hovering just over the horizon.
Here's a real test for a native Central Oregonian. Remember Crooked River Bob? Old guy hawking real estate at Crooked River, would roll his cowboy hat down his arm and catch it with his hand?

Here's another question? Did you know that Christmas Valley was marketed like the Florida swamplands, complete with 'fake' lake and greenery?

When I was growing up, my Dad used to grumble every time we'd drive by Crooked River Ranch cutoff, mumbling about it being a new Christmas Valley.

Well, yesterday, for the first time in my 55 years in C.O., I actually drove to Crooked River. See, I have had absolutely no reason to go there. My wife has some church friends who live there, so she's seen it.

"Mostly manufactured homes, right? Mobile homes?"

"Oh, no," Linda says. "They're stick built."

Well, yeah, it looked about 50/50 to me, maybe more mobile than otherwise. It was a real hodgepodge, I thought. LaPine on the High Desert. Some gorgeous views, some nice houses mixed in along the canyon. People apparently bought their acres and built just about any old thing. We peeked into an old abandoned hippie hut, gave me the willies. Saw actual A-Frames. Admittedly bleak time of year; tried to imagine summer dust instead of winter mud.

Linda would have a house facing the canyon, I the mountains, proving again just how incompatible we are...:)....; there were a few places like it looked like you could have both.

Lots of security fences, which I pointed out to Linda mentioning they must have a lot of crime. She mentioned the more likely possibility of wildlife; in fact, there was a family of deer right on the edge of the road. Probably cats and dogs are just coyote bait out there.

Interesting experience. Had a bit of a 'vacation' feel. Wonder what Brooks Resources could have done with property like that: but this was being hawked in the '60's and '70's, if I remember right, when anyone with a few thousand bucks down payment was probably welcomed.

But it really is a destination, not a pass through. Understand why residents often comment to me that they're "moving closer to town."

Also visited Yarrow and the Madras prison. Well, they are certainly prepared for a population explosion if it ever comes.

And finally, visited the Super-Wal-mart in Redmond. Didn't buy anything, mind you. Only the second time I've been in a Wal-mart.

Yeah, it big. It be really big. The sound was cushioned pretty well, for such a barn. And lots of people on a Monday night. To get the sense of a crowd in a space that big means there were even more people than one would think. All I can think of is the Crash song:
"I'm all lost in a supermarket....I can never shop happily....I'm all lost in a supermarket....guaranteed personality!"

Monday, February 11, 2008

Exposure to all these blogs brings me to sites that I would never have found on my own. The Trading for the Masses' daily 'Good to Go' pile is especially fruitful.

Many of these 'experts' are professional Bears. They rarely change their tune, just as there are professional Bulls who rarely change their tune. In both cases, they're likely to be right eventually, especially if they make enough predictions that they can pick and choose the correct ones. (In 1999, I 'predicted' a housing collapse in the next 5 years....etc.)

Ironically, the more predictions they make, the more they can cherry pick. And if they are vague enough, the wrong predictions can be glossed over.

Because no one, not the public, not the blogs, and not the news media ever really checks up on them. Ho, hum. Old news. On to the next exciting disaster.

Politicians live by this.

So I remember articles detailing the imminent collapse of Western Culture because of:

The Savings and Loan Debacle.

The Population Bomb.


Environmental disaster.

Global warming.

The Nasdaq collapse.

The Housing Bubble.

Credit Cards.

And so on.

Not that some of these aren't happening, but things like Global Warming are so slow that they can be denied, or glossed over. My kids may not have the luxury.

Anyway, in each of these cases, the effects on my own business were minimal. That is to say, non-existent.

The economy has a way of just rolling along. So the professional Bears can say, "Oh, the problems are just being compounded and the cost will be even higher!" And the professional Bulls can say, "See, nothing dire happened. Go back into your hole."

So, you're frozen in place, because you just don't know what is going to happen. Macro us just too big to predict, too much chaos. Micro, such as the Housing Bubble, that's easy. The world economy? Impossible.

So, while sales are down, my business is actually healthier than it's ever been. It's weird, but at the end of buying everything the store needs, I still have money in my budget. That's NEVER happened, in all these years, even during boom times. (Possibly, because during boom times, I was buying material just to keep up.)

Of course, I positioned myself to actually MAKE profits this year, so maybe it isn't a big triumph to easily pay my bills. Still, I'm feeling kind of smug, with a huge dose of trepidation instilled by the professional Bear Blogs. They make so damned much sense to me.

And yet, and yet.....
My writing mentor, Dwight Newton, was on the front page of the Bulletin. Good for him; the more I tried writing novels, the more I realized how much he achieved.

I took several writing classes from him up at C.O.C.C. in the '70's. He taught the nuts and bolts. Very real and down to earth and yet helpful. I think he was always bemused that my books got published; in the same classes with me were Arlene Rife and Patti Dunaway, who also had novels published. The Bulletin made it sound like his novels are easy to find, but I think they're mostly out of print. I do wish I could find his Central Oregon historically based novels, under the name Dwight Bennett.

When I was growing up, the U.S.S.R. looked as eternal as,well, the Berlin Wall. I remember thinking that a nuclear war could very well happen in my lifetime. I thought the Protestants and Catholics would be killing each off in Ireland forever. Vietnam was our mortal enemy.

Lord of the Rings was too complicated and difficult for special effects to ever be made. Computers filled rooms. (I've always thought it would be fun if you had an extra room to line the walls with computer looking stuff, like the Colossus Project. Have your little desktop in the middle of the room, but be surrounded by blinking lights and whirling tapes. Don a white labcoat, and say, "I'm going to a computer room, honey!" That's the future I expected.)

I thought we'd probably colonize the moon and Mars. France was dubious of us, and we were dubious of France. Well, that hasn't changed. Arabs and the Israelies actually looked close the making peace. Ha.

I thought no woman would ever put up with me for long. I never expected to be a businessman, or to read comics, though I did expect to continue to read S.F. (Mysteries are more my steady diet now.)

I guess I thought a woman or an black President was possible...sometime late in my life, by some sort of fluke.

Interesting times.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


I'm putting aside a #1 Thor comic (2007 version) as a prize to whatever anonymouse picks the bottom in housing prices. It ought to be still worth cover price, 2.99, by the time this contest is over....

Since it's my contest, I'm picking the moment when the housing price changes on the Bend Economy Bulletin board are 50% up and 50% down.

If that doesn't happen within say 3 years, I pick the December 2010 as the moment I'll pick who I think came closest. Unless it still hasn't hit bottom, in which case we're all doomed.

Assuming, of course, that we're all still around when this contest is over.....

Please pick a nickname.

My pick? December 2009. I get dibs first.