If you have your own corporation then you already know that part of the business is storing your record keeping, client folders, critical information, etc… This is required by law in your city, state and also on the federal level.
Having served slightly above 4,500 NYC businesses in 20 years, you can only imagine how much paper was collected in this time. I’ve recently been to the storage facility to empty out last year’s boxes. If you’ve had this experience then you already know that there are memories good and bad. It’s a mental exercise and you never know when an explosion or meltdown will happen.
Here is one story I can remember in crisp detail:
I was the publisher of a magazine called 11211 in Williamsburg. The year was 2001 in the spring, just before 9-11. The magazine wasn’t even in circulation for a full year and we already had 70,000 copies in the hands of as many readers in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The pass-on rate was 3-4 pairs of eyes per copy. The magazine was made on heavy-weight (100lb.) glossy paper which cost considerable bucks for 10,000 copies.
I was feeling pretty good in those days. The magazine was a success and its racy content had people talking. The neighborhood had quite a few great artists. You’ve probably see these sculptures around Manhattan: Boaz Vaadia.
It might’ve been a few minutes after 4:00AM in the morning and I got a call at my loft/magazine office. When someone calls at that hour it usually means something bad happened or worse, that someone had died. I picked up the phone sleepy-eyed and dazed.
“Is this 11211 Magazine?” the caller asked.
“Yes, it is. Can I help you?”
“Yes you can. I want to speak to the owner or publisher …. um ….. Breeook Iversen.”
“Yes. I want to speak with you about the review in your magazine about my business.”
“Okay. What business is that?”
“The Bagel Store on Bedford Avenue.”
I chuckled quietly to myself. I already knew where this conversation was going. He was about to rip me and my mag a tiny little asshole.
“I didn’t like what was written at all and I can sue for slander but I’m a nice guy and wouldn’t do something like that.”
Legally, he couldn’t so I wasn’t worried it at all. We still have freedom of speech and freedom of the press in this country. Okay, I thought to myself: ‘We have yet another new psycho in the neighborhood calling people at 4am to complain about something that is bothering them. Great.’
I said: “Look, Mr. Rossillo, it’s 4am in the morn….”
“I KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS. Can you come to my store right now and we’ll discuss this face to face?”
“Uh, no. Maybe, I can stop by this…”
“I want to advertise in your magazine for an entire year.”
“I’ll be there in an hour.”
“An hour? The address in the magazine says that you are only a block away.”
“Yes it is. I’m going back to sleep. You woke me up.”
“I apologize.” he said. “So, I’ll see you in an hour?”
“Yes. You will.”
I’m not going to lie. The magazine needed the money. I’ve already seen too many business owners completely change their mind in an hour or two. I woke up my hot Columbian, lesbian girlfriend with ass-length jet black hair which adorned her perfect c-cups and told her: “If I’m not back in an hour, call the police. I’m going to that new bagel store on Bedford. He wants to advertise.”
“What? Is that who called? Wait, the place that looks like a fuckin’ Starbucks?” she said.
“I told you that review you wrote was going to piss them off.”
“What, it wasn’t all that bad.” We were both smiling.
She had a similar wicked side as I did and knew I wasn’t totally kidding about being murdered. This man had a clear and distinct Brooklyn accent and he was pissed.
Girls love it when you let them know you’ll do something dangerous to bring home the bacon. They don’t like to risk their amazing child-bearing bodies in the same way men do.
The listing was tiny but prominently displayed right next to the masthead. There were about ten other new businesses listed as well. It was called the “the New New Business Listing.” It was free to anyone opening a business in the ZIP CODE. It was editorial content and Not something you can pay for or buy.
His little listing read:
Yep, no spacing, no punctuation, just a long string of letters. It was a
little mean. I’ll admit this.
The fact of the matter was this: the man had totally missed the marketing mark on the neighborhood and what Williamsburg was all about back in those days. It was all about the “Anti(s)”—Anti-establishment, Anti-corporate, Anti-megabrands, Anti-Manhattan, Anti-pop-culture, etc…
The color of his exterior exterior was Starbucks green. The font “Copperplate” was the same lettering he used on the sign. He also used the circle that Starbucks uses with the lettering inside the circle. You get the picture.
To give you another perspective of Williamsburg | Brooklyn at the time: I don’t think the word “hipster” had even entered the lexicon. We didn’t have them in those days.
The Bagel Store storefront looked like everything Williamsburg would never want to become. He was opened for two weeks already but no one really came in. The majority of the community rejected it. His business was already sinking. There wasn’t even another bagel store competing for at least a mile in diameter of his store.
I was there knocking on his door in half an hour. It was still before 5am. The door was locked. I knocked. I looked and waited. I knocked again. I wasn’t dressed warm enough. It was chilly–a fashion over function mistake. I was getting cold.
Here he comes. ‘Fuck!’ I thought. He was huge. He looked like Mr. Clean.
He was wearing all-white adorned with apron, and forearms like Popeye. He was 30 lbs. overweight but not in a flabby way. He looked muscular. He looked like a convict—a baker convict.
He stared at me all the way from the back and was sizing me up as he walked. It seemed like the walk was a quarter of a city block, from the back all the way to the front, to unlock the door and let me in.
“Mr. Iversen, I presume?“
“Come on in, Scot Rossillo.“
He said this extending his hand. Then, he crunched the knuckles of my hand in his fist. Bakers have hands like this. It definitely hurt. I took it mano y mano.
We’ve all seen the movies where the villain finally catches the good guy and gets all cordial and goes through linguistic puffery and shit. He does this just before explaining in detail how he plans on doing away with said hero in a long, torturous and painful way. This is what it was like all of a sudden. I was nervous.
It was only he and I in this dark and deserted storefront decorated with brand new tables and chairs on this dark and deserted street, barely lit with a hazy sunrise. He locked us in.
“How do you pronounce your first name?”
“Brook,” I said.
“Ahhhh, as in babbling brook?”
“Yes.” I said.
“Have a seat. Would you like to try our bagels? Would you like a coffee?”
I would’ve loved both a coffee and a bagel but all I kept thinking was ‘poison’. It’s poisoned. That, and do I really need the advertising dollars this bad? How had my life path come down to this?
“No, thank you. I already ate.” I lied.
He stopped and peered at me. He knew I was lying. He had one eyebrow raised. We both knew I couldn’t have had time to eat.
Another guy came out from the back carrying a wrapped bagel. Scot met him at the front counter for the hand-off. Scot asked him to pour him a coffee as well.
“Are you sure that you don’t want anything, Mr. Iversen?”
“Yes, I am. Thank you.”
“It’s my pleasure. You see I’ve realized that you get further in life with honey than with lemons. I’m a gentlemen in every aspect of the word.”
He asked about the magazine. He asked about me. He asked how long I lived in the hood. It felt like an hour had passed and it had only been 10 minutes so far. I was on high alert and ready to run nowhere except jump through the glass windows—head or feet first was what was in my mind.
He pulled out a chair from the tiny round, metallic tables that were obviously recently purchased—brand spankin’ new.
“Can I ask you why you wrote such a thing about my bagel place?”
“Well, for one, I didn’t write it.” I was lying again. “And two, what did you expect opening up a Starbucks-like place in Williamsburg? What were you thinking?”
“It was a joke! I was joking. I thought people would get that,” He said.
“Well, the joke isn’t funny At All.” I said this accentuating the ‘at all’ portion of the sentence as though they were their own little sentences.
“I get that now. So what do we do? I have another bagel store in Brooklyn Heights that’s been there for 13 years. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Okay. That’s good to know.” I said.
“Do you design the ads at your magazine?”
“Yes, we do most of them,” I said.
“Can I ask you something?” He paused and studied me to make sure I was paying attention and said: “Do I fucking look corporate to you?”
I didn’t hesitate: “No, you don’t.” And then smiled.
“Okay. What do you think the ad should say?”
“I think the ad should be a picture of you and a headline that reads: DO I FUCKING LOOK CORPORATE TO YOU?“
He stared at me with his shining bald head, sky blue eyes, identical circular earrings in both ears, stood up and began a ruckus laugh. He stopped, looked and laughed again this time, he was buckled over holding on to his chest and belly.
He finally said: “Nooooo. We can’t do that!”
“Yes, we can. This is Williamsburg, the place where anything and everything goes. If you can’t do it here, you can’t do it anywhere.”
“Are you sure?” he said, still chuckling and smiling.
“Okay. Would it have the address and telephone number?” He asked.
“We have a website too.”
“Okay. We can put that in there.”
“Okay. When can I see something?”
“Today. My girlfriend is a photographer and she’ll do a polaroid before she goes to work and scan it there. I’ll design the layout and have it back to you this afternoon.”
“I’m leaving at 3 o’clock today.”
“That means we have 9 hours. You’ll have it today.”
I just then remembered my girlfriend at hone. She’s was prompted to call the police if I wasn’t back in an hour.
“Wait! I have to change and shave for the photo.” he said.
“No. You look very real and no nonsense just the way you are.
The neighborhood is going to love it.”
“Okay. Let’s do this.”
Here it is:
He did a quarter page ad, one full year, in black and white. He wanted to know if he could use the ad in other publications. Yes. He wanted to know if he would own the artwork. Yes. The quarter page ad, full insertion (6 issues) was $1,200 plus $250 for the photography and design, paid in full that day. We both agreed.
She took the photograph and I had the artwork and layout back to him at 2pm. He signed the contract and gave me a check. I got the deposit into the bank that day before they closed.
Strike while the oven is hot.
The ad ran two weeks later. He became a local celebrity overnight, literally. Within a week he was fully operational and profiting handsomely. Customers came by the dozens, complimenting him on the ad, and that they initially thought it was a franchise operation to be avoided.
We did two other ads to make a full campaign:
He had tee-shirts, stickers, magnets and posters made of the ad. He loved me, the magazine, my staff from then on out. My girlfriend and I never had to pay for bagels and coffee but we did have to wait in the line like everybody else. My staff always knew where they could get a free bagel or a hot cup of coffee.
His coffee sucked though. It tasted like petrol. It was cheap stuff and didn’t go with the hand-rolled bagels. Hey, free is free.
We usually left a $10 tip for the boys behind the counter. It was the right thing to do. His employees were all young men who had done some time. They wanted a job and second chance. Scot gave this to them. Scot also insinuated that he did some time too. I knew not to ask.
I wasn’t THAT far off from what I could hear in his voice that morning at 4am.
Williamsburg was relatively dangerous back in those days even by 1970-80s standards. Today it is like a distant planet from a far off galaxy that crash-landed into North Brooklyn.
You may have heard of his latest bagel craze. They look like this:
Here’s what it looks like outside his store:
This is Scot.
I rushed home and had to stop the girlfriend from phoning the police. When I got back she was still fast asleep. The hour was almost up. She would’ve slept right through my assassination!
I woke her. She smiled.
Strike while the oven is hot.
Call and we’ll have some coffee.