Aug 28, 2006

The Search for What Matters Most

The back room of Guinan’s Store is what a college kid would call a local dive -- a nondescript beer & gin joint short on the fancy decor but long on a tradition of acting as the gathering spot for an extended network of neighborhood characters that, for good or bad, have come to rely on the place as the anchor of their individual social frameworks. In other words, it’s the kind of place that a visitor getting off a train at the Garrison station stop a few steps away might not give a second thought to entering, lest he or she would be walking into a closed circle tribe of longtime regulars that would cast unwelcoming and suspicious glances at any outsider that dared enter through the door.

Wendy Bounds, a Wall Street Journal columnist who was still in the semi-nomadic throes of being chased out of her downtown apartment by bin Laden in the autumn of 2001, nonetheless took that “let’s stop in for just a beer” challenge and ventured into Guinan’s. Ten days later, she found herself moving into this quiet Hudson Valley community located fifty miles north of Manhattan and becoming a regular patron of the bar. She obviously found something completely different from that predicted unwelcoming closed circle.

Ms Bounds, who we met as a panelist at the recent David N Deutsch & Company Saratoga Weekend, chronicles her love affair with this small building and the people within it in a superb book called Little Chapel On the River, now available in paperback. Click the graphic image (below) and proceed to buy this title, then join her in exploring the parallel themes of family, community and friendship, of a sense of place and of the daily struggles of keeping a small business afloat. Finally, exalt as the author “finds her way home” from the 9/11 chaos.

Quite an accomplishment for a small little dive bar next to the train tracks, isn’t it?

When you’re done reading this book, ponder the role that places like Guinan’s play in the quality of life and community fabric equations of a city, town or village. Then realize that these places are rapidly disappearing, being eaten alive by the new masters of the Economy of Scale mantra that are taking their place but failing to fulfill their most valuable contributions to the social network. Sorry, but Applebee’s “Welcome to the Neighborhood” slogan doesn’t quite do it for me. Was it good for you?

Then think about how tax and business policies and the standard economic development programs and incentives ---- which always claim to have as their end goal “an improved quality of life” --- are structured. Then think about who gets, and who doesn't get, the benefits of these tidings. Then draw your conclusion.

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