Friday, June 27, 2003

Companies Never Really Die--They Just Migrate to the Web

The recent news that Dicker & Dicker Jewelers, a prominent east-side, family-owned business, is closing occasioned a brief moment of nostalgia in me. That's because I got to know David Dicker a bit when his store was still located in a tiny little shop on Cedar Road (before later upgrading to the tony Eaton Square area along Chagrin Blvd.), next to a now-deceased pizza place (LaRich's, home of the best pepperoni pizza in the universe) where I waitered my way through a good part of college.

He was an engaging yadda-yadda kind of guy, who liked to come next door when business was slow in his place, and he was an interesting conversationalist. At the age of 19 or 20, I tended to warm up to people like Dave who gave every indication of knowing lots more about life than he could ever fit into a 10-hour disquisition. In other words, he had street smarts up the wazoo. And I sucked his brain for whatever insights he had to offer. It proved to be a great supplement to formal education, and in many cases a much better preparation for my life's work.

Anyway, as our conversations grew deeper and we bonded through good talk caught in snatches between our work duties, Dave presented me with an interesting proposition. With the price of gold and silver then at a record high during that time of Carter Administration "malaise" (these commodities always serving as a hedge during periods of inflation, as all you hundreds of readers who are economists well know), he decided he was going to go on something of a midwestern barnstorming expedition. The idea was this: he would travel across various cities and states, rent a small conference room in a hotel, and take out ads in the local paper announcing that a jeweler was buying up old silver and gold jewelry at attractive prices. Then pick up and on to the next city tomorrow. He planned to be gone for weeks at a time, then come back for a few days before heading out again. And would I think about maybe postponing college for a semester and joining him as a well-paid assistant?


He'd just raised the possibility that in a single activity, I might hit a trinity of my sweet spots: non-stop travel to new places, meals paid for, and the chance to get a Ph.D. in street smarts from a master. I had to at least consider that, as difficult as the prospect of putting off college might be. As it turned out, I never had to make that tough call: turns out he wanted me primarily for security, which would call for me to carry a piece!!!!!!!! I'm laughing again as I write this, thinking about the following mental picture: of a 19-year-old me as a gangly (6'-2", 170 lb.), gunslinging Catholic college boy (who couldn't have scared a thief with anything less than an Uzi), traveling the midwest by a big black Lincoln (not unlike the model made famous by the assasination of JFK) with a bearded, wisecracking Jewish middle-aged sharpie, with me constantly scanning the horizon for potential robbers. Why the hell didn't I take him up on it, if for no other reason than to have later gotten a book (and a movie deal) out of it????

Anyway, it turns out that Dicker & Dicker isn't entirely dying. Only the bricks & mortars presence is gone. Dave, who caught the importance of the web early, judging by his pretty snazzy retail site, has morphed into an online auction house. He thus joins fellow Cleveland merchants like Joel Turner, whose family ran a much-beloved bookstore, Under Cover Books in Shaker Hts., near the end of the RTA Van Aken line. Undercover Books was perhaps the first independent bookstore in town to succumb to the twin chain assaults of Borders and Barnes & Nobles march into town, and Joel, who now lives in New York, ended up staying in the book business via the web. I still get occasional tidbits of news about him via our mutual friend, Bill Gunlocke.

Got any more stories like those, of former local bricks & mortars types staying around by leveraging their brand name to the web? Send 'em to me, y'all...


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