First Business Trip

There’s something profound in working the graveyard shift. The city that never sleeps has another work force. Subway mechanics with irradescent yellow vests & swinging lights walk the tracks, hookers and dealers invite you over, street vendors cooking up sloppy meats, drunk assholes crowding into cabs hopping from club to club, homeless guys under flattened cardboard boxes. Everyone you know is asleep.

The fifth floor of 215 Lexington had a wrap-around brick balcony. Team members would step through a window for some fresh air - or a smoke, to get it together. Lunch was usually around 3AM. There were a few places in Chinatown that were open. We'd grab a taxi, jet down 3rd Ave to Canal Street & Mott and grab some lo mein and wonton soup.

Today, we call presentations, "slides", but in the 80’s, we were actually making physical slides. After designing an image on the Geni, the file would be saved on an 8” black floppy disk. That disk would then be inserted in an Image-setter (basically a light sealed box) that exposed film to an image on a screen. The film would then be spooled in a dark room or lightproof bag and then sent across the street to Baboo or Duggal (two family-owned film post-production companies that occupied the entire block on 20th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues) for developing.

When the developed film came back up to the office, it was the designer’s task to chop to slide size (8 sprockets), hit with a blast of compressed air, then mount in either plastic or glass (additional $1.00) holders. Slides.... real pieces of film, mounted, stacked in trays or long boxes, packaged, and set for early morning delivery.

The reverse commute home was pretty easy. I was on automatic pilot and would be going against the traffic. Everyone rushing passed me into the city as I headed back on a pretty empty PATH train to Jersey City - just the subway workers, dealers, and hookers all heading home. 

This was my routine for about a year. I was more than ready to do something else.

My mom had met Joe Weishar and his wife at a dinner party, and set up an intro. I recently googled Joe, and, sadly discovered that he passed two years ago. He was dynamic, entrepreneurial, incredibly knowledgeable and well travelled. Joe was a master at weaving merchandising with design and architecture. He understood the effect of color and sight lines, on moving product. How, with a different color ceiling, upgraded racks, asymmetrical aisles, customers would buy more. His results were legendary. Stores would sell the same exact merchandise at a greater clip, due to the enhanced environment aesthetics and retrained sales staff. A new wholistic approach to visual merchandising...of which I had zero knowledge or experience.

Next up for Joe's company, New Vision Studios, was a retail chain in Quebec, Miracle Mart. Miracle Mart resembled a K-Mart. Bright lights, aisles like bowling alleys, sparse racks, not the friendliest of sales staff. It was a family owned business with stores throughout the provence of Quebec.

miracle mart.jpg

I first met Joe Weishar at his studio on East 30th Street. He gave me an overview and fanned out some slides of retail items grouped in categories like, accessories and outer wear, on a light table. He told me that I'd be assisting the Art Director, Tom Granfield, and that the three of us would be heading up to Montreal in June for a six week project. We were to stay at the Marriot on St. Catherine Street and work in the flagship, Miracle Mart on Sherbrooke in the Place Versailles mall. This was a big deal for Joe. I believe he received a per diem, fee and percentage of increased sales. If this pilot program was successful, it would be rolled out to the entire Miracle Mart chain.

Tom Granfield was on the thin side, about 40, and had a studio on East 9th Street, across from the Veselka. I've never met anyone who knew as much about set design and presentation. He knew how to score and fold foam core so it could support a person's weight; he pulled old concert posters from brick walls on St Marks to shape plaster-a-paris backgrounds and masks; i saw him build a scaled down replica of a sanitation truck with foam core without taking a single measurement. He would eventually become my mentor. 

Joe asked me to organize his slides into the categories so he could put together a presentation. I shuffled them around from one side of the light box to the other. I reasoned that belts were worn on the outside, that they should be in outer wear. When Joe returned, his disappointment was palpable. "Belts are accessories", he said, not even looking at me. We were leaving in two days and I didn't have a clue.