Friday, January 19, 2018

You can park within a block

OUR FRIENDS AT Krazy Cakes, located around the corner, posted a Facebook status the other day asking for input about the lack of parking. The businesses there are frustrated because it’s two-hour parking on Hampshire, but many of the employees (specifically at WGEM) seem to park on the street all day and suck up the open spots.

Hmm. Sounds familiar. We, of course, are infamous for our parking wars, and yesterday QPD wrote seven more tickets on Maine between Fifth and Sixth after Sheryl meticulously listed each vehicle, took a photo, and called the cops two hours later. They responded right away and took care of it, and we appreciate it.

There was a healthy debate on the Facebook post about parking, but the one thing that really irks me is when people say they won’t come down here because they can’t find a spot. Really? You aren’t going to support an amazing and small local business like Krazy Cakes because you have to walk a 1/2 a block to get in?

Try going to WalMart or any big box on Broadway, and see how close you can get. The perception is that you are close, while down here our doors are much smaller and you seem further away.

I guarantee 95 percent of the time you’ll get within a block of Second String Music. Ask us about our special valet parking or curb side delivery. And support your small and local businesses, the lifeblood of our local economy and great way of life in Quincy.

We seem to harp on this all the time but we ARE small business. We know how much your business means to all of us trying to serve our community by staying in our small businesses. We truly do appreciate your efforts to get here and shop local.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Family of immigrants

I COME FROM a family of immigrants. My father arrived as a young boy in Canada from the Netherlands. His father, a pastor, had six ok looking boys and a beautiful daughter (my favorite aunt!) and wife, and spoke little English when they set up shop in Ontario. They created a new life with many other Dutch immigrants.

Imagine that. A pastor coming from a shithole country like the Netherlands, not speaking the language, having his kids suck on the Canadian governments teat. And what a wild and unruly bunch of kids they were, not at all successful later in life. They didn’t become lawyers, pastors, inventors, painters, artists, philosophers, family men.

Wait. They did. See? They overcame their shithole roots. Those whacky Dutch.... always being conquered by their neighbors, letting soldiers wear long hair, and skating everywhere on frozen dikes. They must have horrible traffic there because I’m always reading about red lights in Amsterdam.

I was born in Philadelphia, PA, where my father was a seminary student. We moved a year later to Nova Scotia, then Montreal, then London, Ontario. My two brothers and sisters were born in Canada. My mother was a U.S. citizen.

In 1980, we moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. My father got a job with the Christian Reformed Church. The church helped with the move, and my father got me Canadian citizenship before we left. My adopted brother, Greg, had to get a green card, along with my dad, but because my mother was a U.S. citizen, my other siblings were already dual citizens and didn’t need one.

When we crossed the border at Port Huron, U.S. officials stopped us and told my father we couldn’t bring in our dented and ancient Dodge Dart because it didn’t have a catalytic converter. They told him to turn around and sell it in Canada. So my dad paced around, faked a couple of calls to a congressman, and finally said, “Well, you have seven of us here and we are sleeping on the benches until you let us in.”

They let us in and warned him he’d be fined if he didn’t fix the catalytic converter. My dad eventually got a letter stating as such, but our elected officials told him to ignore it. Good thing my sister rolled the stupid car and wrecked it a few years later, right?

I think my siblings are U.S. citizens automatically because my mother was one. At least I hope so. I don’t want them deported back to that shithole country called Canada.

My father eventually became a U.S. citizen. My adopted brother Greg, who died in 2002, never did, and probably never would have, and it wouldn’t have mattered. Unless he was still alive today, in our MAGA society. Is ICE deporting illegals from Canada?

I have dual citizenship. It’s recognized by Canada, but not the U.S. It doesn’t matter, because I have a U.S. passport. When I go to Canada, I just use my passport, not my Canadian papers, because it makes things easier.

Before you jump all over me for being another liberal fake news conspirator, let’s just say you can take the boy out of Holland and West Michigan and the Christian Reformed Church, but you can’t take the Dutch and West Michigan out of the boy. I’m as conservative as they come. I voted for Reagan and Bush. I don’t like people who are lazy and live off the government and bitch and moan, but never vote.

That being said, I’m from a family of immigrants. I’m proud to say so.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Roundabouts are cool

HANNIBAL IS PUTTING a roundabout by the hospital. This is newsworthy for several reasons. One, Hannibal is looking ahead and being progressive and will have a roundabout before we do in Quincy. Two, people will actually have to use their turn signals.

Basically a roundabout replaces the classic four-way intersection. You can only turn right and you must yield to oncoming traffic. Twice a year I travel to Wisconsin and they have roundabouts in Sheboygan and Oshkosh. They are pretty cool and they work, though it takes a bit to get used to.

Roundabouts get rid of traffic signals, a good thing, and they improve traffic flow. They are mostly used in high traffic areas, and they are not pedestrian friendly. Also, bike lanes in roundabouts are cool but would add to the initial confusion.

There are several places roundabouts would work in Quincy, specifically out on East Broadway, State Street anywhere east of 24th Street, and a few other places like John Wood Community College.

But here’s why they may never be approved in Quincy - we are a Rocking Chair community, and as long as you don’t rock back and forth too fast or too slow, things are fine. A roundabout would slow and speed up the rocking chair at the same time. Personally, I like many aspects of our Quincy rocking chairs, but sometimes I want to throw the damn thing away and try to wake people up.

I think a roundabout at Fifth and Maine would be fascinating. We could sit on the sidewalk and watch all the traffic inch around the intersection, and listen to drivers yell at each other, and help people in wheelchairs who get squashed by people in a hurry who don’t see them. Plus, all the motorized bicycles would have a field day dodging traffic.

Wait a second ... that already happens every day at Fifth and Maine. As my niece Erin likes to say, “Neber mind.”

I have no plans to visit Hannibal’s soon to be roundabout, but I applaud the city and the residents for being progressive and applying new ways to deal with traffic. And that’s a roundabout way of saying, “Good for you!”

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Q Fest goes back to original date

Q-FEST, ORIGINALLY known as MidSummer Arts Faire, is going back to the fourth weekend in June. This year it will be June 22-23-24 in Washington Park, and we at Second String Music could not be happier.

Last year it was at the beginning of June. Organizers changed the date, in part, because they thought the weather would be a little cooler. Turned out it was hot and humid as it normally is in Quincy in early June.

Q-Fest is also partnering with Blues In The District, and there will be another street dance party with live bands on Saturday night. Geesh. A stage right in front of our building with killer bands? I think we can live with that!

We are going to encourage the Q-Fest organizers to not close down Maine Street at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon. Last year it stopped our normally busy Friday afternoon traffic in the store. It would be a huge problem for Blues in the District that night too. Hopefully they don't close the streets on Saturday either, though it will take time to setup stages and vendors. We have high hopes.

Hooray for downtown Quincy and again, what a great event and great time of year to have it in Washington Park. It’s gonna be another rocking summer down here!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Looking for music

ONCE AGAIN, I am in search of musical acts for various downtown Quincy events. These include the Concerts In The Plaza, Q Fest and Noon Blues shows in Washington Park. All of them are paid and the PA is provided.

Molly would rock the

I am always looking for newer artists who want a good-paying gig without a ton of pressure. Most of these events are casual and the atmosphere is laid back, and there is no admission charge. These are probably not a good place to play your first gig, but I’ve thrown a few performers into the fire knowing they’d do fine.

Most of these are better for the solo or acoustic duo players. No tracks, please. You have to play, not do karaoke. For the Q Fest event I’ll consider a band if there isn’t too much setup involved, as we do have a good PA system and Garris Brown does an excellent job running it.

You can track me down on Facebook or call Second String Music at 217 223-8008. I’ve already started scheduling acts and the slots will fill up fast.

As always, please support live music, and show your appreciation for the many talented performers we have in our area!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Timing and being swamped

TIMING IS EVERYTHING, of course. Sheryl had to run some errands yesterday morning. Big storm coming, you know. Ice, sleet, snowmaggedon, empty bread and milk shelves, all that stuff.

I had a lesson at 10:30. The young man came in early. So I said, "Let's get started. It hasn't been busy in here in the mornings. We'll be fine."

You know what that means. Two minutes later a guy comes in wanting guitar lessons, info about guitars, pedals, strings, etc. Then a gal comes in and buys a guitar. Then another gal comes in with a Christmas Project guitar (she bought it somewhere, and it doesn't work, and now we are fixing it). Then two more guitar students show up because they want to get their lessons in early due to the pending snowmaggedon. Sheryl gets back and immediately starts putting out fires and consoling poor Angus, who was sitting by the door waiting patiently for her to return.

All part of the deal in a small retail business. I like being busy and running around with my head cut off, actually. And we still had a good lesson. Of course Sheryl had to fix all my screwups when she got back, but she's used to it and doesn't complain too loudly.

So this morning Sheryl has taken our new Jeep to get serviced for a minor issue. Angus is all out of sorts - he is not used to just me being here, and he's sitting by the front door with a confused look on his face, saying, "Where is my mooooommmmmm?"

I'm ready for the rush. Let's sell some guitars, cables, microphones, amps. Let's move some Fender basses, Ibanez electrics, Takamine 12-string acoustics. Let's go!

And .... cue the sound of birds chirping.

It's okay. Angus and I are ready.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

MS Communications saves us $$$$$

DALE STEINKAMP IS known for many things - bus driver for the Quincy band Eleven, father of three beautiful daughters, husband of the amazing Wendy and purveyor of bad jokes about parking in downtown Quincy.

Dale also works for MS Communications. He came into the store a month ago and said he could save us a bit of money on our phone plan, AT&T specifically.

About once a week some shyster, usually from Chicago, comes in and promises us a big pot of gold and the end of the phone, electric, credit card transaction and internet rainbows. I used to listen for a minute or two. Now it’s out the door in under 30 seconds.

Anyway, Sheryl decided to listen to Dale because he’s a good guy and we had nothing to lose. Lo and behold, MS Communications found out that AT&T had been inadvertently overcharging us for years on our landline phone bill.

Today we got notice that our account will be credited with $744.23 due to charges and taxes that were incorrectly billed for the last seven years. That’s a lot of money for a small retail business, or any business.

Word of mouth is crucial in our world. Sheryl and I are beyond grateful to Dale and Nick Steinkamp. We recommend you give them a call or listen when they come in to talk about saving your business money. We don't normally recommend this type of behavior but since it is Dale, it's OK. A "Smart Review" could be very smart.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Newspaper? What’s that?

I ENJOY WORKING a couple of nights a week at The Whig is sports. Mostly I work with the younger college guys who take game results and turn them into stories. I like seeing them improve. I also write a few recaps and once in a while type all the box score stuff in correctly.

Last Saturday night was the busiest night of the year, literally. We had more than 40 games or matches to track down and it was hectic but fun.

One of the college kids was writing a game story when Whig sports writer Matt Schuckman suggested he look up how one of the teams was ranked in the latest state poll. The young guy poked around on his computer for a while and finally said, “How do I find the rankings?”

Matt said, “They were in Thursday’s paper.” So the young man, once he was told where to find the paper, walked over and picked up the sports section.
How it used to be done. Olden days.

“How do you work this thing?” he said.

He literally did not know how to pick up a newspaper and open it up to find the agate page, or the page with the tiny writing and all the standings and schedules. Matt rolled his eyes in disgust and could hardly believe it. I said, “There’s an ‘on button’ on Page 3. Just hit it and it will pop up.’” 

We had a good laugh about, and the young man eventually found what he was looking for. I am willing to bet he has almost never picked up a newspaper - why should he, when it’s all right there on his computer screen or phone? Matt had a hard time believing it - “This is a newspaper,” he said. But newspapers are becoming more and more obsolete, and by the time my run on this earth is done (good Lord willing), they’ll probably become extinct.

To cheer myself up, I’ll try to go see The Post, and also read as many newspapers and watch as much fake news as possible. As soon as I find the on button, that is.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Credit card charges

WE ARE NOT ones to complain about the challenges of owning a small business. We bust our butts to overcome, give our customers the best small music store experience, and most people couldn't care less about the massive property taxes we pay for our old building, or the fees associated with running a small business or becoming a big label guitar dealer.

It's all part of the bigger picture of having a fun retail music store.

But today, we're making the general public aware of credit and debit card processing fees and how big of a burden they can be for a small business. I keep seeing Facebook posts about people who refuse to use cash and then have issues with their cards. And I understand the debit card convenience - I use it myself quite a bit. The problem with cash is that it gets spent. (Always get a receipt!)

Last year at Second String Music, we paid a staggering $4,700 in credit card fees. We are charged a percentage for each total and a .25 cent fee per swipe. Sheryl just did the math this morning and we are both in shock.

It isn't $4,700 in our pocket. That is a Fender amplifier order! Sheryl and I will make deals on instruments, but it's kind of tough to have sales and slash prices when the cost of simply swiping a credit card is so financially burdensome.

So, we are encouraging people to use cash, and our guitar students are always allowed to pay with checks. Our prices have always been internet-friendly and competitive. We are just going to work on keeping credit card fees out of the hands of credit card processors. It can be done!

It just makes you wonder how anybody, especially the small retail store, stays in business. I guess our new years resolutions are to be more mindful of how we pay and how that affects the place we are paying.

Edit: We have the lowest rates possible thru First Data. We don't pay machine fees, charge-back fees, AMEX fees, machine rental fees or anything extra. So it really is a VERY tiny percentage of our overall sales but in total for the year is a very intimidating number. These are the fees that a small business pays when we have gotten into the lowest rate anywhere and own our in store equipment. We also have to file a PCI plan every year to make sure they don't charge us $9.99 a month for a PCI security waiver. Geesh, they do nickel and dime everyone to death.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Curtis Creek ice adventure

Niemann pond Saturday morning - glorious!
MOTHER NATURE GIVETH, and taketh away. The ice was glorious in Q-Town on Saturday - there was a big hockey game out by Twin Oaks, but I didn't get a chance to check it out. I did, however, get to skate on the Niemann horse farm pond, and then go on a grand adventure down Curtis Creek with two of the outdoors-loving Niemann brothers.

Ferd Niemann called me Friday night and said the ice on the farm pond was perfect. He wasn't kidding. It felt great Saturday morning tooling around the ice, but it was probably five years ago since the last time and the rust was still on the wheels, er skates.

Geesh. Ten years ago I was chasing around the young guys on that pond and I felt like I could sort of keep up. Not any more. Half an hour of churning around and that was it - I may be older, but at least now I listen when my back and legs say, "Hey Hoser - STOP."

Drew and Paul get ready for a grand Curtis Creek skate.
Paul Niemann was at the farm and invited me back in the afternoon to skate on Curtis Creek. We were joined by his brother, Drew, and it was one of the coolest things I've done in Quincy.

We started by the Curved Creek bridge on 24th Street and headed west. The creek slowly winds north, and it passes by all houses south of Cherry Lane. There were long stretches of good ice, but the day-long sun softened a lot of the ice and our blades would sink an inch or two into the crust. Fortunately there were no major thin spots and the ice was solid most of the way.

Making the trek tricky were stretches of exposed rock, where the creek dried up. Drew and Paul said the lack of rain the past few summers has sent the creek level down, so we had to be careful picking our way through a few areas. It kind of reminds you of a lunar landscape, and while it was easy to admire the views, we had to be careful with each stride to not hit a rock or break through the ice where we could see running water.

Drew and I got to about 13th Street and we could see the old Richmiller house and where 12th Street goes south of Cherry Lane. This was about 45 minutes into the adventure, and by then Paul was way ahead of us - he ended up in South Park picking up icicles from the waterfall.

So we turned around and leisurely headed back. The world in white is a beautiful thing and the air was still, and we actually got warmed up and felt great. Paul, of course, caught back up to us by the time we got back to the farm.

The horses greeted us as we strolled back up the hill to the barn and the pond. I briefly thought about taking another spin, but again, the spring chicken in me has long gone. Pain pills (used in moderation) have helped, and it will only take me a week to recover. GUH.

Thank you, Niemann family, for letting this poor Canadian once again relive his childhood and feel the cold air in his face, and hear his dull skate blades try to dig into the ice. I'm sad we didn't get a chance to play hockey Sunday - the icy rain screwed those plans up, and it was one of the rare days where the car stayed in the garage and we went nowhere - even the dogs had to do with walks around the block.

Now we are hitting 50 degrees and the ice will be gone. Maybe we'll get another cold snap, but probably not. Still, I'll keep the skates handy and you never know if we'll get another chance to zip around the ice.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Trusting employees

SHERYL AND I are fortunate to have Steve Rees as a part-time employee at Second String Music. In addition to playing every instrument known to man, Steve can fix almost everything with strings, and he’s a little bit twisted with his humor. That means he fits right in around here.

Steve only works a few hours a week. Sometimes I wish we could hire more employees and get away from the store more. I get to disappear on Macker adventures a few times a year, but Sheryl is pretty much here every day and all day, except Sundays.

Steve's Christmas card from 2 years ago. Goof.
Having Steve means having a tiny bit of freedom. If we do need to bail for a few days, he can cover the store. And it’s great to have an employee you can trust - he restrings and works on my own personal guitars. When we get a particularly challenging project to work on, Steve tackles it with gusto and doesn’t get discouraged, and he’ll go the extra step to get the job done right. Steve also tells me the ice by his house on the Quincy bay is pretty good right now, so I’m inviting myself over this weekend to try it out.

We trust Steve, and he trusts I won’t trip and break my neck on the ice. I think.

You are only as good as your reputation in a small business. Second String Music is our life, who we are. You can’t have just anybody help out, even if it’s for a few hours a week. We have trust and faith in Steve, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Ask any of the other small businesses in downtown Quincy, and they will tell you the same thing - good help is a blessing, and you can’t survive without it.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Back on the ice

IT HAS BEEN a few years since I’ve been ice skating. The winters in Quincy are hit and miss and the window for clean ice is small. The last few winters it hasn’t gotten cold enough at all to form decent ice.

Now it’s been really cold and there are opportunities. This weekend, if I can find my skates, and if they aren’t too dull, I’ll try to get out.

There were some guys on the south end of town who had epic pickup games on a large pond. Not sure if they are still around. South Park usually has good ice, and there are hidden stretches of Curtis Creek perfect for skating.

Our friend and Second String Music legend Steve Rees lives on the Quincy Bay and sent me a picture the other day of the ice. Apparently it’s in really good shape. A look at this weekend’s forecast shows tomorrow and Saturday would be good days. Then it’s supposed to ice up and rain Sunday. Ugh...

With a start I’ve just realized the last time I really had a good skate was about 8 years ago. Back then I looked forward to lacing up the skates and zipping around the pond, feeling the cold wind in my face and reliving my younger years.

Now I’m hoping I can get around a lap or two without having a heart attack or falling flat on my out of shape carcass. If I fall through the ice I will at least die happy.

Either way, I’m bound and determined to get back on the blades. If it’s gonna be cold, embrace it!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Recycle the right way

WE GO THROUGH a lot of cardboard here at Second String Music. So do you. All that stuff you ordered from Amazon doesn’t arrive via the transporter beam. It comes in cardboard, and we need to do better to recycle.

This is a huge issue after Christmas. In Quincy, we are fortunate to have recycle pickup. It’s been brutally cold and the Central Services crews picking up the recycling and the trash the past few days have my respect.

One of the ways we can help is to recycle the right way. Make sure all those cardboard boxes are empty of packing materials. I’m guilty of this as I make recycle runs to Sixth and State several times a week. I vow to do better. Here’s a good story about why it’s important.

The fact Quincy Recycle is less than a mile from our business is a good thing. Yet you often take your life into your hands going in and out of there. It’s in a residential neighborhood, the entrance and exit isn’t that big, and the huge semi trucks often clog traffic on a busy Sixth Street. However, the owners have put a ton of money into the facility and it’s something we need in town, so I’m willing to deal with the First World problems.

Recycle your stuff, Q-Town. Get rid of the throw-away mentality and do what’s right (and stop with all the online shopping, please). We are only here for a short time, and it would be a good idea to leave our planet in better shape than we arrived.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Star Wars recap

SHERYL AND I celebrated the new year by passing out two hours before the ball dropped, spending most of Monday on our respective couches, and going to the new Star Wars movie. Here's a recap of the film, and there are more spoilers than that 6-month-old jug of milk buried in the back of your fridge, so read on at your own risk if you are one of two people in this country who hasn't seen it yet.

The theater was pretty empty and really loud. It's run by AMC, which stands for Audibly Mashing Crashing, because the volume shook the seats. Fortunately, the 20 minutes of previews got our ears used to the deafening sound. I don't remember a single preview and won't go watch a single one of the movies, but hey, my ears got used to the blaring sound so it was worth it.

The Last Jedi starts with an intense battle scene. The rebels try to bomb the bad guys. They destroy a really big gun (cleverly called "A Really Big Gun") but a lot of the good guys die. Princess Leia gets mad at the flyboy who led the raid. Then she gets knocked unconscious for about 45 minutes, which in movie time is three days. Or six hours, until the rebel fleet runs out of gas.

Meanwhile, Rey is visiting Luke Skywalker, who is living on a big rock island in rock huts (also known as a far away place in the galaxy called "Ireland"). Chewbacca is shamed into not eating cute creatures called Cute Creatures. Kylo Ren eventually turns on Supreme Leader Snoke, who was last seen as one of the aliens in Close Encounters of a Third Kind and did not age well. Then Kylo turns into a good guy, but quickly back into a bad guy, which means the World Wrestling Federation is recruiting him for the main event at this year's WrestleMania.

Finn tries to find a way to get onto the bad guy's ships. He goes gambling. He gets blown up a lot, but gets saved by his new friend .... his new friend .... crap. I forget her name. There's a lot of characters here, you know.

In the end, Luke Skywalker holograms his way into buying more time for his rebel friends. Then, predictably, he dies or does he? Not like the last movie, where everybody dies, but still, it's a sad time and now who is going to take care of his big rock home? The really cute creatures?

Also, the Heineken beer guy turns on Finn and gets away with a huge shipment of beer from the First Order, or the Empire, or whatever the bad guys are called now.

At the end of a movie, we are introduced to a little boy who is wearing a Spider Man code encryption ring, which means he has The Force. Right.

I like the movie. I'm a big Star Wars fan. I'm still upset Han Solo was killed several movies ago, but I'll get over it. And now Carrie Fisher is dead, so there is no way Princess Leia will be around for next year's movie. Right? "Nobody really dies in Star Wars," Sheryl said. That's true, because Yoda makes an appearance in this movie, too.

Then again, where was Lando Calrissian?

There's a lot of stuff to keep track of, and it's a long movie, but it was entertaining and I highly recommend you go see it. Again. And Again. Hey, over Christmas the original movies were on and I got sucked into watching them.

By this time next year, I'll be ready for the next Star Wars movie.