I FaceTime’d with my daughter Buck Wheat for an hour yesterday. I wish she had given me notice before she called so I could have run to the bathroom! At 56, it’s not a good idea to video-chat with Buck Wheat if your bladder is full!
Buck is 22-years old now and while she didn’t have a desire to be an independent retailer, we have still been spending a lot of time on lessons of independence. Though I’m grateful to be able to help her out financially while she wraps up senior year at THE Ohio State, she pays her own bills, has her own credit card and (finally!) pays for her own clothes shopping.
And that’s the problem!
After realizing (THREE times) that credit card bills need to be paid, she has become a minimalist! “How many pairs of shoes do I need? And besides, it’s bad for the environment!”
Funny, but I don’t recall that attitude while I was footing the bill!
Lately, I’m spending a lot of time lately thinking about my new career at Benjamin Moore. Each day I’m in Montvale I am meeting new people and learning more about the company I’ve known and studied for my whole life. There’s one other guy here who previously was a dealer so he’s my new best friend!
But as much as I want to dive into the Montvale water and start swimming, I’m resisting the temptation to let it take over my thoughts.
I’ve got another job to do!
My family’s business of 112 years deserves a proper finish and I’m determined to give her one.
I’m writing this on Thursday night. It’s October 10 and on Saturday my stores will spend their last full day owned by a member of the Lipton family.
You’re probably reading this on Monday October 14 and while you do, we’ll be counting my bigger store, signing leases and checks and shaking hands. We already counted my smaller store and agreed on value. It’s a bit tawdry selling memories for money. I remind myself that the money is for the paint and not the history, but I’m not convincing enough.
Twenty-five years before its final inventory count, I stood in this store with Joe Saunders. He was an outstanding paint man who wanted to change his location. I assured him that if he joined me, that we would be together when one of us had grandchildren. And it turns out, we did better than that! His grandson Jacob is three now!
But now it’s all over.
Of the hundreds of employees Tremont Paint has had over the last century, the last five standing are: Kenny Diaz (four-years with Tremont Paint), Joe Saunders (25-years), Carlos Diaz (Kenny’s brother, three-years), Eddie Tapia (who has more nicknames then any man deserves, seven-years) and of course yours truly! When we are done counting and check-signing tonight, we are all going to have a cigar together.
Specially catered for the occasion!
I’m sure I’ll tell some stories. The walls there are filled with them. I grew up in that store! It’s this store that has been front and center in my life.
I watched 9/11 unfold from this store. Every inch of NYC was terrifying that day and that includes a paint store in the Bronx. We lost a dear friend and coworker that day: FDNY Captain Billy McGinn.
Of the approximately 11,500 days that I spent in that store, that day was the worst.
But it was just one day. And so we marched on!
Most of the other days felt far better than that one. At this paint store I found out I was an uncle (twice!), that I wasn’t going to be a father (yet), and had conversations with my father that became the foundation of our lifelong connection.
I also walked in on an employee having sex with a prostitute on my desk!
“It’s not what it looks like!” He actually said that! I was 50 at the time and I didn’t need to do a lot of guessing to figure out what they were up to. I was pretty sure it was exactly what it looked like! We’ve all seen Airplane? The scene where the “autopilot” deflated and needs to be re-inflated?
Don’t bother looking down below, there’s no picture there of that!
And in THIS store, I lived a life surrounded by family and friends.
I’m so grateful for my new opportunity and friends at Benjamin Moore, but as I sit here, that’s not what’s on my mind.
It’s odd to be in the store now. Details that were so important to me: order sizes, delivery times, the schedule, all mean so little now. My attention now is all focused on the customers. We are known in our market for being the Radar O’Reilly (google it if you’re under 40) of the Bronx paint world: there with what you need before you think it. It’s important to me that our customers experience that until we lock the door on Saturday night at five PM: The sign says Tremont Paint, but that’s my name on the door.
Thinking about all I have to do in the next few days it’s possible you’ll have to wait until Thursday morning to hear from me again. Sometimes the words are in there. And sometimes only experience can add them. My next column is not one I can write until the sun drops fully below the horizon on Tremont Paint.
As I spend my time thinking what I’m leaving behind, how many of them I have and what they're worth, I have also been thinking about what's left for me after we count it all; other than the money!
Just my memories!
And I’m looking for just one! One single-thought that when distilled down will become my touchstone for my time as an independent paint dealer.
By now, my family and friends have picked me clean of swag. That’s ok, I’ve enjoyed giving it away! Anyway, my private collection is intact and ready to be moved to my new office at Benjamin Moore.
And the one memory I want is not worldly.
It’s not an old can filled with lead, it's not a Zippo lighter nor a pen. My family gave their all to this business for four generations. Nothing that can be bought or even stamped with the logo of Tremont Paint can ever represent my family’s history.
It’s time; not possession that is the real inventory.
I want one thought, one feeling. One glowing ember to carry inside that connects me to more than just these stores but to the community that these stores represent: The family of independent (primarily paint) retailers that I have shared the last three decades with. The people I will continue to surround myself as I move on to my next challange. The people who surrounded all Lipton’s for the last 112 years. One connection, one “branding” in my head for the experience I have had. One thing, that I share with all the other independent retailers who allowed me to connect with them and share their identity.
I am independent!
And no, I will NOT shut up!