The Store Buyout Story Part 2

The plane touched down at JFK.

The plan was thus:
1. Get to Jody’s place.
2. Sleep.
3. Check out Hercules’ place and decide if it was the store we were going to buy out.

If so, find a vacant retail space in Manhattan and do something with the products from the store. Not much of plan, but better than nothing. Got to jody’s around 2am and stayed up late talking and scheming. Fell asleep at 7am. Woke up at 4pm. We couldn’t believe it. At 5pm we were on the sidewalk in front of Jody’s place on the Upper West Side. Fiddy said, “We just got here, but already we’re doing a horrible job of making things happen.”
We all agreed.

We went down to Hercules’ place. A small corner store stocked with the usual corner store fare, but with a very high percentage of high quality imported beers. We looked around and took it all in. Jody had lived in the West Village before. Hercules recognized her right away. He recognized her right away. “Judy! How are you?”
“Good, and you?”
“Doing fine, sometimes not so good you know?”
“Nice cat!” we said, “What’s his name?”
He looks like a great cat.”
“Yes, The Sneaky, you know, he’s a wonderful cat.”
We hung about for a few minutes and surveyed the scene inbetween happy conversation with Hercules. Small store. Lots of beer. Really, really nice imported beer.

We walked out into the street. I looked at Jody and said, “It’s absolutely perfect.”
Fiddy said, “Yeah, it’s not going to get much better than that.”
Jody had a stunned look on her face.
“What’s up? I said.
“Did you hear?”
“Hear what?”
“He’s going to lose his lease.”

She turned on her heels and walked back inside alone. A few minutes later she came back out and said, “June 3rd.” We looked at each other and agreed right there on the spot. We we’re going to buy everything in Hercules’ store. It was May 17. We had to move fast. Hercules Fancy Grocery is where it was going to go down. But that was just half of it. What would we do with all off the stuff after we bought it? We had a rough idea to turn it into art. But what kind of art? And where would we put it all together?

The phone rang. It was Hal. We told him about Hercules. “Nice!” he said. We agreed to meet up at The Blind Tiger for a drink and so everyone could meet each other. The idea to rent out a vacant store came up. Gary said, “We should look for a store.” I spun around. Right across the street was a vacant store. ‘Store For Rent’ said the sign. I darted out into traffic and ran towards the sign. There was a phone number. I called it. Straight to message. I left a message.

We fanned out and scoured the West Village in search of vacant retail space. A ten minute search turned some promising leads. It was 6pm. We figured out work for the day was done so we tucked into The Blind Tiger for some frothy suds. Hal showed up. I introduced him to the gang and we filled him in. “This is great. I’m going to scope out the store.” 5 minutes later he walked back in. “It’s perfect.” he said. We raised our glasses. We’d found the perfect store to buyout. All we needed now was a gallery space for the art. It was almost too easy!

The next morning we woke up with a clear goal in mind. Find a vacant retail space to rent for a pop up gallery.

Torrential rains fell as we traipsed around the West Village. Cars sped into standing water up to our ankles. Giant puddles filled the sky.

We met up at the end of the day. “Anything?” Some leads…nothing concrete. Most places are owned by companies that don’t want to rent for a short term to a bunch of soaked pedestrians.

We tried again Wednesday.

And again Thursday.

Three days of rampant pavement pounding. Hundreds of phone calls and emails. Lots of leads, promise a-plenty, but nothing certain. It was pretty cocky to call up property management offices and say, “We’d like to rent your location for free and move in tomorrow.” But that’s what we were doing. We all met up for dinner. What if we never found a retail location? “We could just run it out of Jody’s apartment.”, I said. Fiddy looked up from his meal, “Or a self storage unit. This could just live on the internet.” But we really wanted a street level location that people could walk into. A store. A gallery. Something real. Hal said, “If we can’t find a retail space we should seriously consider finding an art gallery that will show the exhibit. There’s quite a few galleries popping up on the Lower East Side. Could be a good place to look.”

Five people sitting around a table talking about how they were going to convince an art gallery owner to take on our exhibit. An exhibit that was still completely in our imaginations. It was pretty awesome.

I’d told my friend Mat Dore we were going to buy out a store on Friday, and he should come down to be part of it all. He was driving down from Montreal as we ate. I looked around at everyone. “We flew here on one way tickets. We said we’re going to do this. Mat is going to arrive in an hour. We’re all here. It might take weeks to find a space. But we need to just go and buy out a store. Let’s buy the store out tomorrow.

Hal lined up a couple of guys from Boston who could help film the store buyout. They were ready to drive down in the morning. Tomorrow at 10 we’d go down Hercules Fancy Grocery and suss things out.

I’d always imagined to buy out a store on credit. We’d just walk in, take everything out of the store, and then swipe a card. But Hercules only accepted cash. I walked into the TD bank at 86th and Columbus, swiped my credit card, and withdrew $5000 as a cash advance, the maximum daily limit. The next day I went back and did it again. That cash was split up between multiple bags. I had some, so did Mat and Fiddy. Getting mugged with $10,000 cash isn’t the kind of thing I’m into.

On Friday May the 20th my grandpa turned 85 years old. I had $10,000 in a briefcase and was about to buy everything in a corner store.

I’d recently reconnected with a guy named Andrew Kessler. We’d originally met during the filming of a Mastercard commercial in 2006. He was the operator of an interesting pop up bookstore happening in the West Village. A bookstore called Ed’s Martian Book that stocked thousands of copies of the same book. His. Martian Summer. I was a massive fan of the idea. We went over to check his store out. It turned out he was closing up shop, as his temporary lease was up. “My pal Alex and I’ll be renting a U-Haul van and moving out of here in the morning. Do you guys want any of these bookshelves or tables for your new gallery?” Sensing an opportunity, I said, “Hey, we can help you move out, and share the rental. Whaddya say?” He said yes, then as an aside, “If you’re going to do this buyout tomorrow, want me to email the folks at CNN and the New York Times?” I said yes. And hour later Kiran from CNN contacted us. I agreed to give her an exclusive on filming the buyout. “It’s happening tomorrow at 1pm.”

At 10am Mat and I were back at Ed’s Martian book. We helped Andrew and Alex load up boxes of books and bookshelves into the U-haul van. Jody, Hal, Fiddy and the camera crew from Boston assembled in the street just around the corner from Hercules’ store. We figured the move would take an hour or so, but at 12:30 we’d only just crossed the Manhattan Bridge on our way to a storage facility in Brooklyn. Andrew said, “Maybe you guys should hop on the subway and head back over to Hercules’ place.” I weighed the options. We needed the van for our purchased items. “We’ll help you guys. It’ll go super fast with four of us.” By 1:30 we realized we’d underestimated the move. CNN was on the street outside Herc’s Fancy Grocery checking their watch and we were out in Brooklyn lifting literally tons of books into a self-storage locker. I’d just taken out $10,000 in cash advances on my credit card and was ready to purchase everything in a corner store at full retail prices, but it seemed perfectly reasonable to make things completely awkward for everyone in an attempt to save $50 on a U-haul rental. Reason will lead you to some pretty weird places if you let it. What we we thinking? Mat and I ran down into the subway. We arrived at the intersection of Bedford and 7th Ave as the clock struck two. A very relieved Jody, Hal, Fiddy and CNN sighed in relief.

It was an interesting scene. A group of about 10 people milled about on the sidewalk around the corner from HFG, just out of sight. Rain fell. None of us had really slept. We looked pretty rugged. We had a rough plan of how it was going to go down. The U-Haul pulled up 15 minutes later, fancifully parked in a no parking zone. A wall of cameras stared at us. We stared back. There was no turning back now. It was going down. I looked into the camera and said, “This is Store Buyout. We’ve got this briefcase filled with cash.” Fiddy snapped the briefcase open to reveal the stacks of cash.
“We’re going to walk into Hercules Fancy Grocery and buy every single item in the store.”
We closed the briefcase, turned the corner, and walked into the store.

to be continued….

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