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Wednesday Walk: HoJo in Limbo
The unclear fate on an historic Howard Johnson's, the challenge of used sunglasses, improving mushroom delivery, and new carpenter music
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As is typical every Wednesday, I’m bring you a smattering of topics that I hope will make you a bit more curious about the world around you and give you something to think about later. I call these Wednesday Walks, as it’s the type of conversation we might have walking down a path in the woods. Shall we take a stroll?
No Mo HoJo
Massachusetts Route 2 is a major East-West thoroughfare, connecting the Berkshires to Boston via historic towns like Concord and Lexington. It’s been a major artery for decades and is still heavily trafficked.
Howard Johnson’s selected a site in Concord right at a large bend in Route 2 to build one of their restaurants in the late 1930s. The chain itself had been founded just a decade or so earlier, beginning life as an ice cream stand in Quincy, MA in 1925. The late 1930s saw a rapid expansion of Howard Johnson’s throughout New England and eventually the whole country.
The Concord location was expanded in 1964, when an adjacent motel was added. I’ve written about this location several times and even toured it in a video for paying members. (I’ve also written about another Route 2 HoJo in Williamstown, MA).
Howard Johnson’s closed their restaurant in Concord in the early 2000s and the establishment was remodeled and reopened as Papa Razzi, an Italian restaurant. It had great ambiance, good food, and a cool history as one of the original Howard Johnson’s locations when they were still building locations that looked more like colonial homes than midcentury modern eateries.
I’ve been passing Papa Razzi lately and noticing weeds overgrowing the lot and not a ton of activity. The sign is still up and there didn’t appear to be any kind of note on the door, but after weeks of not trimming the grass, it seemed like something was up.
Somehow I had missed the news that Newport Restaurant Group, the owners of Papa Razzi, opted not to renew their lease on the Concord location and moved out at the end of July.
The restaurant is now completely emptied- not a single table or chair appears to have been left behind. There’s no word as to its fate yet, but I hope it can be occupied by another restaurant soon.
This comes just a few months after Best Western, which operated the former HoJo motel next door to Papa Razzi, took their inventory offline and began renting the facility to the state of Massachusetts to serve as transitional housing for homeless people, with a special focus on young mothers.
I love the history of this plot of land and hope that the architectural story of both the HoJo restaurant and motel can be preserved regardless of who ends up moving in. Who knows- maybe the next occupant will opt to bring the orange roof back?!
#NoNewClothes- Week 49
It’s hard to believe that in less than a month, I will have completed my No New Clothes challenge! (Although, if we’re getting technical, I have purchased two used tops (a vintage Sears sweater and a used Patagonia flannel) and one new shirt (although it was from the clearance rack at an outlet mall). But I’ve been close.)
This whole challenge was inspired by a newsletter I wrote about Amory Sivertson, who did a similar challenge last year.
Lately, my mind has been on my need for new sunglasses and how to fit them within my new lifestyle. I’ve never been a big spender when it comes to sunglasses- most of my childhood was spent buying whatever Ohio closeout retailer Marc’s was selling for $1.99.
My most recent pair of sunglasses is a pair of Kirkland Signature aviators from Costco that cost $30, a splurge when I bought them more than a year ago. I wear them everywhere, especially when driving (the polarized lenses make it much easier for me to see). I was wearing them in the backyard recently when doing some yard work, when they fell and got a little trampled. They seem to be beyond repair.
Like many things at Costco, the sunglasses selection is purely seasonal, arriving in late spring and disappearing by mid-summer (at least at my local store), so I don’t even have the option to replace my damaged glasses with a similar new pair.
I’ve been trying to be more considerate of good design lately, spending extra money upfront for something more durable and maybe even repairable. I considered maybe buying a pair of Ray-Bans, although looking at new prices for them ($171+) was an instant turn off. As a guy who spent much of his life buying $1.99 sunglasses from a discount store, I had a hard time imagining spending nearly 100 times that cost for new shades.
But I’ve also been more conscious about buying used lately and if Ray-Bans are as durable as folks say, I should be able to pick up a used pair that still has plenty of life.
Here’s one of the problems with buying used though. While seemingly every mall (and even every Macy’s) has a Sunglass Hut, there’s not really a “Used” Sunglasses Hut. I could try my luck at thrift stores and hope they have a pair that works for me, but there’s no guarantee whether they’ll have three dozen pairs or no pairs of sunglasses were I to make the trip.
I decided to check a few online retailers. eBay has a few unique options, including a pair from the 1992 Olympics with the Olympic ring logo on the side (which has since been sold). The ones that I consider a good value, like these funky aviators, are in rough shape. The nicer ones start at $50, which is still a lot for me, the guy who thinks sunglasses should be $1.99.
Whether checking eBay, Etsy, or my local Craigslist, there’s also the reality that Ray-Bans are often known for being easy for counterfeiters to replicate. Is the person selling 3 pairs for $30 total (or $10 each) on Craigslist just doing some housekeeping and trying to sell off their unwanted items, or are these bogus knockoffs?
Is it possible that the counterfeit sunglasses on the market are actually from the same factory as the authentic ones, perhaps “falling off a truck” somewhere in the process? Or could the counterfeits be authentic too, like how Trader Joe’s store brand products are just repackaged versions of name brand foods?
For me, all of this points to the need to have a more robust second hand market where the authenticity of certain products can be checked and guaranteed and a deal can still be had. The idea that retailers should stock both new and used versions of their products was novel when Sandra Goldmark mentioned it on a recent episode of my podcast, but the more that I think about it, the more sense it makes.
The clerks at a specialty retailer know their product and should be able to tell an authentic item from a fake. As a consumer, it makes more sense to be able to go to one store to see options rather than visit a bunch of thrift stores on the hope that I might get lucky that day.
I’m not quite ready to pull the trigger on any new/used shades yet, although the next time I have an early morning drive somewhere and the sun is in my eyes, I may be more eager to resolve this.
Community Supported Agriculture+
For those who listened to last week’s podcast episode with Beth Hoffman, the economic challenges of farming might be top of mind. Beth and I discussed the expenses involved in growing food including land and equipment, plus the reality that most farms operate more like a slot machine, where they may appear on top in some years, but those earnings can quickly plummet in a bad year and any sense of being “ahead” is more mirage than reality.
As consumers, if we want local farms to thrive and be a part of our community, we should support them and buy their products. But there are times, especially when a farm is hit by tragedy or is in expansion mode, where the earnings off crops are not sufficient.
I’ve shared a number of farm fund raisers in this newsletter, and this latest one is another worthwhile effort. It’s for Fat Moon Farm, a mushroom grower here in Eastern Massachusetts which specializes in rare and hard to ship varieties that are not typically on grocery store shelves: oyster, miatake, comb’s tooth, and lion’s mane, to name a few.
If Fat Moon sounds familiar, it’s because I featured the farm’s founder Elizabeth Almeida on the podcast last year. On the show, Elizabeth had shared her original intention to start a traditional vegetable CSA but was unable to find affordable farm land in Massachusetts. She pivoted to growing mushrooms indoors despite not being a big fan of eating them herself in the early days.
Elizabeth built her business by building community. Her mushrooms are now available at dozens of stores, farm stands, and restaurants in our area, she operates her own mushroom CSA, and even offers mushroom hikes where she helps identify local varieties of mushrooms that grow naturally in our woods.
Elizabeth has been using her personal minivan as Fat Moon’s delivery vehicle for years now (her Instagram posts about the Tetris game involved in loading and unloading it always give me a chuckle). For the next chapter of Fat Moon’s growth, Elizabeth is looking to raise $20,000 by the end of October to purchase a refrigerated delivery vehicle.
Her fundraiser is live on Patronicity and includes some nice rewards for the various levels of contribution. If you’re able to make a contribution to help Elizabeth continue to expand her amazing business, please do so.
If you’re not in Eastern Massachusetts and are interested in trying some of her mushrooms, Elizabeth also ships grow blocks of her mushrooms so you can grow your own at home. We tried this as a homeschool project during the pandemic and ended up doing it a few more times. We even grew mushrooms in our RV last summer!
Elizabeth is an amazing neighbor and her farm makes such a positive contribution to our community. I hope you’ll consider supporting her if you are able.
I wanted to give a quick shout out to Mark Ellison today. He’s the carpenter that I interviewed on the podcast over the summer who spoke about building and renovating for the uber wealthy in New York City.
In that episode, Mark mentioned that he had been in the studio recording an album. Hard to Tame was finally released last week. It’s got a great Americana sound and makes for great wood shop listening! Give it a stream today!
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Other Wednesday Walks
If you’ve missed past issues of this newsletter, they are available to read here.