My Life at Urban Think! Bookstore– Finis

 

I never really wrote about my Urban Think! Bookstore tenure on this blog. It was a conscious decision– the bookstore had its own website, and a Twitter presence, and a Facebook page, and loyal customers… it didn’t need the extra injection of personality that this blog of mine purports to thrive on.

But today, my last at Urban Think!, brings to the surface a plain truth: as myriad people have told me this week, I and my co-workers were the face of the bookstore just as much as the bookstore defined us.

In my case, that was a truth that shone for nine years.

We opened in November of 2001, while the country was still reeling from the effects of 9/11. I began as assistant manager, and can clearly recall touring the bookstore site that summer when the floors were still dirt, the supporting piers still unpainted concrete. It was almost impossible to think that a working bookstore would be filling the space in a few short months… yet it did. And nothing like it had ever been created. In those early days, Thornton Park was a newly-thriving neighborhood of vernacular cottages and small apartment units; services were few, but visionaries and developers quickly filled in the blanks along Central Boulevard and Summerlin Avenue and Washington Street with businesses which would cater to the people moving in. And our bookstore was one of these pioneers. I remember thinking: I get to work in Thornton Park… and in a bookstore! It was really a dream come true, and something that I’d always wanted to do.

It was wonderful. I helped with and watched the business grow under our special brand of promotion: “guerilla marketing” was something which brought us out of the shop and into the nearby office towers armed with brochures, promotional materials, and a lot of enthusiasm. I made lots of trips up and down elevators, carrying boxes of drink “coozies” emblazoned with our corporate colors; often, I felt like Joan Crawford announcing the opening of a new Pepsi bottling plant as I bumbled my way into corporate Orlando: “Hi, I’m Jim Crescitelli… I work at a new independent bookstore over in Thornton Park.” Sometimes I got blank stares: Thornton Park?  But they soon found out where I was coming from, and some even became customers.

We weathered the vagaries of everything in our nine years: the effects of 9/11; internet competition and the ease of visiting online bookstores; racks of loss-leader bestsellers at local supermarkets; the softening real estate market… etc. Through it all, we did our best, with an eclectic selection of books, offsite book sales at dozens of locations, a separate children’s bookstore, and astounding book fairs at many local schools. Our dedicated owners (the Ustler and Harris families) were brave and dedicated beyond the call of duty to try it all, and everyone involved did his or her best to try and make it all work.

Times had changed. By 2010, my co-worker Linda and I were faced with the fact that our doors would be closing, and these past few weeks we managed to work toward a dignified closure. Today we had our final day. Many of you loyal book buyers called or stopped by to express your regrets but, more importantly, you thanked us for being such a vital part of Thornton Park for so long. And some of you even treated Linda and I to cocktails!

How many people get to experience nine non-stop  years at a fabulous independent bookstore? Not many. The events… the book signings… the parties… it was literary and social magic. We made lots of durable friends, and were instrumental in bringing a high measure of visibility to Thornton Park.

I’d like to thank all my co-workers at Urban Think! and Urban Think! Kids (our children’s bookstore in College Park) by name (I keep lists, so this is easy): Debby (our original manager), Vonnie, Tre, Kirsten, Kristin, Judith, Lisa, Toby, Elizabeth, Adam, Matt, Jenny, Paige, Ginny, Chris, John, Nancy, Katie, Linda, Lizzie, Jordan, Liz, Becky, Patricia, Madie, Megan, William, Kaitlyn, Brendan, Gary (our ace deli manager), Maxx, Madison, Andrew, Betsey and Scott, and Kathleen. To all of you, I thank you for helping make my independent bookstore experience a memorable and loving time in my life.

I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world.

Keep reading… keep discovering new worlds… and keep in touch !

Old Friends, Dear Friends

Today our friend Tyson is coming down for a good, long visit. We’re at the point now where we see him once a year as he wends his way south on the Silver Something Amtrak from Philadelphia  to Florida to visit friends around the state. I feel nice and old-fashioned when I meet him at the Winter Park train station as he hops off the car and we wait for the porter to get his luggage; I almost expect Irene Dunne to step off right behind him, dressed in a black traveling suit, looking around expectantly to see if Cary Grant is waiting for her on the platform.

Then we sometimes walk along Park Avenue, deploring all the expensive chain stores and reminiscing about Cottrell’s, and Winter Park Photo and Art, and Park Books.

I’ve known Tyson since late 1978, having been introduced to him through friends I knew at Plantation Apartments in Maitland. That’s 32 years… can you imagine? Who knows anyone for 32 years? Just old people, right? Funny… I’m only 54 but I feel like I’ve been around for a million years. Local personality Michael Wanzie once referred to Kirk and I, after realizing we all knew one another for about 25 years, as seeing “two old pieces of comfortable furniture.”

I am still in touch with friends from high school and college: Eugene and Jeffrey and Stephen for over 40 years, and Carol for 33. Those are lifetimes!

And it’s amazing how comfortable we are in one another’s presence. When I visit Carol, we sit at opposite ends of her couch and read magazines in silence. And at Eugene’s one morning, I ate my way through an entire coffee cake and he didn’t say a word. Stephen and I share an inordinate love of Manhattans; and Jeffrey takes me right back to the days when we were thirteen-year-old little boys, nattering and shoving and bitching. (Nothing’s changed, though now the pushing is rendered via Facebook.)

Don’t get me wrong– I’m not so blessed, because there are people I am not exactly in touch with, as distance often  makes the heart grow… distant. Maybe some people are meant to be enjoyed in person. I’m not the world’s best phone user– I don’t hear that well anymore, and most of my end of the conversation is peppered with “say again? What? Eh? She had a baby?!? What? She’s divorced? What did you say about a wooden leg?”

I’m looking forward to Tyson’s visit. He knows all the lines from Gone with the Wind, and can recite them with all the proper accents (being Georgia born and bred). He once surprised me at Hallowe’en dressed as Scarlett, a plastic shower curtain doubling as his voluminous hoop skirts.  I remember bringing him a cake for his thirtieth birthday, and his fortieth, but not his fiftieth because he was in Philadelphia by then. He’s still up there, surrounded by Yankees, and charming them all to death.

Old pieces of furniture… and now it’s time to bring out the spray can of Pledge so that we can shine again for another year.

Cymbalta– A Visit to An Italian Village

Bacciagaluppi's "The Disinterested Villagers"

It was time for another trip to Italy, and I decided to visit the little-known village of Cymbalta. Nestled in the high hills of northern Tuscany, Cymbalta is known for the beauty of its dialect, the strength of its walls, and the calmness of its villagers.

There has always been some sort of village on this spot; in the ancient manuscripts, Cymbalta is rendered Cimbalta, but during some dusty century the Cymbaltans decided it was too much trouble to dot the “I” and so the “I” became a “Y.”

It’s the tranquility that intrigues historians: what, exactly, contributes to this happy state of affairs? Nobody really knows. Surrounded as it is by two rivers– the Strunzi runs uphill, the Scoreggia down– perhaps some calming naturally occurring chemical is leached into the water.

In any event, nobody gets excited.

Back in the second century B.C., Cymbalta was the site of a Roman amphitheater, the usual scene of a thousand assumed epic struggles between man and beast. Yet recent excavations and scholarship, however, have revealed that the only beasts featured in the arena were sheep;  human victims were led to their fate every other Saturday, around two-ish in the afternoon, and thousands watched as they gamboled, napped, and crocheted sweaters fashioned from the actual wool of the white beasts. (Sweaters made from the original patterns are available for sale in the gift shop inside the Church of Saint Lunesta; it’s open on occasion. Please call ahead.)

Renaissance times saw a blip in activity as the normally languid Cymbaltans got together and decided to produce some art– possibly, great art might attract visitors who might want to buy all those sweaters that were stacking up. These paintings can be seen in the Local Museum of Cymbaltan Art, open every other Tuesday, one-ish to two-ish.

The painting by Bacciagaluppi at the head of this article shows a scene in Cymbaltan history which depicts how the villagers reacted when their town was about to be overrun by Huns. The Bruttaporca painting below– a Cymbaltan icon– was discovered by my friend Liz Langley, after years of research, to be  known by the title of  So?

 

Paola Bruttaporca's famous "So?"

 And this third image depicts a modern work by Freddo Testiculini entitled The Excitement In Dr. Manzoni’s Waiting Room.

The Waiting Room (surreal abstract interior woman figure blue acrylic painting window) -- Sheila Vaughan
The Cymbaltans are proud of their heritage, but don’t expect the town to be the usual example of a typically bustling Italian village; waits for everything are long, the bus never comes, and staff in all the important hotels and restaurants are usually found at the beach when they should be fetching your order of Clams Casino.  But this is life in Cymbalta, and the people have existed for thousands of years without anything like the word “hurry” in their vocabulary. In fact, there is no future tense in the local dialects, though “Whatever” is always capitalized in print.
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Whatever it is about Cymbalta seems to be working; nowadays, people flock to the hilltop village in droves to avail themselves of the area’s peace and quiet. Comatose as they often appear to be, the Cymbaltans are happy and friendly, and will be happy to show you around, maybe for a few minutes after dinner if they’re in the mood. Tell you what– don’t call them; they’ll call you.

Something in those hills has a wonderful effect on these people; don’t be surprised if somebody bottles it one day !

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The Town’s Flag

Population: Who knows?

Area: Are you kidding?!

National Anthem: Whatever you want to sing; we don’t mind.

Major Export: Sweaters.

Major Imports: Pillows; sleep masks.

“Cymbalta” is a trademark of Lilly USA, LLC