Sep 30, 2013

September 30, 2013: What He Desperately Wanted to Hear, Dismissing Legitimacy, Exile on Main Street


From September 1986 to August 1995 I served first as Account Executive then later with the passing of old “Mac” as sales manager and station manager at WION as his widow worked to sell off the station.  These were the years where I changed places, moving from behind the desk, so to speak and into the streets.  Previously, as theatre manager, I had made the purchasing decisions regarding local radio, wrote some of my own radio ads, and worked with account execs in joint promotions between the theatre, the station, and some of the radio station’s clients.  Now I would take that experience and change positions, myself now becoming the ad man. It was an enlightening experience.

 My position at the radio station gave me access to main street, entre into the business decisions of literally hundreds of clients, many regulars and some seasonal. The goal of the successful Account Executive is to become a trusted media advisor of the client, with the ultimate objective of gaining so much confidence as to become familiar with and influence budgetary decisions of the client’s business. I was able to do this with several accounts and it is an exhilarating experience.

 The nature of the modus operandi at WION was, however, that the management—beginning with Monroe and continuing under the direction of his widow—to run the business out of his back pocket.  That is, business decisions were made on a weekly, almost daily basis, with little or no planning.  This, I was to discover, is the way in which many “mom and pop” operations function and the radio station was nothing if not a classic “mom and pop” operation.  Corporate America, represented by the chain stores and big boxes that were now assuming a much more prominent place on Main Street, doesn’t do business that way. To do business with them, you have to be included in their budgeting.  Mac didn’t do budgeting and assumed no else did either.  The result was that in order, for instance, to sell annual packages—like Tiger Baseball—you had to approach these companies at the beginning of the year, Mac wouldn’t make a business decision to do anything on such schedule.  We found ourselves getting funds not from the client’s budget but in its petty cash drawer. Moreover, Ad purchases are made by advertising departments, based on demographic studies in which media are chosen by the reach of each venue to certain “segments” of the market.  For this purpose Arbitron and other ratings publications are used in which to fashion a sales pitch based on each station’s appeal to various segments of the market.  Mac didn’t subscribe to these publications and did not use the numbers, dismissing instead the legitimacy of their ratings.  Instead, if he used numbers at all, they would be generated at events like the annual spring Home and Garden Show, in which the station would have a booth and invite passer’s by to fill out a questionnaire in exchange for prizes including tickets to Detroit Tiger baseball games (the station was then broadcasting these games).  As any entry-level student of statistics knows, any poll has to be completely random even to the point of having once chosen a respondent to putting said respondent back into the pool before the next selection is made.  These respondents, chosen not at random but from a select business event itself heavily promoted by the station, in which the respondent must then walk past the station’s booth and is further enticed by prizes produces, as one would suspect, very skewed numbers.  According to the results, a small A.M. radio station playing a hopelessly outdated format was drawing an audience larger that the contemporary, rock and country stations in nearby Lansing and Grand Rapids.  WION was drawing, according to some of these numbers, 97% of the radio audience demonstrating not the strength of the station but the lengths to which Monroe was willing to go to tell himself what he so desperately wanted to hear. 

 The following Sales Meetings, in which these numbers were duly paraded, would begin with a disclaimer, with Mac saying that these numbers were perhaps a bit skewed, but you could tell that he truly believed, or wanted to believe them; for in the ensuing discussion he would direct us to show them to our clients, and then wonder openly how it was that we had such a massive audience yet couldn’t sell our available air time.  The problem would, as in all sales meetings, by whatever expedient, eventually fall upon the shoulders of the sales staff.  I,  for one, would never present such a study in a statistics class let alone a corporate ad department or ad agency for I knew I would be laughed out of court.  To present these numbers to the “Mom and Pops” were likewise problematic for I would then be seen flying in the face of universal observation for none of these people listened to the station, nor did any people that they knew, for the fact was that once the local news programming ended in the morning whatever audience the station had quickly dissipated.  Once a viable local media, WION had been ravaged by changes in the local market. As local pharmacies, bike shops, clothing and hardware stores were by degrees swallowed up by the larger chain operations and as the station’s listening audience had slowly passed from youth to middle age to the area’s rest homes, the local Radio station, like the local Newspaper had begun to resemble the aging hulk hovering over main street in the form of the old Ionia Theatre, a splendid irrelevance.

 To be a salesman one must be comfortable with occasionally being embraced with all the enthusiasm of the arrival of a social disease.  I remember one such encounter, a restaurateur named Jim Thompson.  Jim was a big guy with a booming voice.  One day I called on “Germaine’s” restaurant and his wife was behind the bar.  I asked if Jim was in, his office being located just around the corner behind the kitchen.  She yelled back calling “Jim there’s a guy here to see you”

 “Who is it”?  He yelled out

 “I don’t know, it’s a guy you know…the one that when you see him you yell out ‘oh shit’”.

 At that Big Jim came out of his office, through the kitchen and when beholding my form standing in front of him bellowed out for all to hear “OH SHIT”.  I had become an exile on Main Street. 

As it turned out, however, that Jim wasn’t a bad guy after all.  In fact, upon hearing that my daughter had a severe hearing impairment and was in need of hearing aids, arrange to have me join a fraternity that he was deeply involved in and helped her get a scholarship which provided a stipend for her to get hearing aids.  He would do this for me personally, but could not find it within himself to buy the product I was selling.

 

Sep 23, 2013

September 23, 2013: WOLD, Laid Out Before You, Swift End to the Grand Experiment


“I am the morning D.J. at WION
Playing all the hits for you
That you never wanted to hear again
The bright good morning voice
Who’s heard but never seen….”

                                                            ----Parody of Harry Chapin’s “WOLD”

 On one bright morning in early September 1986 I reported for work at radio station WION in Ionia Michigan.  My task was to assume the position of Account Executive which is a fancy name for salesman, selling radio advertising to mostly local clients, but also including regional and, on occasion, national advertising agencies on behalf of regional clients.  It was a daunting task.

 Since the passing of the elder MacPherson, Monroe had taken control serving as the station manager, sales manager, principle Account Executive, and general all around gadfly.  The Monday morning sales meetings would pogo from laid-back history sessions in which he held court for nearly the entire morning on his favorite subject—the local history of the city of Ionia, to crisis meetings when he would suddenly realize that the station had a cash flow problem and monies were urgently needed.  This situation was the result of a wicked combination of programing, reach of signal, and the way in which the station’s promotional strategies had translated into very few ongoing permanent accounts. 

 First there was the question of programing.  Mac loved the Big Band Sound.  It was what he grew up with and to him it was the quintessential expression of sound, what radio was created to broadcast.  Sure there were the occasional concessions to changing tastes; Saturday mornings featured four hours of late ‘50’s and early 60’s music.  You know Pat Boone, the Everly Brother’s, and occasional Elvis ballad, or the novelty music popular in that era.  But nothing produced after 1963 made it on the air.  No Beatles, no Stones, no Animals, the station got about as far as the Beach Boys singing about “Surfer Girl” and that was it, otherwise it was back to Bennie Goodman, Glenn Miller, the Maguire Sisters and Artie Shaw….or worse, someone’s rendition of them.  During the week, the formula, or format as it is called, featured a repeated cycle wherein the station would play swing, followed by pop (Bill Haley and his Comets, Ann Murray, or some other innocuous composition) followed by a country tune, all suitably bland and nearly all selections at least two decades and more often than not three decades old.  Mac saw it as his mission in life to bring “culture” to the community.  By culture he meant swing music whenever possible even if it meant going broke in the bargain.

 “You should see me doing old-folks rest homes
Man I’m the big-time guest M.C.
You should see the little old ladies
And listen what they say to me”

 As time went by this format became much harder to sell.  I encountered Mac one morning as we were both making our rounds on Main Street.  He had the major accounts, the Banks, furniture stores, appliance stores; I had the small mom and pop shops.  He invited me to coffee at the old shop we would meet in when I worked at the theatre.  There was a look of puzzlement in his eyes.  We talked about the changing business and why it was getting harder to sell the air time. I brought up the format.  I tried to explain the changing market as best I could, knowing that Mac never liked to hear what he didn’t want to hear. 

 “The purpose of playing the “oldies”’, as we called our Saturday morning segment, using this as an example because it was the most ‘current’ or ‘up-to-date’ music format that the station then played, “is to evoke some kind of nostalgia”.  I knew he understood nostalgia, for that was at the core of his fixation if not fetish for Swing. “Now the purpose of nostalgia”, I went on, “ is to evoke some kind of pleasant memory of one’s misspent youth, usually in the form of some long nearly forgotten memory of some young wench that you had in the back seat of your car.  She may have become your wife, she may not have, probably not, but when you here the old music it evokes a flashback, hopefully some fond flashback of a time when you were young and you’re whole life lay out in front of you so to speak”.

 A smile crossed his face, knowingly.  “The problem”, I continued, “is that for someone like Andy Piercefield, (one of my clients, then proprietor and owner of a small heating and air conditioning business) is that he has no such recollections, nor do any of his peers.  You see, Mac, in fact it would be 7 years before he would be born.”  I suggested more contemporary music, he would have none of it, his formula had worked in the past, it was a time-honored if not shop-worn format and he wasn’t going to change.

 The second problem was with the signal or lack thereof.  Mac had inherited two radio transmitters one his ongoing A.M. station, the other his F.M. operation. Back in the late 70’s just as F.M. radio was being built into automobiles changing the nature of drive-time audiences from AM to FM, Mac sold the FM station to none other than Bob Goodrich, the same Bob Goodrich to whom Butterfield had sold its theatre operations in Holland a few years later.  You see, Bob had a hand in both radio and the movies.  Moreover, Mac changed the broadcast signal of the station from a circular pattern in which the signal was equally strong for a radius of about thirty miles to a tear-drop configuration in which the signal reached only 30 miles or so to the south, south-east, and south-west, but reached over 100 miles to the north, north-east and north-west.  He did this because he wanted to increase the wattage of his signal output to 5,000 watts so the signal wouldn’t look so puny on paper, and because he could produce a coverage map in which the signal would indeed cover more ground.  The problem was that this was largely rural central Michigan, and the ground held relatively fewer people.  Moreover, AM signals differ from FM.  FM is more consistent and has a better sound value. Its reach isn’t so great….in the daytime.  The problem with AM is the static background, the quality isn’t so good and at night, unless you are one of those big 50,000 watt stations like WBZ in Boston, WLS in Chicago or WJR in Detroit, you have to cut your power at sundown.  This is because transmitting on AM wavelengths produces problems at night in which the signal carries further, in fact bouncing off the ionosphere so that your broadcast may not carry to the next town but is interfering with a broadcast hundreds of miles away, much as sound bounces during a fog wherein you can’t hear it up close but can pick it up miles away. Between the AM signal upon which the entire operation had now to depend and the peculiar way it was now configured thanks to the changes Mac had made over his old man’s original design, the signal, at night, would not reach the Eastern city limits of the City of Ionia, let alone the countryside. 

 This proved to be a severe handicap.  In the early 1990’s Mac decided he was going to sign on to a season’s broadcast of Detroit Tiger baseball. The station was in a bit of a crisis when then newly-elected Rescumlican Governor John Engler issued lay-off notices to state employees as a means of threatening to shut the government down if the legislature proved uncooperative.  Our problem was that the City of Ionia was then home to 5 state prisons resulting in wide-spread panic as merchant’s trembled at the prospect of business drying up overnight.  One could actually see fear in their eyes.  I couldn’t give the time away.

 Mac responded by signing on to Tiger baseball and instituted a contest between we salesman with the prize of tickets to a baseball game to whoever sold the most season advertising packages.  I was unimpressed. 

 Called into the office to explain why I didn’t have nearly as many postings on the sales board as my colleagues I described the broadcast signal.  “You see”, I said to Mac’s newly appointed station manager, “two thirds of these broadcasts are at night.  The signal doesn’t leave the city limits much less get to villages like Portland and Carson City.  What’s going to happen is that all these clients that are signing on to this package are going to dial up the station to listen to the game and hear their ads and they aren’t going to be able to pick up the signal.  Mark my word”, I said, “by mid-May 2/3 of those postings are going to be erased from the board”.  And so it happened.

 The final issue, as far as I could see was that there were few on-going “permanent” accounts, and for the staff not related to the ownership they were indeed few and far between.  Mac had several major accounts that were on the air all the time, but many of his and almost all of mine were structured around weekly or monthly promotions.  Ad packages were drawn up around on-air games, community festivals, seasonal events like Christmas, and the like which meant that when the schedule ended so did the business.  One had to then go out and sell it again, this time around with another ‘hook’.  Business then became a feast or famine proposition with periods of good performance followed by drought.  As time went on, it became increasingly famine.   This business model was further punctuated by the fact that the station hadn’t raised it ad rates in over 10 years, behavioral evidence that the ownership too had serious doubts as to the value of its own product. 

 The market was clearly changing, as markets always change.  The age demographics, in this case the Boomer’s coming of age, was a change that Mac should have anticipated and moved to meet.  He did that only marginally.  The changes in the nature of main-street business were a trend that caught him wholly flat-footed even though he stood as a witness to the daily changes.  As the old-line department stores and mom and pop shops closed up on main street and the new strip malls built on the edge of town took shape, Mac did little to adapt to the changes, paying no attention to and doing nothing to improve the ARBITRON and other ratings numbers, the language with which one speaks to the ad agencies handling these kinds of accounts.  Instead, presented with the increasing difficulty of walking down main-street and moving a dozen or two of his weekly ‘promotions’ one would find him instead ransacking the station attic in search of more Big Band Music to put on the air. 

 Some of us tried, in whatever capacity we could.  I remember we used to have this DJ on in the afternoon.  She and I talked one day, after I had had a long and trying time of it in the field, about attracting an additional audience.  Since Mac was known to nap late every afternoon, we decided to play some more contemporary stuff.  It was during Mac’s afternoon nap time, that we introduced in the early 1990’s the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Animals, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, and the Cars to WION and the community.  During one such broadcast I had returned to the station to find Dale had put on the Cars “Moving in Stereo”, the Cars had just struck the first few bars when our newsman bolted out of the newsroom yelling “Are you crazy…what are you doing? Do you realize that the pacemakers are popping in every rest home in this town?”

 Here, then, is yet another example of a son of modest wealth being put in charge.  I genuinely liked Mac, considered him a friend of mine. Mac was a great salesman, an articulate spokesman, a very creative man who reveled in writing and producing radio programming and advertising, a kid broadcasting from the sidelines to the very end.

 Mac woke up one afternoon to find us playing a selection from the WHO and put a swift end to the grand experiment.  A few years later, under the stresses of a failing business, he died of a heart attack at the age of 63.

 

 

 

Sep 22, 2013

September 22, 2013: Adrift on the Wreckage, Accountant In the Corridors, Why the Arts are Subsidized


I had been swimming in the dark shark-infested waters for what seemed like months, sending out resumes like so many messages in bottles hoping that some word of my predicament would safely reach the hands of a rescue party.  In September of that year, my wife about to give birth, word reached me that the local theatre group was searching about for someone to manage the old house.  I quickly ripped off a resume and within a short time received my response.  An interview was quickly arranged and in one of the conference rooms at the old First Security Bank, I was introduced to Monroe MacPherson and the rest of the theatre board.  Mac, as Mac would, did most of the talking, relating his vision for what the group intended this facility to be.  Mac wanted the Theatre to be a cultural venue, bring live stage performances to the community as well as exhibiting Hollywood’s yearly productions.  I was assured, by all present, that there was uniformity in the group, that they all saw the same vision, and that there were no internal divisions and disagreements within the group.

 I had always been skeptical of committees.  A camel, goes the old yarn, is defined as a horse assembled by a committee.  It wasn’t long before the fracture lines began to emerge and foremost was a clear division between the Chairman and his group and the Treasurer and his group.  This schism quickly ossified into the operations as the newly minted “assistant” manager, who had been passed over for the appointment, aligned herself with the treasurer and I became the representative of the Chairman.  What followed was a year-long tug of war.

 It began with the treasurer assuming the position than befits any accountant-in-chief: the task to watch every nickel and dime.  This is a laudatory function and quite necessary to the operation of any business.  But it is not sufficient.  In this case the questioning of expenditures translated itself into insisting that the theatre get several bids on a new furnace.  Now a local furnace contractor had already given us an estimate.  Boilers are not grown on trees and you simply cannot get one off the shelf and install it.  Each installation is peculiar to each building and the demands put on it, especially for an auditorium seating roughly a thousand souls.  Professional steam fitters are required as well as specialized equipment.  Moreover, Mr. Steele was on the Board and like several other local contractors on the board or closely associated with it, was offering to do the installation below cost, donating labor and materials to the cause.  Nevertheless, our accountant demanded further bids. The upshot was that it was already late in the year.  I suggested we close the operation over the winter and concentrate on raising more funds.  No one on the board would hear of it.  So it transpired that we wasted nearly 3 months as we got the bids only to decide to do what we were going to do in the first place.  But before the heat was finally turned on, in early January of 1986, we had been reduced to running salamanders—large propane heaters—in order to heat the building.  These machines are loud when you have to have ones large enough to heat that kind of space.  So they have to be shut off at show time.  Besides they emit a strong odor of propane.  The public, then, was greeted upon entering the lobby with the odor of gas and, after finding their desired seats, would sit through a performance as the temperature in the auditorium would slowly or, depending on the outside temperature, not so slowly fall.  By the time the credits were on the screen one could see one’s breath and one rubbed one’s cold runny nose.  As with hiring an accountant to run Butterfield, this is what happens when you allow an accountant to enter the corridors of power.  Accountants are there to tell you how much money you have, and if you don’t have it perhaps give you some idea where you can get it.  Accountants should never be allowed anywhere near meetings and rooms where serious operational or policy decisions are made.

 That being said, the resulting struggle played itself out over the ensuing months.  We enjoyed some marginal successes bring in (after the heat was on) an old vaudeville revival show, the Grand Rapids Symphony, the play “El Capitan” and one or two other performances, selling the season as a package as well as individually.  It was during this time that I had to instruct the board that there are reasons why the arts are subsidized.  You cannot operate a venue along these lines without public assistance.  Accordingly, we worked to secure funding from foundations and state of Michigan grants for the performing arts.  With these subsidies, the theatre turned a modest profit.

But there were nowhere near the revenues coming in the box office to fund the renovations.  The theatre group had raised enough money to replace the screen, projection and sound equipment, but the auditorium was in need of upholstery, over 1000 seats, and repainting.  A new roof had to be put on, the Marquee rebuilt, new restrooms built to replace the inaccessible originals located off the balcony upstairs.  The demands of the renovation, wholly underestimated by this group of hard-headed conservative businessmen, caused further stresses within the board.  In my time at the helm, we got the place open, put on some live shows, began regular playing of films and began getting estimates of repairs.  While several of the board members offered free labor and materials to repair the electrical circuits throughout the building, and fix the heating, other board members worked to get contributions for other capital improvements.  Meanwhile I worked with the City Manager to secure grant money to repaint the building and rebuild the Marquee.  By the middle of summer, after nearly a year of holding the place together with chewing gum and bailing wire, the internal divisions within the organization were at a breaking point.  One morning Mac came to see me.  We repaired to our usual haunt at the downtown restaurant and, after some general observations regarding the politics within the theatre group, asked me if I would come to work for him at the radio station.  He knew I wanted off this raft, and it was a way of saying welcome ashore.   

 

September 21, 2013: Stem the Tide, Hijacking The Agenda, The Lotus Dream of a Local Booster


Sometime in the early spring of 1985, a group of civic leaders headed by Loren Adgate of the then First Security bank, Ron Storey and one or two of his officers at the rival Ionia County National Bank and several leading industrialists met in a downtown restaurant to discuss the need to do something about improving the area’s public schools.  The impetus for the meeting was due to a crisis of sorts when one of the leading manufacturers threatened to pull up stakes and move elsewhere if the community didn’t do something about its schools since the enterprise depended on its labor force having at least a modicum of learning, an ability to read, cipher, maybe even read a blue print or two.  Being the area’s largest employer this was indeed serious business.

 Ionia had once been a thriving boomtown.  Back in the second quarter of the 19th century it was said to be the second largest city in the Michigan of Lewis Cass.  Home to the land office, it was the place to be if you were going to stake a claim, making the City a hub of activity, lawyers, courtrooms, bars, brothels….yes brothels… almost 75 of them by one count in a city of roughly 8,000 souls. (1)  Later the town would be home to the Hudson automobile production facilities as well as the largest wicker furniture factory in the world.  By now, however, industry had long since been in decline with much of Main Street feeling the impact.  It had been over 30 years since the good citizens of the city had passed a bond issue and the schools were in a dilapidated condition, underperforming as many such schools do.  Now the city fathers gathered to try to do something to stem the tide.

 In the middle of the discussion about what to do with the failing schools, Monroe Macpherson, owner and operator of WION a 5,000 watt A.M local radio station, rose to speak.  The local theatre, he pointed out, had been put up for sale and listed by a local real estate firm by the now defunct W.S. Butterfield Theatre Company.  Waxing long and convincingly about the architectural splendor of the old house, its centrality to the now declining business district and the need for a venue to bring in cultural events, the group assembled agreed to form a rump committee charged with the task of arranging financing and saving the theatre.  Having commandeered the proceedings, Macpherson set about organizing his group while the parent assembly got back to the business at hand.  The upshot is that the Theatre Group formed around remnants of the Downtown Development Authority, (DDA a quasi-public spin-off of the Chamber of Commerce), bank officials, and personages interested in the cultural enrichment of the community, set about gathering contributions from excited citizens and arranging mortgage financing with both the local banks secured by the government of the City of Ionia. 

 And so it was that the City of Ionia went about, with the help of Democratic Governor James Blanchard and his Department of Education, local merchants and banks, and concerned citizens, financing and building a new High School and upgrading several primary and secondary facilities finally moving students out of converted mobile homes then serving as classrooms into solid facilities.  And so it was too that the City of Ionia allowed itself to be dragged into the awkward posture of taking over operations of the downtown movie house.  It was a secondary responsibility to be sure, operating behind several layers of emerging bureaucracy with first the Ionia Theatre board of control, itself operating under the aegis of the Downtown Development Authority, in the end sanctioned by the City which had secured the financing loans and held final fiduciary responsibility as well as liability.  For a group of small business, small-town conservatives, this was a very strange position to justify.  The irony was never lost on me.  These very souls who could see no government role in meeting the needs of the needy, who steadfastly derided food stamps, housing subsidies, or any relief for the poor, somehow came to see as critical to the mission of local governance the need to operate a downtown movie house.

 And what a splendid little movie house it was.  Built by the W.S. Butterfield Corporation in 1932 on the site of an old Hotel and located in the heart of the city a block or so due west of the County Courthouse the Theatre was originally built as a duel functioning facility designed to produce live stage productions as well as exhibit motion pictures.  The theatre was constructed at precisely the time that the then emerging “talkies” (introduced 5 years earlier) were making films all the rage and were to put a swift end to old Vaudeville.  The result was that there weren’t many stage productions in the ensuing years, although the Theatre would feature dressing rooms, an orchestra pit, and all the stage rigging to put on a right professional production.

 It was these facilities that Monroe skillfully fashioned into a fine tapestry as he argued for saving the grand old house from the wrecking ball.  “Mac”, as he was affectionately called, was a dreamer.  As a boy, I was told by several of his relatives, he dreamed of being on the radio—then the dominant medium in the America of the 30’s and 40’s.  While other boys honed their skills on the playing field, Mac, it was said, would sit on the sidelines and call the game like it was a live broadcast going out over the “airwaves”.  It was a dream that would never leave him.  Later he would serve in the military working as a reporter for an armed services publication and when he returned home, just prior to the Korean conflict, his father who was a wealthy—for these parts—poultry farmer, built his young son his own radio station.  Actually two of them, one in Ionia the aforementioned A.M. facility and an F.M. station located15 miles or so to the West in Lowell Michigan.  And so it was the Mac gained entry to the business community of his home town, the local chamber of commerce, and when the time came, membership on the board of the Ionia Free Fair “The World’s Largest Free Fair”.  These positions, if they did not bring riches to his radio station, brought him standing in the community.  Mac was always good for a promotional idea, always trying to attract the “big” names.  On the Free Fair board he pressed to drop the standard venues and bring in national and international performing acts.  The result is that the fair began to feature performers like Willie Nelson, Jefferson Starship, Blood Sweat and Tears, George Burns, Alabama, the Oak Ridge Boys, to name a few.  So big did it become that it was said that for two shows on a night of the Fair, Willie Nelson commanded $120,000. in cash.  It was arranged for a Brinks truck to pick up the money at the local banks and deliver it to the fairgrounds.  Old “Mac” had a reputation for promoting, usually through his radio station, mostly through his work with the Fair. When he spoke people listened.  And on this day he spoke about coming to the rescue of the grand old lady.

 And what a grand old lady she was; for she was grand no more.  The years of neglect had indeed taken its toll, with the result that the splendid facility that once dominated Main Street had become, like so much of the old Butterfield chain, the flotsam and jetsam floating like so much corporate wreckage on the landscape of the countryside.   Like the dilapidated Vogue Theatre in Manistee, and the deteriorating hulks long since closed in other downtowns, the Ionia Theatre stood, by then, like a ghost hovering over the landscape.  The Marquee was rotted, with only half the lights working.  The furnace had long since ceased to function and, since boilers are not cheap, Butterfield had made the business decision to operate the Theatre only during the period of the year when the ambient temperature within the house was such that it would not be uncomfortable, limiting operations to only the summer and a few months in the spring and fall.  The projection equipment was old, in fact there were parts of the projectors, long since disconnected, upon which one put long playing records.  This was technology used with the introduction of sound back in the late ‘20’s’ and no doubt original to the construction.  In 1980, when the Butterfield home offices moved from the old First National Bank Building in downtown Detroit to their new offices in Troy, the phone company took the equipment, old patch-cord switch boards, telephones with hand switches to change lines, etc., and put the system in a museum.  So it was in Ionia, what the city fathers were inheriting was a rusting, rotting, museum piece. Undeterred these local businessmen, hardened realists and bedrock conservatives though they be, went about the business of resurrecting the grand old lady.  It would cost a small fortune to salvage the lotus dream of the local booster.

---------------------------------------------------------------------
 
(1) This was the estimate of Monroe MacPherson, local historian who produced a much                 More sanitized version shown at the theatre in the form of a slide-show during the annual Ionia Free Fair week.  Later the production was transferred to Video entitled “Ionia the First 150 Years” and given to the Historical Society as a permanent fund-raising source.  The references to the brothels were dropped in this version, but I got the scoop straight from the horse, so to speak.  Our ancestors are almost never what their much burnished legacy would have us believe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 19, 2013

September 19, 2013: Last Rat Overboard, Clinging to the Wreckage, Set Adrift


The end of my tour of duty aboard the Good Ship Butterfield came toward the middle of March, 1985.  I had been made District Manager for the entire Michigan Kerasotes theatre chain which comprised the old Butterfield operations in Grand Rapids, Flint, Ann Arbor, Traverse City, Ludington, Big Rapids, Jackson, Kalamazoo and a few other towns.  Increasingly, however, I was being isolated.  Field reports were no longer being sent directly to me.  Instead I would get calls from the Home Office in Springfield quoting numbers relating to sales, shortages and overages, and the like that I had not seen nor would I be allowed to see.  Finally, one morning, I was informed that embezzlement must be going on at the Flint Cinema because the concession per capita numbers weren’t right.  We had always underperformed at that cinema, and it was an issue that we had previously addressed.  The numbers weren’t that far off, cause for concern but not a red flag.  In any case, I said that I would address the subject.  I was directed to go through the purse of the stand attendants and box office cashiers before the house opened and at close.  I told the office that it was illegal to do so in the state of Michigan.  I knew that Sam Plitt was behind this maneuver, and I wasn’t about to risk committing a felony.  I informed his secretary that it might be legal to do this in Capone’s Chicago, but not here and that if I were to do this, I wanted any such directions to violate state statutes in writing.  I didn’t hear from Sam’s office again.  Instead in the next call, this time from Robbie himself, I was instructed to fly down to Springfield so that I would “get with the program”.

I called Joe Sterling at the old Butterfield Offices and he invited me to come to Detroit and meet with Lyle Smith.  I went to the old Butterfield Offices for the last time and was ushered in to a meeting with Lyle and Joe.  Smith wanted me to stay on since I was the last of the Butterfield supervisory personnel still employed by Kerasotes and Smith wanted a connection to keep an eye on the operation until the company got all its money.  I understood this, but explained what was happening to me and how I was being sandbagged.

My problem, as I saw it, was that I was 300 miles from the Home Office, and Sam Plitt was right down the hall.  “You can understand the disadvantage”, I said.  “Yes” replied Lyle.

He understood.  There weren’t many viable options.

 I had seen all my colleagues fall, one, by one, feeling much like a sailor on a ship that had been raked by grapeshot.  I looked around and there was no one else left standing.  I was cut off from meaningful communications from the field seeing no weekly concession or box office reports, in effect, staggering blind.  Now I was called to go to Springfield and pay homage to the little Napoleon and his henchman.  It was too much.

I called the next day and tendered my resignation.  And so it was that, on a dark and grey March afternoon, I quietly slipped into the sea as I worked to distance myself from the sinking hulk of the grand old ship.  As I made my way into the water I turned to watch the hull slide downward as it was slowly swallowed by the turbulent sea.

 There were no lifeboats, no pensions, no 401K, no residual health insurance policies, no severance packages. I found myself swimming in a foreign and forbidding sea until, after what seemed like months I came across some of the wreckage of the old ship.  It was the old Ionia Theatre, a dark and dilapidated hulk that nevertheless would serve as a suitable raft offering some buoyancy as I drifted with the winds and currents in hopes of finding terra firma.

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 18, 2013

September 18, 2013: Imploding In On Itself, Turning Turtle, His Mother's Legs



"It's not true that only the Ship of State rots from the top down. I give you the Good Ship Butterfield" ---from The Quotations of Chairman Joe"

It was the late summer of 1984. It was sunrise in America, the high tide of Reagan and Reaganism.  I was on the phone making my regular early morning call to the Home Office when I brought up a subject that had been nagging at me for several years.  Butterfield, I had learned, had just sold the two downtown houses and the Starlight Drive-In on the highway between Holland and Saugatuck to Goodrich Theatres.  Bob Goodrich, it will be recalled, had been one of those who had made personal fortunes by building or buying up properties in Butterfield markets and running us out of town.  Now we were under siege in our major cities as well, Flint, Grand Rapids, and Ann Arbor by the Redstone operation out of Boston as well. 

 “Paul”, I said “Holland is one of the few growth areas in the state. This is a town where we should be building operations, not selling out.  I’ve watched as we folded up our tents in Pontiac, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo, and other towns.  When I took this job nearly 4 years ago we had 46 screens.  Now we’re down to 32.  We’ve already let one of our District Manager’s go.  At some point this operation is going to implode in on itself.  We’ll be closing the warehouse for this concession operation.  We’ve already cut home office personnel, eliminating marketing altogether for god’s sake.  At what point do we pull up our tents altogether close up shop and go home”?

 A few days later, during our usual morning telephone conversation Paul assured me that he had spoken with President Smith and was told that the company was in great shape citing plans for expanding in Traverse City and Ludington.  I remained skeptical.

 Later that fall, I was making a call at the Genesee Valley quad theatre (actually the aforementioned two twin theatres attached at the hip) when Butterfield’s city manager Arnold Stephanic stopped by and invited me to lunch.  This was a rare occurrence given that Arnie and I had some turf battles when I was first put on the road.  The Concession Department had lost its district manager for the Eastern and Northern part of the state due to the long illness of a previous manager and a road accident by his successor.  When I was put on the road, many of these operations hadn’t seen a concession supervisor in several years.  The result was that this end of the corporate operations had been taken over by the local city managers with the result that there existed very little uniformity.  My job was to reclaim the turf for the Home Office and make the ship respond to the helm.  Not an easy task and it led to some difficult struggles especially in the major towns.  But this was 1984, and I had been on the road for over 3 years.  Arnie and I had come to terms and now he was inviting me for lunch an act that nevertheless was a bit unexpected and unusual.

 We went to a local restaurant owned and operated by a friend of his.  After introducing me to his friends we repaired to a table and, just the two of us, sat down for lunch.  “I’ve got to tell you something”, he said with an air of urgency. 

“What’s that”? I asked, having no idea where he was going with the conversation or what was behind this encounter.

 “As you know, I used to work at the Home Office” he began.  I knew this, years before he had been a junior executive working for the Vice President, now the President of the company.  He had briefly left Butterfield Theatres and went down to Florida but later returned.  When he came back the Home Office sent him to Flint to manage the city’s 4 indoor operations. 

 “Yes I know”, I replied, expecting one of his oft-repeated recollections of his days at the vortex of corporate politics. 

 “A few weeks ago they (meaning the execs at the Home Office) came around introducing a couple of guys they said were stockholders in the company.  I know the stockholders, used to deal with them all the time when I worked up there.  These aren’t the stockholders.  Joe”, he said, “I think they’ve put the company up for sale.”  We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about the trends in the business and agreed that the decline had, in fact, not gone unnoticed by either of us.  I left the meeting knowing that the Good Ship Butterfield was indeed taking on water and the deck chairs were about to slide overboard.

I didn’t say anything in my daily conversations with the Home Office but confided to my wife that some serious changes were in the wind.  A few weeks later I got this call from Paul Tazar in the home office that in fact the company had been sold.

 “Don’t worry”, Paul confided to me, “We’ve been assured that our jobs are safe”. 

By now, thanks to the early warning Arnie had given me, I had had time to put things into perspective. 

 “That’s not my reading of the situation”, I responded.  “What do you mean?” asked Paul.

“When a company comes in and buys you out, they do so because they think there are profits that have been unrealized.  They think they can run it better that you can.  They will come in here and see us as the problem, not the solution.  It’s human nature.  Everyone thinks they can do it better.”

 In the course of events the company had been sold to Kerasotes Theatres out of Springfield Illinois, then the 8th largest theatre chain in the country.  Kerasotes had been founded by the old man George and his brothers in Chicago branching out over the years to become a regional power in the industry.  He and his wife had adopted a young boy, Robbie, who became in the course of his short lifetime a rather self-absorbed anal-retentive megalomaniac who in the span of several years had been in and out of the company as the family tried desperately to find someplace in the family business where he would not generate an immediate lynch party.  They tried him in the Home Office and the Brother’s threatened to break up the company if he wasn’t gone.  George sent him out to the field and the manager’s also went into open revolt.  Finally, in an act of desperation, George set

Finding a business he could purchase that his son could call his own.  Robbie had a pilot’s license and loved to fly small aircraft, so George arranged to buy a small commuter line operating in Illinois.  Before the final transfer of ownership could be accomplished there was a plane crash and ensuing liability.  George backed out of the deal, and looked elsewhere.  Then he found Butterfield.

It seemed like a perfect match, Butterfield becoming a subsidiary of the parent family operation.  But the brothers, by then having had their fill of Robbie, told George that if he was going to commit family monies to invest for Robert, they wanted to dissolve the company and George could go his own way.  In the course events, Butterfield Theatres would by the first of January, 1985, become George Karasotes Theatres, Inc., with George as Chairman and his son as CEO.

 Robbie brought with him one Sam Plitt, he of the Plitt Theatre operations operating in the Chicago area.  Like Robbie, Sam too was a child of great wealth.  Like Robbie he too would prove unable to find a home with the parent family business.  So the two of them, like peas in a pod, were given my old company to play with.

 The result was immediate and it was ugly.  The first thing they did was eliminate all the senior executives of the old company except Vice President Joe Sterling, and all of the mid-level management except myself.  Gone was my boss Paul Tazar, easily the best of the Butterfield management, and the one with the most promise.  Forcing him out by first removing all of his authority over purchasing, and putting Sam in charge of concessions, Paul was gone by the end of January.

“You had that right” he would say to me as he was leaving.

 That left Joe Sterling and myself.  Joe was from Monroe Michigan, his father a State Senator, his mother a journalist and reporter for a Detroit Newspaper.  In fact there is a state park in Monroe named after his father.  The family owned and operated the Denniston Theatre company the controlling interest of which was later purchased by Butterfield.  Joe, by now in later middle age, had risen to be Vice President when the company went out of business; and, because Kerasotes had only put down about a third of the purchase price, was seen as Butterfield’s finger in the pie until the sale had been complete.  The upshot was that it was left for Joe and I to deal with the emerging order as it took control of our old operations.

 In late February and early March of 1985, Joe and I spent several days flying about the state inspecting the operations with Robbie and Sam. It was an arduous and disagreeable experience.  Robbie was forever criticizing the operation and quality of the field management, nobody, it became apparent, could do anything right.  Sam, who’s cologne would precede him by three rooms, would chime in like the sycophant he was telling Robbie what he wanted to hear and waxing long and hard about the Plitt concession operations in Chicago.  “We’d sell a thousand hot dogs a day” he would say, speaking of his indoor operations.  They went about the landscape, talking about how they were going to tear the operations apart, rebuild the concession stands and the theatres, criticizing everything, including the run-down auto’s with which the manager’s would pick them up at the airport. 

 Finally, I’d had enough.  We were sitting in the airport in Kalamazoo when Robbie asked me why the field managers weren’t telling him much, implying that they weren’t too intelligent.

 “It’s because all they hear from you and Sam is criticism” I said.  “You can’t pre-empt the conversation if you want people to be forthcoming.  These people don’t know you, and great change is taking place in their universe.  It’s unsettling, and they’re afraid”.   Sam later took me aside and expressed surprise that I would be so blunt with Robbie.  Clearly the little shit had never met anyone, including Sam, who would speak truth to power.

 These journey’s, and there would be two of them, would last three or so days each as we made the circuit by air in what I covered every day on the ground.  It put Joe and I in close quarters with the new Kerasotes leadership and it was a chafing experience.  Finally at the twin theatre in Jackson, in what would be the final tour,  Robbie and Sam went to watch a film playing on one of the screens, Joe invited me to watch the other feature in the adjoining auditorium.  We sat toward the back.  Joe began asking me general questions about how I was reading the situation.

 “Let’s see”….I said.  “one thousand hot dogs, quarter pound each….that’s 250 pounds of meat a day, plus the buns.  I can’t imagine the mess with all the ketchup and relish, must be a nightmare keeping the seats and floors clean”

 “Are you questioning the veracity of our leadership?” asked Joe.

 “Yeah, I guess you could say that”, I replied.

 “You don’t like Sam very much do you Joe?”  asked Joe

 “Let me put it this way”, I replied,  “The best part of Sam Plitt ran down his mother’s legs”

 “That’s nasty”, Joe exclaimed.

 “He sure is”, said I.

 Later that night Joe invited me to his quarters for a drink. Over a glass of brandy he told me he was leaving the company.  As the Good Ship Butterfield turned turtle and began to slowly slide into the sea it was clear I would be the last rat off the sinking ship. 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 17, 2013

September 17, 2013: The Good Ship Butterfield, Money On the Barrel, End of Conservatism


“The legacy of Butterfield Theatres, Inc, is that it saved itself out of business”

                                    ---from The Quotations of Chairman Joe

 It was the early spring of 1982, I had been recently promoted from theatre manager to District Manager for Concessions with the old W.S. Butterfield Theatres company.  Butterfield had once been the largest theatre chain in the state of Michigan operating most of the theatres in outstate lower Michigan.  By 1982 the company had by now shrunk to about 46 screens in two dozen or so major cities.  I had been asked to join the head of the concession department, a Mr. Paul Tazar who was, at 23, already a commanding figure being the spitting image of Fess Parker and standing in at six foot 4.  Joining us was my colleague Mr. Byron Lane, a veteran of the “Big One”, World War II, having seen action on the Burma Road, and, by then, having logged over 33 years with the company.  I first met Byron back in 1966 when I was hired in as a concession attendant at the old Starlight Drive-In, a small 500 car-house located between Holland and Saugatuck.  My uncle was then managing this establishment as he worked his way through college.  I was a soda jerk, and met Byron District Manager for Concessions, then to me an aging owlish-faced man, much resembling I thought in later years the English journalist Alistair Cook.  Byron was a good natured, honest conservative and we would exchange views, as I got to know him.  He on the political right, me on the left.  He would introduce me at company gatherings as having been with the SDS (the radical Students for a Democratic Society), I would quickly correct him staying the College Democrats.  “Same difference” he would snort.  Nevertheless the emerging friendship was real, and he became something of a mentor for me, helping me negotiate the political currents within the corporation and quietly, unbeknownst at the time to me, helping to further my career.

 On this particular sunny afternoon Paul, Bryon and I met in a restaurant at Ypsilanti to discuss some upcoming changes involving our concession operations.  On the agenda was the dropping of the image of the “Good Ship Butterfield” reduced to use only on the small popcorn containers then in use.  I saw it as evidence of further decline, giving up something of company tradition.  I wasn’t able to carry the day, since the small size of the container served as too much a drag on popcorn sales inasmuch as it moved too many people out of the larger sizes.  The idea was to begin limiting the number of choices so that the lines between movies would move faster and the public would not be given too many inexpensive choices.  This would serve to help increase our per capita revenues upon which the concession operation, because concessions don’t attract attendance at movie houses, depended.  I got the point and acquiesced.

 Then came the matter of smocks, a form of "uniform" to be worn by the attendant in order to make the operation more professional. Paul, with the retirement of Miss Bacon, had taken over purchasing at the home office.  Miss Bacon had a much deserved reputation for being parsimonious when it came to the purchase of supplies.  Whenever a manager sent in a requisition, from theatre passes to toilet paper, she would routinely cut the order in half.  In fact the Vice President of the company once related a story in which he told me of an incident in Ann Arbor which fully illustrates the point.  It was one of the functions, in those days, of the Vice President to oversee any construction or renovation project that the company would engage.  It so happened that Butterfield was renovating the old Campus Theatre in Ann Arbor and then Vice President Lyle Smith was in town overseeing the work.  One Friday afternoon, as the project was nearing completion, Smith sat down at the manager’s desk and sent in a requisition that included 400 “chaser” light bulbs to lamp the new Marquee. These yellow 10 watt bulbs were arrayed in such a way as to go off and on in a circular pattern so as to attract the attention of the pedestrians passing by.  Like neon on a Ferris wheel, lights on a Marquee are there to attract attention.  No Matter, Miss Bacon summarily cut the order in half, leaving the operation with enough resources to lamp half the Marquee.  The next Monday morning, according to the account, Mr. Smith was in Miss Bacon’s office pounding his fist on her desk, mad as hell “Ellen”, he said, “when I send in a requisition for 400 light bulbs I mean 400 light bulbs.  Don’t ever do that to me again.”  I understood. As with any of the other manager’s in the circuit old circuit, she had done that to me many times.  I played hell trying to light my Marquee (I had two of them at the old Vista Drive-In in Grand Rapids) as well as enough toilet paper and cleaning supplies.  Such became standard business practice permeating the organization in which a game of sorts would play itself out.  Manager’s routinely ordered twice as much as they needed; Miss Bacon would cut the order.  She could then report to her superiors that she had, in the course of events, saved the company many thousands of dollars in any given year. 

 Now Butterfield Theatres was once a dominant fixture in Michigan’s entertainment business.  Created by Walter S. Butterfield in the early decades of the last century, the company began as a vaudeville circuit with the likes of the Marx Brothers, Danny Kaye, Red Skelton and the like regularly making their appearances on Butterfield stages whenever they performed in Michigan.  With the advent of motion pictures, Butterfield built an empire so dominant that you didn’t play any films outside Detroit unless you came to terms with Butterfield.  So dominant, in fact, did the company become that in conversations I had with front office executives accounts were told of the company being subject to anti-trust action. 

 But with the passing of the “Colonel”, as the old man was called, the company passed into the hands of his children who, in the 1950’s, put the company into the hands of an accountant brought over from Paramount Studios.  Under the watchful eye of President Gawthorpe, the company in the succeeding decades managed to disinvest itself to such an extent that the market position the company once enjoyed began to erode, in time threatening not only the well-being but the very existence of the company. Butterfield prided itself on its conservatism.  No debt, money on the barrel.  The company did not borrow money to build new theatres.  Instead the money came from operating funds and investments.  The result was that as the industry began to change from the cities to the suburbs, from the single-screen palace on Main Street to the multiplex in suburban strip malls, Butterfield couldn’t, without using credit and leverage, keep up with the changing times.  The result was that there arose competitors, principally Jack Loek’s and Bob Goodrich who made personal fortunes moving into Butterfield towns and putting multiplex cinemas up on the edge of town threatening the old Leviathan downtown.

 The flight to the suburbs has other consequences.  With the multi-screen operations it became possible to hold a film for longer periods of time.  The result was that the cost to exhibitors began to rise.  In the early 80’s Butterfield won a bid for the movie “Muppets Take Manhattan”.  To show this feature required $4,000,000.00 down and 90% of the box office for the first 16 weeks.  When you only have one or two screens in your house, you clearly have to depend on something besides the box office to survive, hence the growing importance of the Concession operation—once treated as an afterthought, now central to the survival of the company.  Other companies were building theatres with sixteen or twenty screens in which you opened in the house seating the greatest capacity but the longer you held unto a film, and the greater your companies percentage of the take, you could move the film into a smaller auditorium making it possible to maximize profits by holding your feature.  This meant that if Butterfield lost the bid for first run, HBO would be playing the flick before the company could get its hands on a print.  Such were the consequences of playing it close to the vest of, from a business perspective, a pathological conservatism.

 But, unfortunately, the conservative rot had long since passed the central office of purchasing and worked its way through the tentacles of the entire company.   The company would not benefit from sitting through Econ 101, and evidence no understanding of the “economy of scale” by dropping a twin theatre next to an already existing twin theatre complete with two concession stands, two sets of box offices, two store rooms, two projection booths, etc. there were other problems. When new theatres, and there were not many, were built they were no longer the grand palaces of yore but instead little band box operations.  When Butterfield remodeled, renovated, added screen or built a new house, old seats torn from a demolished old downtown palace would be refurbished and put into the new.  Old popcorn machines, some a year or so older than I, would be moved into the new venue.  We had the best used shiny new houses in the business. 

 With the passage of old man Gawthorpe in the mid 70’s the tiller of the Good Ship Butterfield passed to the Vice President Smith.  Smith began his career as a stock boy in the home office and worked his way through office politics to the pinnacle of power.  In the field there was some guarded optimism with the change of guard, but all hope was soon dashed when the head of the Advertising Department, a Mr. Henry Capogna retired.  Head of advertising for decades he oversaw the marketing of the firm and since the local manager was responsible for purchasing local media as well as producing local newspaper ads, the managers in the field worked with Henry and sought his guidance in order to maintain and increase attendance.  Henry worked to secure co-op advertising in which the film companies would pay for half the ad budget on a particular film promotion.  These promos often meant exponential increases in budgets.  When I played “White Line Fever” at the Vista in the 1970’s I composed and ran a full page ad in the Grand Rapids Press.  The result was a rare full house in a single-screen thousand car venue.  Sadly, when Henry retired, they did not replace him deciding instead to save his salary.  In a business often marked by single screen operations in which one changed product and audiences every week, we then had no one in the home office primarily focused on marketing.  The result, in succeeding years, was that—true to form—the advertising budget was cut.  The year before they closed the old Starlight Drive-In in Lansing, the radio advertising budget was pared down to such an extent that the local manager could purchase one single 30 second radio spot on only one of Lansing’s many radio stations each week.  The results were wholly predictable.   

 It was in the vortex of these undercurrents that we were struggling to survive in the early 1980’s and when we met on that sunny afternoon in Ypsilanti, our young executive looked at us and said “I want to make some serious changes in the way we operate.  I want people to know, when they come into one of our theatres that they are in a Butterfield house.”

"Well Hell", I proclaimed doing my best to channel John Wayne. "They already know it's a Butterfield House pilgrim!"

 “How so?” asked the surprised and bemused Boss as  Byron sat silently smiling as he looked down on his shoe laces knowing what was about to come.

 “Well they just gotta look at the place.  Hell, half the plexiglass and most of the lights on the Marquee are missing, broken or cracked. Half the letters have some damage.” I then went on to describe a scene at the old Lansing Drive-In, a venue I managed the year before just prior to being put on the road as a supervisor.  I was opening the box office one evening.  The sun was still up and a young couple in a VW had driven up the drive and parked just outside the box office.  I was putting in the tickets and noticed, after a time, the young lady looking around.  She was looking up at the pigeons flying out of the holes in the back of the screen tower.  The tower had been built after the second world war as the Drive-In movie craze was in its infancy.  Butterfield didn’t build many drive-in theatres, only two in fact, the Vista and a sister house in Monroe.  Otherwise they bought up the emerging competition as a means of monopolizing the market.  In this case it was the Lansing Drive-In built by a man named Blackburn who sold it and the aforementioned Lansing Drive-In to the company sometime in the 60’s.  By now the screen tower, having been built on the frame of an old bridge truss was beginning to show its age.  Serious signs of disrepair had long since emerged, from the aging slate now falling to the ground to the “wings” that were added in the ‘50’s”, twenty or so feet on each end to accommodate Cinemascope technology.  These additions, long exposed to the weather were beginning to move in the wind, flapping a bit like wings in a breeze, further cracking the fa├žade and making excellent homes for pigeons and other species of vermin.  The young lady in question looked about and began to grimace.  I went into the office to get the cash box and when I returned I was greeted by the sight of the tail lights of the VW as the car drove quietly away.  Sometime, I surmised, between putting the tickets in the ticket machine and the cash box into the cash drawer, it had dawned on the young man that he was not going to impress the young lady by treating her to a place like this. 

 “I get your point”, said the Boss and told us that from now on the manager’s will get what they order.  We put those changes into effect, improved the profit/loss margins in the operations, began purchasing new equipment and, in 1984 concessions held the company together.  Word was passed down through the organization that for the first time the front end of the business was losing money, concessions made the difference.

It didn’t matter.  Alas the last of the old Colonel’s children passed away and with the company passing into the hands of the grandchildren it was put up for sale. The conservative ethos had finally stood manifest.  The Colonel’s heirs acting through the corporate heads had finally managed to save the company out of business.