Editorial: Not so Wild a Notion – A Small Grocery Store Can Work in Easton

There is probably not a day that goes by in downtown Easton when at least a few of the pedestrians that pass the now abandoned Safeway on Harrison Street don’t shed a tear for that missing food store. While a few might have some affection for the food store chain itself, it is more than likely that much of the grief is felt for the end of an era when walking or biking to a grocery store was an real option.

Since Safeway’s departure, a solid core of downtown residents now must now pile into their cars (if they have one) to head off to the larger food stores off the Bypass or Route 50, adding to Easton’s traffic pressures and rush hour congestion.

What makes this a particularly melancholy affair is the growing feeling that the old Safeway will not be occupied anytime soon with a replacement. In fact, it is more likely that no large food chain, even if permitted to locate there, would find it cost-effective to establish a such a small footprint venue.

This predicament is not unique to our community. With a return on investment in doubt and competition severe, these corporations are electing to drop their small stores and expand the number of “superstores” outside downtowns, allowing more parking and easy access for cars.

The result for Easton, sadly enough, is a substantial retail gap in our downtown district and, more importantly, quality of life.

But maybe it is not so wild a notion to imagine a return to a smaller scale, traditional grocery store (think of the beloved Todd’s on Aurora Street) capable of serving Easton’s growing pedestrian community and provide a modest profit.

The fact of the matter is that there are several models, in all different types of settings, that show that one does not need a 50,000 square-foot grocery chain store to succeed.

One remarkable example can be found on Race Street in downtown Cambridge. The Simmons Center Market has been serving its community since 1937 with marginal parking and a less than a convenient location for motorists. But with a regional reputation for quality meats and reasonable prices, the Central Market continues to strive notwithstanding its proximity to a Walmart Superstore and Food Lion chain store in the same town.

Looking beyond the Eastern Shore is the extraordinary story of the Bi-Rite grocery store in San Francisco, which provides no parking in a community without parking, and yet yields $4,000 per square foot. By contrast, traditional supermarket revenues are said to produce $200 to $300 per square foot while a Whole Foods store brings in $900 to $1,000 per square foot.

A four minute mini-documentary on Bi-Rite Market

It is with these kinds of case studies that should encourage one of our many local entrepreneurs (and their potential investors) to see a way forward to offer a similar experience for Easton’s downtown. We can only keep our fingers crossed that they do.

 

Senior Nation: Introducing “Ask Irma” on Aging and Senior Life

As we age, change is our constant. Our bodies, our minds, and our relationships are all affected with the passing of time. These changes can be scary for us, and for our family and loved ones, too. The key to making the most of our later years is acknowledging these changes, asking for advice when needed, and developing strategies to work through our options.

Irma Toce

Senior Nation is committed to offering resources to help us deal with the challenges and opportunities of aging. To that end, we are launching a new monthly column called Ask Irma, where we focus on all topics related to aging.

Our guest contributor is Irma Toce, CEO of Londonderry on the Tred Avon. Irma has over 25 years’ experience work with seniors. Her years of experience in the field is accompanied by BS in social work and an MA in health management, Irma not only leads the dynamic community of Londonderry, but she is also nationally recognized as an expert in the field of aging. Most recently she presented at the Leading Age Conference in New Orleans.

Irma welcomes your aging-related questions via email, askirma@londonderrytredavon.com. All questions submitted will be handled in confidence. Are you a senior, an adult child of a senior or a friend or neighbor? Ask Irma will do her best to answer your questions, providing the support you need to deal with the challenges of aging.

The Spy Holiday Poem: Old Dog by Sue Ellen Thompson

The Spy continues our tradition in sharing the best of local poetry as our way to celebrate this holiday season. Once again, we turn to Oxford’s very gifted Sue Ellen Thompson for this tender and moving ode to old dogs which have a very special place in the hearts of all Talbot County residents.

The Talbot Spy editors, writers, and volunteers send our best Seasons Greetings and best wishes for a wonderful new year.

 

Old Dog

They haul her in across the frozen yard

for supper on a carpet scrap. Overweight,

gums speckled, slack, she lets herself be raised

and lowered, urged to eat and praised

for doing what she must to keep her furred flanks

heaving heavily in what is mostly sleep.

When I get old, my mother said once,

toss me in a snowbank. Now she taps

the colored capsules on her flattened palm

until the old dog lifts her nose and sends

her tongue out in a slow unfurling sideways.

At night, my father lugs her by the collar out

to the frost-rimed slope behind the shed

and bracing her hindquarters with his feet,

presses gently on her bladder. Before

the first snow fell, he dug a hole for her

up by the rusted harrow where the Christmas trees

are dumped, the last wild place in all

their five tamed acres. Now she rehearses

by the wood stove in a doze so deep

she doesn’t hear the vacuum cleaner prowling

all around her, or the snap of her leash

against my father’s thigh, or down the hall,

the teenage cousins playing their guitars,

singing how they’re going to live forever

and when they die it will be for love,

by which they mean despite it.

 

Sue Ellen Thompson, of Oxford, MD, is the first “featured writer” in the Delmarva Review. These poems are from a collection in the journal’s first edition, in 2008 edition. Among her published works, a fifth book of poems, THEY, was published in 2014. She has been an instructor at The Writer’s Center, in Bethesda, since 2007, and has previously taught at Middlebury College, Binghamton University, the University of Delaware, and Central Connecticut State University. She received the 2010 Maryland Author Award from the Maryland Library Association.

Editorial: The Color of Purple in Talbot County

It’s hard to think that those of us who live in Talbot County can ever go back to what the color purple meant to us after the last thirty days. Gone forever are the associations of that color with the Baltimore Ravens, ecumenical symbols, Purple Heart citations, or even an artist formerly known as Prince.

No, the color purple now stands out as strikingly different to thousands of us in the community because of the flawless launch of the “Talbot Goes Purple” awareness campaign, sponsored by the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office and Tidewater Rotary, which powerfully drew attention to the horrific opioid crisis on the Mid-Shore.

The selection of the color for such use is remarkable in itself. Purple is considered the most complex on the color spectrum. Before a dye was accidentally created in a chemistry lab a few hundred years ago, purple could only be produced by using rare sea snails, leaving it to be the exclusive property of the very rich or religious orders of the times.

Perhaps because of this rarity, purple has always been historically linked to royalty, magic, and mystery, but more recently it has been seen to represent spiritual awareness, physical and mental healing, strength and abundance.

The latter might explain why it was the perfect color to use in Talbot County last month. As one of Alice Waters characters said in her classic novel, The Color Purple, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

And notice it, we did.

From bumper stickers to grids of purple lights glowing nightly in downtown Easton, the community could not avoid the color nor what it represented for local families overwhelmed by the most savage drug epidemic in our country’s history.

And yet even with this sad connotation, it is a feeling of hope that remains purple’s best quality. In can move us beyond hopelessness and remind the community of what ties us together. As demonstrated over the last month, it has become a sign of compassion and support to all those impacted by this cruel and evil force. As more and more residents of Easton replaced their traditional exterior lighting for purple bulbs throughout the last four weeks, there was a glowing sense of a county sharing something very much in common.

 

Editorial: We’ve Been There with the Talbot Boys Before but Haven’t Done Anything

When the full impact was felt from the violence in Charlottesville that took place in front of a statue of a Confederate general last weekend, it is suspected that more than a few Talbot County citizens felt a certain degree of deja vu as the media once again put the spotlight on similar Civil War memorials commemorating those who served to defend the institution of slavery and state rights.

Two summers ago, Talbot County faced its own moral dilemma in discussing the fate of the Confederate soldier monument entitled “For The Talbot Boys” on the Courthouse lawn in downtown Easton. This came in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre, which motivated the local chapter of the NAACP to file an official complaint with the County requesting that the statue be removed.

That NAACP complaint led the Talbot County community into an intensive six-month conversation about racism and the history of the Eastern Shore and slavery. Several town hall meetings were arranged to discuss these issues, dozens of letters to local newspapers were published, and open hearings were hosted by Talbot County Council.

The Talbot Spy also felt the need to provide extensive coverage of this issue. Thinking it was consistent with our educational mission, and also seeing it as what educators called a “teachable moment,” we completed an eight part special series (re-published in today’s Spy) with historians, religious leaders, elected officials, and local citizens to provide context and commentary on what Talbot County needed to do in the face of this difficult moral dilemma. We also didn’t hesitate to offer our own opinion on the statute.

The outcome of this debate, as ratified by the Talbot County Council members, was to keep the Talbot Boys statue where it stands today. Their decision, represented by Council President Corey Pack remarks, talked about the legal and cultural reasons why monuments like the Talbot Boys should not be disturbed. While President Pack made it clear that more could be done to acknowledge the real history behind the statute, as well as the Union boys that also died in the conflict,  the Council did not see these solutions as part of their legislative responsibility but encouraged citizens to take on a leadership role to rectify these profound gaps.

But since that summer of 2015, it is sad to note that not one group or individual has stepped forward to ensure that the full story of Talbot County in the Civil War is honored. The Talbot Boys still sits on the Courthouse lawn without interpretation, without a balanced viewpoint, nor acknowledging the other four hundred young boys from Talbot County that fought for the Union and end slavery.

Perhaps the Charlottesville tragedy will spur our community to take action finally. But this time, let’s please finish the job.

 

 

 

Easton Sidewalks: Thinking about Anne Truitt on South Street

Anne Truitt childhood home in Easton

One of the more interesting projects that the Talbot Historical Society recently introduced was a running list of the most respected and well-known Talbot County residents over the last three hundred years or so. It’s a fascinating lineup but one can’t recall seeing Anne Dean Truitt’s name among the top one hundred.

There should be no surprize with that omission. While Anne Truitt’s sculptures and art are just a few degrees south of Andy Warhol’s work in commercial value these days, and the subject of more than a few major retrospectives at such places as the Hirshhorn Museum since her death in 2004,  it is still understandable that this brilliant art minimalist, who grew up on South Street, would not be on the tip of the tongue of most folks living in Easton these days.

Nor was Truitt in Easton that long. Her family left town when she was fourteen for Asheville, and never really returned to the Eastern Shore except to visit friends from time to time. The artist would move on to Bryn Mawr College, then training in psychology at Yale, and eventually marry to James Truitt, a Washington Post reporter who eventually became president of Newsweek.

Anne Truitt

One would think with that kind of biography, Anne Truitt’s Easton days would be a very limited chapter in her memory bank of experiences. But the truth was that the artist would continue to keep her memories of Easton and Talbot County very much alive as she matured as an artist.

We know this to be true from the publication of her best-selling journal, Daybook, which was published in 1982, where she recalls her life in Easton and documents the impact that the landscape of Talbot County had on her work.

Attention Rewarded: Anne Truitt

Whether it be on a farm just off of Leehaven Road or the family home on South Street, Truitt’s mother philosophy that, “children should be brought up like cabbages — with lots of sun and space and let alone to grow,” allowed Anne to roam as she pleased during the 1920s and 1930s. Or, as she wrote, “and so it was with the little town of Easton, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore: an orderly scattering of houses, mostly white clapboard, so small that even on my short legs I was able to encompass the town’s dimensions. ”

Truitt also fell in love with proportions as well as dimensions in Talbot County. She writes in her journal:

“The actual landscape, of course, remains, and I returned to the Eastern Shore of Maryland now and then to look at it again. And at the houses in which I grew up.  The first of these is owned by a friend, and when I visit her I can see once again, by scrunching down, the proportions that taught me as a child. The house was probably built around the middle of the 18th century and is never been remodeled in any way. But what I remember is clearer to me than what I see today. I go back and yet cannot go back. Time has locked it all away from me as if I had died. I am irremediably thrust into my own mind, and there I find it all, in weights and lines and colors distinctively my own. Just as in my work I found it was the essence  rather than the objects that held me, so I find it is only the abstract part of my experience that is real for me. I wonder around the houses and gardens and see them with my physical eyes, while behind them glimmers the radiance of my vision. I have no home but me.”

Easton Sidewalks is an ongoing series of portraits of its streets and people

 

 

 

Editorial: The Departures of College Presidents Sheila Bair and Barbara Viniar

Just as with friends getting divorced, when colleges separate from their presidents there is that familiar feeling of sadness as well as the usually unanswered question as to why it had to come to “this.”

“They seemed like the perfect couple, or “what a terrific team,” or, better yet, “they were made for each other, what happened?” The phrases that come to mind when everyone’s favorite couple announces they are getting a divorce seem no different than when a school’s board of directors sends out press releases that their current CEO has abruptly resigned.

And that seems to have been the case with the recent announcements by the Boards of Chesapeake College and Washington College that their current presidents, Barbara Viniar and Sheila Bair, both of whom had records of significant accomplishments, would be leaving their posts under less than clear circumstances.

The general public, just like friends of divorcing couples, is not in a position to seek clarification for these quick changes. Just like in observing a marriage from afar, they are not privy to the kind of private conflicts, misunderstandings, or simple incompatibility that college presidents may or may not have had with their governing boards. The community at large is left to mind their own “beeswax” having neither the authority, nor the position, to press for better answers.

The Spy finds itself in a similar position. We are not in the business to speculate or second-guess volunteer boards on managing these local institutions of higher education unless there is evidence of malfeasance which, to our knowledge, does not seem to be the case with in these two cases.

But that does not preclude us from saying that both of these women demonstrated a love of their institutions that achieved great and significant improvements in how their schools pursued their mission.

Barbara Viniar’s ten years at Chesapeake College almost perfectly paralleled the remarkable sea change in community college education throughout the country. And during that time, Dr. Viniar held firm in her conviction that through innovation and curriculum reform, Chesapeake College could navigate through the pitfalls of funding shortages and political conflicts to become all the more useful and relevant to the communities it serves. She should take pride that she has left the community college in Wye Mills stronger and more vibrant as a result of her leadership.

And while Sheila Bair at Washington College did not enjoy the same lengthy tenure as Dr. Viniar had, it was stunning for many observers, including the media, how quickly she was able to define the mission of the College to include an intensely public campaign to reduce student debt. She also instantaneously became the primary national advocate in shedding light on the precarious subprime educational loan market, earning her well-deserved coverage in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post.

It is these records of accomplishment that make these transitions painful to hear. But it also a reminder of how extremely difficult being a college president is these days. Beyond the usual tensions that come with faculty demands, alumni grievances, and high board expectations, college leaders must operate will fewer resources, tighter regulations, and new performance metrics based on “return on investment” calculations. In short, these are really hard jobs.

As the Mid-Shore awaits news of their successors for both schools, it behooves us all to acknowledge the personal leadership offered by these impressive women. They both should feel a sense of accomplishment as they move on to their next role.

We wish them well and with our gratitude.

 

Editorial: Voting for the Status Quo in Easton on May 2

The Spy has taken a particular note of interest in a recent Star Democrat article that three Easton Town Council seats are up for election on May 2; but in all three cases, there will be no opposition to the incumbents.

Normally this would be a pretty dangerous sign of community indifference. To have these many seats up for a vote without other candidates, much debate, nor new points of view aired, is not an especially healthy thing for our democratic process.

A case in point was the remarkable news a few years ago of the unchallenged rule of the mayor and city council of Bell, California (pop. 35,000), who approved such mind blowing acts as setting the town manager’s salary at $1.5 million a year. In the end, seven Bell officials, including the former mayor, four city council members, the town administrator and his assistant, were convicted on graft and corruption charges. Bell is a worse-case scenario that happens when citizens are detached and where election challenges are few.

The good news for Easton is that this kind insouciance is not the case here.  Instead, the opposite might be true. The May ballot reflects the subtle, but nonetheless clear indicator that the community supports the status quo and its leaders.

The words “status quo” these days immediately suggest in our increasingly divided political life a bad thing. That by voting for the status quo, or being at peace with it, is somehow a problem or too passive. But literally, it just means “the current state of things.” It doesn’t mean tough issues are being ignored, nor does it mean things can’t improve. In Easton, it means that our current elected officials are doing the very best they can for a town they deeply care about.

As our Spy profiles last year so powerfully indicate, it is hard to see how this town could find more conscientious, thoughtful, and altruistically-motivated individuals in leading Easton then President John Ford, Megan Cook (Ward 4), and Peter Lesher (Ward 2).

Through a combination of well-managed, respectful, and transparent deliberations, as well as a strong impulse against unnecessary drama, these three leaders have carried on the business of government with reassuring results during their last terms in office. It is no wonder that no challenges have come forward.

That does not mean there’s no reason to go to the polls on May 2. For a variety of reasons, including to demonstrate vigilance, show affirmation, and offer a bit of a pat on the back for these office holders, the Spy encourages voters to continue to mark their ballots for this wise leadership. As the town continues to be challenged with economic development needs, as well as a sundry of difficult social issues, including opiate crisis, multiculturalism, and affordable housing, it would be a nice time to send a message to these three that the community is so very grateful that they have Easton’s back.

Megan Cook (Ward 4)

John Ford (Council President)

Peter Lesher (Ward 2)

Editorial: The Serious Threat of Fake News

As our more observant readers noticed today, the Spy has run our annual fake news story in honor of April Fools’ Day with the announcement that the Eastern Shore will have its own rapid transit system next year. We have also enlisted columnist Howard Freedlander into this fictional project with his reporting that Annapolis is moving ahead with a tunnel from the Bay Bridge toll center to Claiborne to connect with the new system. We hope these two breaking news stories will be enjoyed as much by the Mid-Shore region as it has been for the Spy team to produce.

April Fools Day has always been a cherished tradition at the Spy. From our announcement last year that Trump International was constructing a luxury twenty-four story apartment building in Claiborne to the Town of Chestertown accepting responsibility of Binny, an orphaned giraffe, in exchange for funding the town’s Marina on the Chester, The Spy writers allow this field day of imagination to test readers aptitude in depend on their judgment of what is true or false, no matter how crafty our art director is with photoshop

We are also glad that this unofficial national holiday comes only once a year, since the Spy, like any responsible publication, depends on the community’s trust to fulfill our mission as an important educational news source for the Mid-Shore. While it is always tempting to take poetic license during the rest of the year, our desire to maintain our reputation for credibility will always trump our enjoyment of irony or mischief.

Sadly, we are living in a culture where an increasingly large number of independent media sources have turned April Fools Day into a daily occurrence. The production of fake news, from every end of the political spectrum, has invaded our daily consumption of information. And the results of which has been devastating.

In the last year alone, fake news impacted a presidential election, caused a gun assault at a family pizza restaurant in DC, and has sent the United States Congress into endless and costly investigations using false news reports on such topics as Benghazi or presidential wiretapping.

It is particularly hard to imagine that this harmful practice will end anytime soon but that doesn’t necessarily mean it must remain such a potent force in our culture. But it does require that citizens, the country’s consumers of news, become increasingly become more vigilant in relying on their good judgment and common sense rather than accept at face value what they find on the internet.

Home by Sue Ellen Thompson

While it may seem traditional to share with our Spy readers a special holiday message or image as Talbot County ends one year and begins another, it is our instinctive choice to turn to poetry to celebrate this important passage of time.

In this case, we turn to poet Sue Ellen Thompson and her reading of her poem “Home” to set the tone as family and loved ones return to the Shore for reunions and holiday cheer.

We chose “Home” for the same reasons that National Public Radio’s Garrison Keillor chose this particular poem two years ago for the award-winning program devoted to poetry. It is a poem that creates unforgettable images in the mind’s eye for all who listen and think of their own homes during this season of memories.

The Talbot Spy editors and writers send our best wishes to our readers and those coming to our very special home of Talbot County.

This video is approximately one minute in length. “Home” by Sue Ellen Thompson, from They. © Turning Point Press, 2014. Reprinted with permission and can be purchased here.

Sue Ellen Thompson is the author of five books of poetry, including They (2014), The Wedding Boat (1995), and This Body of Silk (1986). Her two other books, The Leaving: New & Selected Poems (2001) and The Golden Hour (2005), were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Known for her elegant control of form, Thompson’s poetry has been praised for its metaphorical heft and sinuous syntax. Poet B.H. Fairchild praised The Golden Hour for its “elegant, wild, beautifully disciplined quatrains and casually rhymed sonnets.” She is also the editor of The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (2005).

Thompson has received numerous awards and honors, including the Samuel French Morse Prize, the Pablo Neruda Prize, the Maryland Author Award, and two Artist Fellowships from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism. She has taught at Middlebury College, Wesleyan University, Binghamton University (SUNY), and Central Connecticut State University. She currently works at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and tutors adult poets.