Dear Mr. Prager,
This is our town, too.
As someone who has lived in the town and county for twenty years, I’ve seen the ups and downs, the changes – not all for the better, in my opinion – and the voicing of competing opinions and interests over the evolution and development of the town. Never, however, have I seen one individual so transparently self-motivated attempting to control and manipulate the views and actions of the Mayor, Council, business owners and citizens.
I have read your manifestos posted on social media under the banner of one of your businesses, and published online by the Talbot Spy website. I won’t take the time to pick apart each and every argument, complaint and logical fallacy that you have offered as an attempt at justifying your position and more importantly, obfuscating what I believe are your true motives. To break down each distractor, red herring, straw man, irrelevancy, exaggeration, personal insult and misogynistic statement would be petty and small. And while it would give me great personal satisfaction to do so, it would be wholly unproductive. The irony, in case you miss it, is that you are doing that very thing to each and every proposal and solution offered by our duly elected and appointed officials, and the result is predictably unproductive.
Your efforts, while somewhat successful at slowing the process or scaling back plans, have been productive for your goals, but not for the community. You have made enemies where none existed. You have not forged alliances nor proffered solutions. You have enumerated every reason, and created dozens of others, why a one or two block area of a single street should not be temporarily close to create a vibrant area for citizens to, safely and responsibly in the context of the health crisis, enjoy the downtown area and bring much needed patronage to all local businesses.
You closed your Facebook diatribe with the expression ‘a rising tide floats all boats.’ A truer statement does not exist. Which leaves a citizen to wonder, why are you attempting to drain the harbor? You decry the lack of business acumen of others who oppose your efforts, and you climb on a high horse of business and financial success in an attempt to discredit competing viewpoints as invalid. Ironically again, truly successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs do not act this way. They do not create obstacles where none exist. They do not enlarge blockers and make mountains of molehills. They do not simply point out (real or fabricated) inadequacies in the plans of partners and stakeholders. If this has been your mode of operation during your self-described “lucky” business ventures, then truly luck has been on your side. True business professionals pride themselves on being problem solvers, removers of obstacles, agile thinkers, and with an ability to create alliances that benefit all stakeholders. The only reason to create obstacles to a plan desired by the large part of the town’s citizens, officials and business owners is that such obstacles work to your benefit.
A curious citizen may ask, ‘what benefit would Paul Prager get’ from opposing the closure of Washington Street for an open-air promenade? While it would be engaging in speculation, you have opened that door by speculating as to the motivations of council members and interested citizens in your public statements. Therefore, I believe it is fair to make some educated guesses regarding your motivations. The article about your investment in the town published online in Forbes states that, at the time of publication you owned forty percent of the downtown real estate and wanted more. It also states that you didn’t care if your businesses made money. You built them as places that your family and clients could visit, and you offer the idea that you truly care about the town’s development. I ask you: what good is development if there is no revenue generated? Isn’t it in the town’s interest to have successful ventures exist? What good is development and refurbishment to the town if no one patronizes the businesses? Surely good growth takes time, but for the time being, you’ve built a façade of success. One that may fool the casual onlooker or inattentive elected official, but more importantly, what you’ve done is gather power that you now use to intimidate and threaten town officers, philanthropic organizations and competing businesses.
For a man who avers his goal to “own more” of the town, I can’t help but wonder why you wouldn’t want to own the most prized locations directly across from the courthouse in the very center of town. You’ve developed on the side streets. Anyone with an eye for business can look at the map and say that these are prime locations. If you can tell us that you don’t want that property, and you don’t want those businesses to become “distressed” as were the other properties you purchased; if you can tell us that contrary to your Forbes statement and your bombastic Facebook dissertation , you don’t aim to ‘help’ the poor, struggling banks by asking them to turn the screws on struggling businesses and property holders so that you can play the hero and write checks to save the financial institutions – if you can say those things, maybe you’d have a shot at credibility. Instead you play your hand by diminishing these businesses as “little,” and insignificant, as if no one should want to visit them anyway. In this Shakespearean tragedy you’ve created, methinks the gentleman doth protest too much. We see through your veil of condescending remarks about those businesses.
You complain out loud about having your reputation attacked, but you’ve done more work than anyone of destroying what credibility you might have had. You whine about a poor UPS driver who was briefly confused. Give the driver credit for having some skill and intellect. Don’t condescend to him. Don’t condescend to us. Part of the delivery driver’s job description is navigating road closures, construction, weather conditions, parking, and obstacles in every town and jurisdiction. To say that this eight-square block downtown area is too much for him to handle is a distractor intended to make those who support a road closure appear insensitive and mean. Framing this non-issue in that way is “spin” of the worst kind, and it’s insulting to the collective intelligence of your reader and the driver. Let the man do his job. I trust in his abilities without needing you, Mr. Prager to look out for his interests.
To argue that traffic, emergency access and parking will be nightmarish and unmanageable is equally insulting to the officials who are responsible for those services. While those officials should be consulted during the planning process, to throw their lack of ability to adapt to changing circumstances and needs in the community is once again a show of hubris and condescension that you repeatedly use as a way to intimidate and distract. We close most of the downtown for four days in the fall, and they manage that situation with expertise and experience. Please allow them to handle a closure of one block of one street in the same way.
What, to me, (aside from the patently offensive way you show your disdain for women in positions of authority) is the most galling and offensive of your man-in-the-high-castle arguments is the threat to pull all of your investment and philanthropic support from the town if you don’t get your way. This alone proves that Paul Prager invests and donates for the benefit of Paul Prager and his accumulation of wealth and power. You claim to take great care of your employees, but you are willing, over a supposed disagreement over parking places, to shutter your businesses and leave them without jobs. Perhaps you intended to add that you’ll pay them a year’s salary while they wait for the town to find businesses to fill the void? Or perhaps they’re on their own? Let us know your plan for them if and when you leave.
And never fear: the local baseball league survived before Paul Prager. As did every other charity and non-profit, employee and customer. We’ll all survive if you follow through on your threat. We respect your bank account, but we as citizens, operators of charity organizations, and elected officials need not be in awe of it. We are not required to come kiss your ring and beg for the help. Don’t mistake asking for your help for requiring your help. We ask because you have the ability to help, and we’d like to think you have both a business interest in doing things (such as decreasing tax liabilities), and a true spirit of helpfulness.
Yet we find in your writings, no humility whatsoever; no true selfless spirit. Statements that even approach those themes are bookended with boasts about how you didn’t have to do things, self-righteous claims about how you’re better, smarter, and more civic-minded than anyone, all followed by the threat to stop producing your theater of civic-duty and carefully choreographed humanitarianism if you don’t get your way.
If you truly don’t know how to be selfless, giving, and to use your wealth and influence to make a distressed neighborhood better, I offer the example of Jose Andres, a restauranteur who got his start in Washington, D.C. Mr. Andres has built an empire of fine food and community service, earning him an estimated net worth of over $50 million. It’s my guess that your net worth value begins with the letter “b” and not “m.” It’s not my place to say what you should do with your money. But with his tiny empire, Mr. Andres has founded World Central Kitchen, a non-profit dedicated to providing food after natural disasters. He has founded Think Food Group, “to tell stories and push creativity forward in the hospitality industry, philanthropy, and beyond,” a model that, if emulated in Easton could make Bluepoint Hospitality a highly respected contributor. During the Covid pandemic, Mr. Andres has supported struggling restaurants in Washington D.C., not lobbied against measures to help them. His team serves meals to restaurant workers, finds funds to pay salaries of competitor’s employees, and works tirelessly with the mission of keeping the industry alive in the city. It’s just my assumption, but I don’t envision World Central Kitchen opposing a one-block street closure that would help some fellow businesses succeed. I think he’s smarter and better than that. Mr. Andres truly understands the words “a rising tide floats all boats.”
Finally, because this is an open letter, a bit of long-term thinking. Some of which you’ve likely done, but just in case other readers haven’t, it’s worth some more speculation. A small community in which one man owns enough property to control the decisions of policy makers with threats of leaving the town destitute and empty is toxic to all other potential business owners. This is America, and you are free to buy as much as your bank account allows. I have no issue with that concept. I say this as a vision of what could become if our officials do not fulfill their role of executing a long term plan; in case they haven’t undertaken their stewardship duties with their eyes on the town twenty, thirty, and fifty years after their tenure. If our Mayor and Council cannot find a way to see through your bluster, claims of victimhood, self-superior attitude and large hollow ball of red tape, and deal with your threats in a judicious and confident manner, no entrepreneur or developer who does any research will bring themselves to Easton. Sure, some will come, but only after they’ve been given the blessing and are put under the thumb of you, Mr. Prager. If they are your tenants or subcontractors, the town will remain a well-crafted stage set, acted out by amateur thespians, devoid of value to the residents, unless that value also benefits Mr. Prager, the theater owner. Let’s call it like it is. With your wealth these properties could remain in the hands of your descendants for generations. The council and citizens should see that possibility and act accordingly in the best interests of the majority, not the one person with the majority of the money. The role of government is to provide equal opportunity, and in allowing one individual, regardless of whether he owns forty percent or one percent of the town, to block progress without offering or facilitating solutions that produce the desired ends, is a dangerous precedent to set.
I want my family to be here for generations, living in and around Easton, not Pragerville.
It’s our town too.
Letters to Editor
Margot Miller says
Thank you, Scott Harris.
Amy N. Gagnon says
Well said Mr. Harris! Well said!
Nancy Tankersley says
Thank you Mr Harris. So incredibly well stated. When my husband and I moved to Easton in 2004 it was a town full of small, independent stores. I’ll never forget walking down Washington Street one evening and hearing the delightful sounds of piano music being broadcast by a charming little bistro called Chez Lafitte. And something always seemed to be happening at the Historical Auditorium, now known as the Praegar Family Auditorium. There were quite a few art galleries in town and some very interesting restaurants ( General Tanuki comes to mind) . Our own little neighborhood coffee shop (Coffee East) has now been replaced, after several failed ventures, with an upscale cosmetic surgery business. A few doors down the street was a good and reasonabley priced ice cream shop. I think there was even a comic book store. Now Goldborogh Street is filled with upscale clothing stores, wedding planners, furniture stores, most either owned or vetted by Mr Praegar. Mr Praegar is doing a careful and top notch rennovation of all of the businesses he acquires, but in doing so he is making ours a town that is lovely but has no energy, no heart, no soul. I know businesses come and go but I miss the energy and the electicism of the Easton that drew us here. I thought the idea of closing the street was forward thinking and agile. It happens all over Europe, why not here? In this time of Covid-19, this was an idea that could benefit many businesses and provide a needed outlet for the community. It could also have been a first step in shaking us out of our lethargy and looking at Easton with new ideas and energy that would open the door for more innovation.
Laura Zagon says
Please reprint this article in every printed formum in Easton. Prager’s threats and mode of taking his toys home when he doesnt get what he wants is very reminiscent of Furor Trump. Ugh.
Eva Smorzaniuk says
Thoughtful and thorough letter by Mr. Harris, augmented by Ms.Tankersleys poignant reply. Yes, soulless, is exactly what I feel when I see these new businesses. Fake and artificial, as perfectly exemplified by the corner cosmetic surgery shop. Doesn’t every neighborhood need one?!
Teri Franciose says
I do respect your views and concerns, however please be cognizant that not all shops and property on Goldsborough street are owned or vetted by Mr Prager. And those small shops enjoy being a part of the quaint town of Easton.
Brooke Pochron says
I am in full support of Mr. Harris and I know it’s easy to become enraged with this situation (as I do on a daily basis), but let’s give credit where credit is due.
As someone who works in one of these upscale businesses on Goldsborough, I feel the need to point out some misinformation. The majority of these businesses are not vetted and most certainly NOT owned by Prager. They are businesses opened by successful, hardworking people who have weathered ups and downs and still prosper, despite this sometimes volatile climate. And long before Prager arrived on the block.
Carole Abruzzese says
Mr Harris please consider running for President!
Leslie Hamburger says
Thank you, Scott Harris, for the time you invested in writing an intelligent, thoughtful letter. I completely support and share your views on Paul Prager and will continue to boycott his businesses. And, I am also a huge fan of José Andes. 😊
Karen Boldosser says
Richard L Hott says
Great letter, Mr. Harris, thank you. While reading your beautifully expressed thoughts, opinions, etc. I kept thinking about Mr. Potter and Pottersville so fully appreciated your last line.
Nina Wahl says
Mr. Harris has really said it all and said it very well. We did not come here 20 years ago to live in Pragerville. Easton was a very appealing town before Mr. Prager began to buy it up. Many of the best things about Easton are not just the result of money but of the incredible people who donate their creative ideas and solutions to problems, their volunteer time and shared efforts in producing festivals and events and in reaching out to enrich and improve the lives of many.
Glenn Baker says
The bitterness and ignorance expressed in the earlier eight comments remind me of why we are now a nation of communities out of control.
The town council made a mistake by creating a situation benefiting 3 businesses while making life difficult for others. It is not governments role to create winners and losers. The new ‘trial’ situation could be a winner. Sorry this response won’t take 10 minutes to read.
Julius Rosen says
Wow. Could be a tv drama. great writing. Thanks.
Bianca Russo says
Wow! Well said Mr. Harris! I applaud you!
Willard T Engelskirchen says
Admittedly I have not followed this saga in all its gory details. However, a couple of comments seem to be in order:
Because someone owns a big part of the town does not mean that this person should have control of the town. That kind of thinking went out of style a long time ago.
On the other hand, Mr. Prager has indeed been generous to local facilities and charities. For this we should all be grateful and thank him. This just does not give him a veto on what goes on in Easton or Talbot County. He has a voice. OK, but not control.
We have lived here for over 20 years. I learned a long time ago that some in the County felt that they should have an outsized voice and be able to dictate where things went. Please do not be surprised to learn that the rest of us resent this.
If, indeed, Mr. Prager has threatened to cause damage to other businesses or the town of Easton, then I thank Mr. Harris for bringing this to our attention. What good would it do Mr. Prager to kill things in Easton when, in a time of pandemic, things are vulnerable?
IMHO it is time to cool off and enjoy what we can of summer in Talbot County. My wife and I had a very pleasant lunch at a restaurant across from the Courthouse last week. Outside. Good food.
Time to think about the whole of the community. Cool down. Not try to exercise power. Try to understand the other guy’s position.
Gregg Semplice says
Ultimately, I hope that the places with character in Easton continue to thrive. Are people going to get proven delicious coffee at Rise Up, or order their cup in a place that feels like a museum? Are people going to get food from the new Rude Food establishments, one of the many Ethnic restaurants, or the comfort of the local Pub, or are they going to want to pay extra to sit in a completely sterile environment? I know what the younger people in town are choosing, and I hope it stays that way.
I hold out hope that one person won’t be able to transform Easton into something it isn’t. But, unfortunately, I also know that money wins in the end. If money does win in the end, at least it appears Cambridge has some great stuff happening in their downtown.
Allie McGuckian says
This was a very long letter but please accept our response.
1. Mr. Prager did not stop the closure of Washington Street or the Promenade. He did however attend the Town Council meeting on Wednesday, July 8th, to discuss it, along with many other concerned residents and stated he was not in support of the street closure and why. The transcript of his remarks is a matter of public record. We feel strongly that the quotes that circulated from this meeting did not accurately reflect Mr. Prager’s sentiments.
2. Mr. Prager also stated at that meeting, and I mention this only for emphasis given your concern for inclusion, we, our businesses, our employees and our customers were not consulted or informed of the Washington Street closure. This would appear to me to be a valid concern.
3. The Town Council including Town Council President Megan Cook voted 4-0 to shelve the project. This is a matter of record. You may watch the entire proceeding, or read the transcript, or visit the town office and ask the Town Attorney to give you a copy of the record of the vote.
4. The Town Council, seeking more information tasked the Executive Director of Easton Economic Development Corp., Tracy Ward, to facilitate a meeting of downtown businesses, merchants, offices and concerned people. Town Council members attended. The Mayor and Town Manager attended too. This happened July 23rd. Turnout was extraordinary. I attended. The Town Council has the results but all parties had the opportunity to vote. One thing that was clear – no one was in support of the Washington Street closure.
5. Certainly we have a view of retail and hospitality in the downtown area. We work hard to develop concepts that draw people in to town. This is particularly difficult in the age of online shopping and large box stores outside of town. We execute on our concepts and hope people enjoy our businesses. We recognize that customers have a choice, and we are appreciative of the customers that like what we do, and respect customers who seek an alternative.
6. There are countless spaces available downtown for rent owned by a range of owners and investors. There are also buildings for sale. We applaud people that have different ideas for shops or businesses and hope they dive right in. We think a small town that has so much to offer is a good thing.
7. I will not address the more personal attacks here. They have no place here.
I too loved the restaurants, shops and galleries of old Easton. They were all part of my childhood. But people retire, or move away and I imagine some just didn’t make it, did not feel supported by the community. But we are not to blame. We have and will continue to do our best to keep Easton beautiful and vibrant. We will deliver concepts for our customers and hopefully bring more and more people here to appreciate the charm and value in our community. Our chefs and service teams, sales people and baristas work so hard to deliver on that promise. I grew up here. It’s my town too.
Director of Marketing & Public Relations
Carol Michelson says
Spot on. Such hateful, odious, malicious writing from the mouth of S. Harris. He may wish to avail himself of some psychotherapy. This venom is beyond the pale.
Rita E. Connolly says
Mr. Prager is doing his job. He is in real estate. It is up to the town officials to control Mr. Prager. To prevent him from buying up the town. That’s why they were voted in.
Why do people move to a small town and then try to change it? You will not have everything you want or need at your fingertips in a small town. Most are willing to forego large stores for the beauty and peace of the small town.
When we moved here 29 years ago I brought my young children to the library to get our new library cards. As we left the library the church bells were ringing. I knew we had made the right decision to live in Easton. Now people complain about the church bells!
There were very nice restaurants in Easton, that most could afford. Now $200.00 doesn’t get you dessert!
Here’s hoping our elected officials caN and will do their job. I hope so…..
Lori Emig says
Well Said Mr. Harris!
And may I just add, as a local,my family and I used to frequent the shops and restaurants in Easton. We no longer go into town due to the types of stores and restaurants that have been taken away and been replaced with. The town of Easton no longer serves all.; this is not the Hamptons. Talbot County is made up of the wealthy as well as the working class.
Jim Duncan says
Hang tough, Mr. Prager.