The Currency of Likes

February 24th, 2014

It’s bad enough that one of our local hospital emergency rooms has a highway billboard distracting motorists with an LED display of the minutes you’ll wait before anyone will attend to your urgent needs. The sign also suggests that incoming patients text the ER, presumably to check in from the site of the emergency, which could be very close to that billboard if drivers take their eyes off the road to wonder at the sign itself.

Emergency Room Billboard
Image Source Unknown

But this lunacy is eclipsed on the lawn beside a large orthopedic care center, where a twinkling marquee urges passing motorists to “LIKE US ON FACEBOOK.” Will this exhortation induce you, driving on a a major cross-town 4-lane artery, to follow doctors’ orders? Are you going to pull over to the side of the street just up ahead or remember to spend some quality time with Facebook after you get home? Fat chance. If you are going to do any “liking” at all, you are probably going to do it on a phone—and while rolling along.

So even though texting while driving is illegal in Florida, doctors who treat automobile accident victims are asking their past, present, and possibly future patients, to multitask, to surf or scroll to the orthopods’ Facebook page to “support” this team in white coats by clicking on that innocent little Facebook thumbs-up symbol.

Why would anyone do this? What good karma are you creating? What are you paying forward when you click? Will anyone in the medical practice “like” you back for your kind attention? Give you priority seating or cappuccino in their waiting room? Be inclined to stitch more carefully when you need tibial reconstruction or a hip replacement? We wouldn’t bank on it.

Vintage S & H Green Stamps
Image Source Unknown

With so many of us liking away our days, maybe we need to wipe off the lens of time, to apply hindsight to see that likes are a currency as ephemeral as those mid-century S & H Green stamps and cereal box-tops, earned and hoarded for future rewards like casserole dishes and secret decoder rings.

But in terms of their seductive power, likes are probably closer to frequent flier miles: it’s pretty easy to rack them up, but there are far surer– and safer– ways to reach your destination.

Piccolo Market is Moving!

February 10th, 2014

Our dear friends, Antonio and Josephine Dirende, have just moved their wonderful Italian grocery and deli, Piccolo Market, from Gulf Gate to a much larger storefront around the corner at 6518 Gateway Avenue. Good news for anyone whose idea of a Valentine’s Day meal includes a little truffle oil and parmigiano is that Ant & Josephine plan to be open for business in the new space by mid-week, well before February 14th.

Deli Case at Piccolo Market
The new space will feature an expanded deli case with cold cuts and cheeses of every stripe.
Photo Copyright © 2014, Skip Lombardi

In addition to Piccolo Market’s unsurpassed selection of myriad Italian groceries, we’re told that our favorite characters like “The Godfather,” “The Frank Sinatra,” and “The Tony Soprano” will again take up residence on the Piccolo Market made-to-order sandwich menu.

Trust us, you’ll find no better Italian grinders south of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Deli Case at Piccolo Market
Expanded floor area will allow shoppers better access to delicacies like panettone and jumbo cans of San Marzano tomatoes.
Photo Copyright © 2014, Skip Lombardi

Ant and Josephine are putting the finishing touches on their new digs as we write this. Let’s lift a glass of vino and wish them Salute! as we look forward to seeing them later this week.

Piccolo Italian Market & Deli
6518 Gateway Ave.,
Sarasota, FL 34231
(941) 923-2202

The ETSY Factor

December 21st, 2013


Is Changing the Way We See?


Britannia Tea Set
Britannia Tea Set, circa 1880
Copyright © 2013, Skip Lombardi

I confess that I’m a serial shopkeeper. Over four decades, I have owned and/or managed retail shops in a score of different locations. I’ve learned how to display, schmooze about, and sell antique Turkish carpets, African baskets, Indian amulets, scrimshaw, potted plants, paintings, and apparel.

Although I was an early Internet adventurer with my own website and multiple email accounts in the mid-90’s, I never took to the format and pricing tiers of eBay.

Then along came Etsy– far easier and cheaper to use than auction-driven “fee-Bay.” I was encouraged to give online the marketing of my stuff another go. And so these days, I also sell my vintage and antique wares via the Internet.

Or perhaps I should rephrase that: I now have customers who know me only as an online merchant.

People who would probably never have found my offerings on eBay or in any of my ever-changing brick-and-mortar retail locations now buy from me. The DO find me in my virtual Etsy shop, where my wares actually look better than they do in my real Main Street shop.

After so many years in the biz, I have no trouble admitting that I am a good merchandiser. Draping a Paisley shawl, hanging a group of paintings, staging vintage cookbooks, wooden spoons, and French casseroles atop an old wooden crate are easy and enjoyable tasks for me. I had great teachers and worked with some masters, most notably one uncle whose work ran the gamut from 1960’s department store displays to his own antique store and homes, which appeared in the pages of major shelter and lifestyle magazines.

Cartier Scarf
Cartier Scarf
Copyright © 2013, Skip Lombardi

So why do I think objects look better online than in my own shop? In a word– photography. One picture really is worth a thousand words, worth more than anything I can say to a customer inside my physical shop. Even though Etsy allows you to write veritable tracts on the items your offer, the visuals are what get viewers to click on your goods. Enticing shots are key (and Etsy lets you post five of each item).b

While most Etsy sellers are amateur photographers, current photo technology gives even novices the tools to create excellent product shots. Furthermore, Etsy’s site design is clean and easy to navigate. Click on any picture: the item fills the screen before you, without the clutter of other things that would compete for your attention in a paper catalogue, a glass display case, on a gallery wall, or on a revolving dress-rack.

Etsy likes to say that its collections are “curated.” While everything from a spice rack to used car lot can now be curated, and the term is woefully overused, there is no denying that Etsy’s visual editorial powers are enormous. Items can be viewed, admired, coveted–and purchased– in isolation.

In my most recent shop, in a bustling New England resort, many visitors said something to the effect of: “What a wonderful shop! So much to see, I don’t know where to look first.”

While those were compliments, they were also alerts. With rents as high as they are, retailers like me are tempted to pack their shops to the rafters. There is always the danger of too much of a good thing. It’s a tricky balance. While shoppers are easily exhausted by merchandise-dense stores, if you edit your bricks-and-mortar shop inventory down to just a few choice pieces and display them in the manner of a couturier or high-end art gallery, a lot of would-be browsers are simply too intimidated to come through the door. But there are no such barriers in the anonymous world of online shopping. You can browse the Tiffany or Hermes websites in your oldest sweatpants.

So could Etsy (with thousands of vendors and millions of items) also overwhelm the casual surfers, those undecided window-shoppers who may not yet know what they might discover or acquire with a few mouse clicks?

That sensory overload doesn’t seem to be happening. Maybe it’s because Etsy gives you that private, minimalist space for viewing– whether you are an insomniac in your pajamas who is shopping during the middle of the night or someone snatching five minutes from a fifteen-minute lunch “hour.”

The walls and carousels of STUFF that funnel you into Nordstrom, Macy’s, or a dollar store bear little resemblance to the serene Etsy virtual storefronts, each with no more than 28 tile photos, as orderly as a sheet of postage stamps.

I think there’s been a change in our brains. Whether we are simply aspirational Etsy visitors or are actual buyers, sites like Etsy have trained us to see differently.

Dim Sum at Yummy House
Dim Sum at Yummy House on the North Trail.
Copyright © 2013, Skip Lombardi

A great day in Sarasota need not include a trip to the beach. It could simply be a trip to see the great new exhibit at the Ringling Museum, Fifty Years of Modern Art: Georgia O’Keefe to Norman Rockwell, followed by Dim Sum at Yummy House on the North Trail.

In fact, the more I think about it, a great day in Sarasota may not necessarily include a trip to the Ringling Museum either*.

Yummy House
3232 N Tamiami Trail
Sarasota, FL 34234
(941) 351-1688

Mon-Sun 11 am – 9:00 pm

* But seriously…any day that includes a trip to the Ringling Museum is a great day in Sarasota…with Dim Sum or without. We feel that the Ringling is one of the great cultural resources in Florida

And by all means, we encourage you to take advantage of the free admission on Mondays for Sarasota residents and go see American Moderns.