9 September

Taking Down The Signs At The Round House Cafe

by Jon Katz
Taking Down The Signs At The Round House Cafe
Taking Down The Signs At The Round House Cafe

This morning, I went down to the Round House Cafe – it is being cleaned and polished for its opening Monday after a few days off for Scott And Lisa Carrino.

I took down the ugly “For Sale By Owner” signs placed in the center of the front window (ugly on both sides) and removed a second one from the side window. This violated many of my core beliefs: mind your own business, don’t tell other people what to do.

But it felt good, and I will do no mincing or moaning about it. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I should be clear that I understand that this act will not stand with Paul Revere’s ride or the brave people in Tianamen Square, it will not be a chapter in Profiles In Courage or make its way onto the TV news, but it did feel good and was something I felt I needed to do.

We live in a time of hatred and lament and worry, and my own idea is to do good in small but important ways, one at a time.

The signs were put up earlier this week by the landlord who owns the Round House. Scott and Lisa Carrino are trying to buy the build so they can own and keep their community cafe, which has become so important to our town.

The building has been for sale for nine years, and the owner put up this jarring and somewhat aggressive signs this week, perhaps in an effort to pressure Scott and Lisa to make an offer he will accept. He is asking $250,000 for the building.

The Carrinos have worked very hard and raised more than $60,000 from people in town and all over the country, much of it through their gofundme campaign. I think they deserve better than this.

Scott says if they can get their hands on between $10,000 and $15,000 more, they will be able to make an offer they can afford, assuming they can get a mortgage and the owner accepts it. That is far from certain.

The signs seemed to be a signal, like a cannonball fired across the bow of a frigate. Whatever kind of a signal, it did not friendly. Up and down Main Street yesterday, residents and merchants were upset and angry. People assumed the cafe had closed, and gone out of business.

After all, how many successful businesses have “For Sale By Owner” signs prominently displayed in their windows?

“This was a very stupid and hostile thing to do,” one business person told me yesterday, thanking me for writing about it. “It’s bad for Main Street and hard to see how it will help anyone in this negotiation…”

That was a sound assessment. Scott and Lisa have been killing themselves to make the cafe work, they hold community events there almost weekly. They are doing their best to raise enough money to make a fair offer. It is doubtful to many that they will ever be able to offer $250,00, or should, but that is really not my business.

Why did I take the signs down?

Because I felt it was the right thing to do, in my heart. Because the signs seemed to me to be a negotiation in bad faith. It felt like bullying to me, and I have a thing about bullies. And besides, Scott can blame it on me.

I believe in community, unraveling everywhere in America,  and many people in this town have been fighting for months and sacrificing and donating to keep this cafe here. The town is already ravaged by the Wal-Marting of the world, by corporate box stores which destroy small businesses,  by outsourcing,  and by government polices that destroy family farms and encourage the migration of rural people to the cities.

Enough is enough.

Not only was the sign intrusive and disturbing from the outside – so many people were upset to see it this week – it was even more discordant from the meticulously designed inside. It stared right in the faces of people eating their food and sitting at their tables, a demonstration of power, perhaps.

I’m glad I took the signs down, moral choices are not about what others think, but about what i think.

This struggle will not alter the world, it is dwarfed by the great issues facing our country and the earth. But as a symbol, it is important. It demands that we ask: “what are people for?” And it reminds us of the importance of community, which will vanish if we do not fight to keep it. This is everyone’s struggle.

We are all called upon to decide what we wish to do. Morality concerns the individual in his singularity – me, Scott, the landlord, the residents of the town. My decisions about what to do does not depend on the customs and values and opinions of those around me, but on what I decide in regard to myself.

It is not about what others think, but what I think.

I looked in the car mirror after I took the signs down and I liked what I saw, I respected that man in the glass.

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