Letter to Labyrinth Fans

Jeff and I posted this on the Labyrinth’s Facebook page recently.




As we ready to reopen our doors we thought it’d be a good idea to give our customers, fans, and supporters some information about what has been going on in the Labyrinth world and what to look forward to. We hope we can answer some questions, quell some rumors, and entice some taste buds.

It wasn’t our intention to stay closed for this long, but many good things take time to come to fruition, and we think we have been working on some good things. We are excited to share some of this with you as we put the final touches on the Labyrinth that are needed to get us back up and running.

As we began our interior renovations, we came across a few opportunities to update some parts of the building’s infrastructure. We opted to do this work right the first time and improve these aspects of the building. Along with that, we made a very conscious decision not to stray from our vision of creating a unique space—using many reclaimed materials—that was inviting and lasting. We saw this project as an investment in the business’s future and strived to keep our long-term vision in mind. Many of the features in our renovations use discarded flooring, railings, and other furnishings from buildings in our community and former Labyrinth fixtures. Using these materials is incredibly time-consuming, but offers so much to the final look, feel, and soul of the space. We are proud of this work and can’t wait for you to experience all of it.

During the renovations Jeff, Labyrinth’s fearless owner, was talking with a longtime friend and former employee, Frank Besse, about the work to be done and the road ahead. The two of them began discussing the idea of Frank becoming part owner in the business and take on some responsibilities that could help the Labyrinth and Brazil develop and grow. They discussed what would be best for each other and the businesses, and earlier this year decided that Frank would become a part owner of the business. Frank will be working in the Labyrinth preparing delicious espresso beverages as well as managing the calendar of events and handling some marketing duties.

On top of all of this fun and challenging work, we had the opportunity to purchase the building we reside in. We are incredibly excited for this and are currently working out the final details with our current landlord to make this happen. Purchasing the building will secure the future of the Labyrinth and Brazil and will allow us to flourish in this building for years to come.

We hope this information gets you a little excited for us to be open and helps you understand what we have been up to all this time. We are looking forward to serving our hearty vegetarian food and strong coffee while bringing live music and other fun events back to our customers. In the meantime, stay up to date on our Facebook page and we will see you a few weeks.

Sincerely yours,

Jeff and Frank

Recover Jamestown

Recover Jamestown

A couple of Sundays ago I had the pleasure of walking down the street to the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts to see a film. It’s a relatively standard practice for my wife and I. This night was different though because we weren’t going to see a new indie film or cinema classic that the venue is known for. We went to see a film by a local activist/filmmaker/cool dude Sheridan Smith. While I’m not that close to Sheridan, I have known him for years and know that he has become passionate about filmmaking and would have gone to see the film just to support him. But it turns out that his film is about an important issue, an issue that I don’t know enough about, our community’s drug problem. The film, called Recover Jamestown (watch the film on Youtube), examines drug addiction through interviews with local politicians, law enforcement, non-profit employees, and recovering addicts. The interviews with the recovering addicts were the most impactful. They represented a side of the drug conversation not highlighted often enough. The personal stories were very insightful to helping me understand more about the issue and gave me a connection to the issue that I’d probably never develop otherwise.

There is a great deal to talk about pertaining to drugs, addiction, mental health, community development, poverty, and everything that this film and its following panel discussion brought up, but I’d like to spend some time focusing on a couple ideas a bit tangential to the main conversation. After watching the film, I had a question and it was a question that I think a lot of the audience had, at least three members of the audience brought it up in their remarks during the Q and A portion of the evening: “What do we do now?” It’s a basic question. An important question. And a question you’d want people to be asking after seeing a documentary. You certainly don’t want people asking, “so what?” Credit should go to Sheridan for making a film that instilled a sense of interest, curiosity, and compassion in the audience.

As the audience inquired about what can be done and what they can do as citizens, I heard responses that seemed to fall a little flat with the crowd. I think that’s evident in the fact that multiple people asked the same question. For me, I have a predisposition towards action and I have come to find out that that is not always a good thing. In this instance, I wanted to fight my urge to spring into naive action and step back to focus on the dynamics of the event to try to understand what was really at play here. Maybe there are bigger lessons or principles working themselves out. I think there was.

I have been in a few situations through working at the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation and my time before then being a concerned citizen to have been at similar events in the past, where an issue is laid out and people want to see action and seem eager to do something about it. Many of those situations pertained to local governments and I thought that a lack of leadership and progressive initiative were to blame. Maybe I was right. Maybe I wasn’t. I study a lot about business, and inevitably I ended up studying about leadership. So maybe all of that studying was making me oversimplify the issue or miss the real dynamics altogether. In trying to avoid a “hammer only seeing nails” type of scenario I continued to think about what was happening in front of me.

After thinking about this for a little bit, I started to feel comfortable in my thought that a lack of leadership was a major culprit, but I added some important caveats. I do feel that many of our community’s leaders could be more effective and better leaders, but that doesn’t mean that they should be solely responsible for a lack of action and support of community issues. The idea that really came to me after I reflected about this is that we need more leaders. We need more passionate and smart people to get on their soap box, rally a crowd, and march down the street. We need more champions of different issues and ideas. We need these leaders to give us a vision of the future and to show us how we can get there. I don’t think it’s fair to the position of mayor, city council president, county executive, or executive director of ABC non-profit to carry all the weight and be a champion and advocate for every single good idea or issue in the community. Citizens need to step up and lead their friends, neighbors, and peers to action. It’s also very important that others identify these leaders and champions and follow them. Derek Sivers points out brilliantly in this TED talk that the first follower is the key to empowering a leader and starting a movement.

So what do you think? Do I have it all wrong? What is going on in our community? What issues are important to you? Are you a leader waiting in the wings? Who are you going to follow? Send me a message or jump over to Honest Cow’s Facebook page to share your thoughts.

Mighty Mouse won’t save us



image24-1024x650Just a couple days ago the roof started to collapse at 40 Winsor St, what was once the home to Crawford Furniture. Like many buildings in Jamestown, it had been underutilized or vacant for decades. Gravity and time won. It’s sad to see the past come tumbling down like that, but it’s a reality that our community—and many other communities—have to deal with. The common chorus started with “the city should have saved that building” and other banal “commentary” on the situation.

Of course, it’d be great to live in a city that has the capacity to take care of situations like this, but the Jamestown government just doesn’t have the capacity to save every building from crumbling nor is it good urban planning to save all of them. Some buildings need to come down, even if they are old and hold a lot of memories and history.

The reality is that we live in a rust belt city and some things will fall apart. It’s a fact and City Hall will never be able to save everything that should be saved or could be saved. A bigger truth and tougher pill to swallow is that if you want to see this city turn around we are going to have to save it. The City or any government won’t save us, celebrities won’t save us, your tv won’t save us, Facebook won’t save us, Wal-mart won’t save us, and Mighty Mouse won’t save us.

If you acknowledge that no one will save us and that we ourselves have to save our community then you have to ask the question, “How do we save it?” Below a are few ideas, varying in degree of difficulty and resources, that may help.

Be engaged. Read the paper and go to meetings. Call City Hall. Talk with your City Council person or County Legislator. Getting engaged is a great way to get perspective and be more informed about the issues that face our community.

Buy Local. Local companies are way more likely to invest in existing buildings as they grow. The big box stores will do as their name implies, build more big boxes. Supporting local businesses ripples through the community and can help stabilize the real estate market in the long run.

Clean up. People, businesses, non-profits, governments don’t want to see their resources wasted. They don’t want to clean one lot up and then have the lot next to look like shit. It negates all the work of cleaning up. Making your home, business, and yard look nice can help convince others to do the same.

Put your money where your goddamn mouth is. Buy a building or an empty plot of land and make it look nicer. Fix up a building and rent it to upstart entrepreneur. Communities turn around when people start taking risks and making real investments in their community. There is no way around this. I know that a lot of people don’t have much money, but we have realize that it is going to take our resources of time and money to make things better. If you can’t afford to buy a piece of real estate maybe you can afford to plant some flowers somewhere that people can see. Maybe you can spend a little extra money around the house and improve it. Maybe you can partner with a few neighbors to buy that vacant lot and take turns mowing the grass.

The Chautauqua County Land Bank is looking for people to take ownership of distressed properties and vacant lots. If you have something in mind be sure to contact them.

Do you want to help Jamestown and the surrounding area, but not sure what you should do? Contact me. I’d love to talk to you and help you find your place. I’m sure there is something you can do to help your community prosper that is personally rewarding to you.

Links for consideration:
Chautauqua County Land Bank
Chautauqua County Master Gardeners
“Nearly 800 volunteers turn out for Hands on Jamestown”


Local Financing and CHQ Soap

So I’m doing a little crowd funding micro-loan for Chautauqua Soap and Candles, and I would like your support. You may be asking yourself, “Why the hell should I help you?” Good question. I have a few reasons for you to entertain. Maybe one or a few of them appeals to you.

Here is a link to my micro-loan campaign: https://zip.kiva.org/loans/13470/i/my1j and note that this is a loan. I will repay you.

1. You like me and want me to succeed. Every once in a while someone tells me I’m a nice guy. Maybe you concur.

2. You believe in what I am doing. I am making soap and candles from organic and natural ingredients and selling them in my community. This provides the opportunity for residents and tourists to enjoy a high-quality product while supporting the local economy and a process that has less of a negative environmental impact.

3. You dig local. That’s cool. I dig local too. I strongly believe that we need local in our economy.

4. You dig handmade stuff. I make all the products myself, and it is a labor intensive process. I think it makes a great product that is full of character.

5. You owe me. Remember that time I gave you a couple bucks and then you never really tried to pay me back? Come on and help me out before karma shows up and bitch slaps you.

6. You think manufacturing is important. Right now, I make everything on a small scale, but I have large aspirations. I would love to have a larger production facility that could crank out a bunch of awesome soap, candles, and other products. Helping me make this next step will push my production scale larger.

7. You hate me and want me to find a little success so that when I fall it hurts more. Well, I feel bad that you feel that way about me and get happiness out of other people’s failures, but I will still take your money.

8. You think local finance is an important part of our community’s resurgence. I totally agree with that and is a big reason why I am doing this.

I want to expand on this point a bit because I think it is incredibly important to Jamestown’s future. Personally, I see the area’s economy turning around, and it is great to see people taking risks to start businesses and business like projects. I love it, and I love being a part of it. One of the big hurdles that our local economy will face is access to capital. It’s a huge struggle for businesses anywhere and in almost any time in history.

With this funding project, I hope that I can help spur interest in local investing and develop a community of like-minded individuals. If you are like-minded, please consider contributing to my campaign. If you can’t financially contribute, please consider emailing this blog post to a few friends or sharing it on Facebook. Also, use the contact tab on this web site and send me a message letting me know that you support me and the local economy. It would mean a lot to me.

Again, here is a link to my campaign. If you have any questions about this or anything else I have discussed on my blog or in real life shoot me a message.


[If you want to read a denser post that I wrote about financing, law, and junk you can read below.]


Over the last few months I have found myself researching soap making and making a lot of soap. It has been great. What’s better is that as I make my soap, it sells. Most of it has been selling at the lovely BioDome Project in downtown Jamestown. It’s been wonderful and I appreciate everyone’s support thus far.

With growing demand for my soap I have found myself pouring more and more of my resources into soapmaking. I am excited to be doing this, but I have hit a bit of a wall and this wall comes from the curing time associated with making soap. It takes 6-8 weeks for a batch of soap to be ready for sale. When you pair this with trying to increase production and purchasing larger quantities of supplies to save money, funds run thin quite quickly. In the last couple of years, I have done a ton of research on different financing options in hopes of being in a situation some day where business was growing fast enough to warrant outside funding. That day came a little quicker than I anticipated. I knew I wanted to do something where I would get a little bit of money from many different people, crowd funding. I looked at Kickstarter and its competition, but thought that I would like to try something different. Then I stumbled upon Kiva Zip. I have been a fan and participant of Kiva, which crowd sources micro-loans to upstart entrepreneurs throughout the developing world. Kiva Zip is basically the American version of Kiva. KIva is a non-profit and does some incredible work. The loans that are made through Kiva Zip are 0% interest loans.

It would be easy to assume that Kiva Zip manages 0% loans because they are a non-profit and they want to help better by not charging interest and that the people who make the loans want to see good things happen, so they don’t want to charge interest either. That makes sense and could be part of their reasoning, but there is a much larger reason why Kiva Zip doesn’t manage loans that charge interest. IT’S ILLEGAL. That’s right. In the good ole’ capitalist society of America it is illegal for Kiva Zip to have an interest rate above 0%. The basic fact that you need to know is that it is illegal for me as a business owner to publicly solicit funds for investing in my business or giving me a loan. There is one exception on the investor side of this and that is if you are what is called an “accredited investor” which means that you make over $200,000 a year or have a $1,000,000 net worth. This is how companies like LendingClub and Prosper exist. The other exception is on the company side. The company would have to issue a public offering. The most well known public offering is the Initial Public Offering that companies make when they are added to the New York Stock Exchange. The other is a Direct Public Offering. They are becoming more popular in the local economy movement. They have been used to start a department store in Upstate New York, buy a ski resort in Vermont, and do real estate development in Minnesota. Oh, and it helped launched Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The problem with DPOs is the fees. Its expensive because you need lawyers to fill out paperwork and the business owner will have to do some extra work. It really only makes since if you are looking to borrow over $500,000.

So why aren’t the laws changed? It would be easy to get into a rant about how the government is pro wall street and against the little guy and in this instance it definitely is that way. A little optimism came a few years ago when President Obama signed the JOBS Act, specifically Title III, AKA the Crowdfund Act. It is suppose to loosen regulations around crowdfunding, so everyday Americans can invest and profit from the small businesses of America while small businesses gain access to new investment opportunities. It’s the only part of the law to not be enacted and is stuck in Congress.

So anyway, I am hoping that this little experiment with Kiva Zip can help develop a network of people that are interested in the local economy and believe that we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. As the economy changes (and hopefully laws) we can be in a position to take advantage and help our neighbors realize their entrepreneurial dreams.

Doing stuff

In the new year I hoped to get more into writing and exploring different ideas, but I have a few more pressing matters than blogging right now. I am juggling three start ups Chautauqua Soap Company, Stones Throwing Association, and Rust Belt Skateboards right now. I encourage you to check them out and head over to Honest Cow facebook page where the more short form of communication may be what is in store for me for the next several months.

Liability and Risk



Risk and liability surround the life of an entrepreneur. One thing that is very interesting about entrepreneurs is that statistically we are not any riskier than our peers who work for the man. We are not more likely to go skydiving, climb Everest, or travel the world in a hot air balloon. Douche bags are more likely to do those things. I know that in some instances its hard to distinguish between the two groups, but it is important to split hairs sometimes. You can read more about how common knowledge has been wrong about risk and entrepreneurs in an article from Inc Magazine. Another interesting article related to this focuses more on loss aversion which is a very interesting subject to me.

Nevertheless, risk and liability are around us and people will try to make make us focus on those aspects of our life and business. Often they will over-emphasize their impact and threat as illustrated above. But I’m sure those worry worts in our life won’t stop anytime soon.

The Reality of Seemingly Good Ideas

Right now there is a lot of buzz around President Obama’s idea to provide free community college tuition to as many as 9 million Americans. Right now, it is an idea. it isn’t a plan—or at least—the public has yet to see the plan. In discussing this issue I am reminded of an episode of my favorite podcast and radio program, Freakonomics. In an episode from October it discusses the cost of helping the world and comparing those costs to figure out where to spend our finite resources. The guest, Bjorn Lomborg, has a lot of insightful things to say, but the following stood out a great deal.

Yeah, the problem is that the way it’s formulated, they want to promise, and this is typical for these sorts of documents, they want to promise everybody to be able to get into, for instance, university. It’s a beautiful idea, but the problem is for most countries it ends up being a way to subsidize rich people’s kids to go to college. If you make college free, because most of the attendees at universities are from the high classes, that is effectively a subsidy to rich people’s kids. Instead what you should be doing is if you want to get more poor kids into college, you should be giving them scholarships. That’s a much cheaper much more directed way to make sure that you get a better socio-economic profile in college. But let’s not kid ourselves. This is not what makes productivity dramatically rise in the first 30 or 50 years of development. That’s much more about getting everyone educated so they can read and write.

This quote comes in at around 32:10 in the episode. I recommend listening to the entire episode. You can listen to it here.

With a story like this there is something about it that really stands out to me and I find it in a lot of places. It’s the idea that giving everyone free education is sexy. Its attractive. Its a great motto for a society and when I type it it makes me feel good. And at the end of the day I have no problem with this being a goal of our society. It noble. Its good and it comes from a place where we see the current status of our society failing us. Overall, more affordable education is a great thing, but we have to look closely at this issue if we really want to create the desired outcome. What is our desired outcome? I didnt do a poll or look one up, but I think it is something to the effect of making sure that anyone who wants to get an education can do so. Now the next question becomes how do we get to the desired outcome. Making education free for everyone is a simple way to achieve this goal, but as the above quote suggests, it comes with a steeper price than other solutions. Instead of free education for everyone maybe the better action to take would be to dramatically change the FAFSA system. It is a system that already exists and is striving for our desired outcome. Why is this not talked about? You could talk about politics and the Republicans hating the poor or the Democrats having no spine and use the phrase “two sides of the same coin” and blah blah blah. Most of its true, but I dont care. What I care about is the fact that reforming FAFSA or many other feasible options are not sexy. They dont make a good headline or bumpersticker. That’s it. That is the bottom line in my opinion. And this isnt an opinion about the state of politics or the state of the media. It is about the state of us. Humans. We want the sexy ideas. We want the bumpersticker. The shorter and the simpler, the better it is. We are obsessed with it and it is holding us back from solving problems. Let’s look for critical discussion and science to fuel our quest for solutions. Let us be willing to get satisfaction from solving a problem instead of fixating on how we solved it.

The concept of “sexy ideas” is something I preach about a lot and hope to more in this blog. Can you think of any sexy ideas that when looked at critically may not be the best solution to a problem?

Look Local: There are a great deal of scholarships available locally and there is the USA scholarship through JCC that gives many local high school graduates, including yours truly, the opportunity to go to college. National reform on these issues is unlikely, but there may be a lot people can do on the local level to move our society in the right direction.

The Reality of Ideas

…or dammit Malcolm you are not always right, but you write so good.

As a big proponent of TED I feel the need to share this humbling talk about the limitation of TED as well as ideas and design. While I believe that Bratton falls victim to some of his own criticisms (simplifying complex ideas to the point of entertainment being the primary one) you cannot ignore the validity of much of his stance. To a certain extent I do see TED as infotainment and I see a sense of accomplishment in people that have just done the simple passive act of binge watching TED videos. While TED videos stimulate the mind a bit more than the average internet fare it certainly does not live up to what I think it thinks it is. I am not sure specifically of its ideas, but I think there may be some delusions of grandeur within the staff and in the board room.

Continue reading