Tuesday, October 28, 2008


After much nagging, pestering and good advice, I'm finally giving merchandising of my art a try. Marketing my own work falls outside my comfort zone, so please forgive my awkwardness and buy some stuff!

Postcards, prints, mugs and other items are available through cafepress (click here to view).

Once I finish a painting, I will add its image to the store. If you would like a specific product that is not included in my store, just let me know, and I will add it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Impact

I've been working from home for about a month, starting when the Wall Street collapse began. This past week, I was back to riding the train to NYC again, and was shocked to see a very noticeable decrease in the number of suited passengers. Stamford is normally the busiest stop, with swarms of men and women in high-end business attire getting on and off the train. Now there's hardly anyone. Normally the morning train is standing-room only, with five or six people standing in every doorway. Now there's plenty of empty seats.

The news reports I've read have all been focused on the bail-out and on how the banks are currently spending money. There have been plenty of incendiary reports about bankers being given raises and bonuses, and exposés of corporate partying. What I wasn't aware of until this week are the huge numbers of layoffs. So far approximately 110,000 people connected to Wall Street have lost their jobs, with more layoffs anticipated. No wonder the train wasn't crowded. No wonder Stamford looks like a ghost town.

I have also read a Forbes report on towns most likely to suffer during this economic whatever-you-want-to-call-it. They cite the small town (25,500 people) of Zanesville, Ohio, which has an unemployment rate of 8.9% (Waterbury's is 8.6%, according to city-data.com), a poverty rate of 16.2% (35% of Waterbury households earn less than $25,000 per year), and an education statistic of 18% with an associates degree or higher (compared to 23% in Waterbury).

Zanesville's mayor is optimistic about his town's future, pointing out that they have plans for more than $250 million in school and downtown development construction over the next two years (sound familiar?). The article, not surprisingly for Forbes, does not spell out exactly what dangers Zanesville and other vulnerable towns face, nor does it in any way suggest what actions might be prudent for vulnerable towns. I would like to know those details, especially since it sounds like Waterbury could also be considered vulnerable. We've already seen fallout from the mortgage fiasco--foreclosures on homeowners who couldn't make payments when their subprime mortgages adjusted to higher rates, and numerous properties purchased by real estate speculators who drove the prices up without adding value and have now abandoned the properties, leaving pockets of blight throughout the city.

In that regard, maybe Waterbury has already seen the worst of the mortgage fall-out (just don't expect to get a good price if you're selling a house right now). Unemployment could very well increase. We're seeing a steady decline in the number of big stores, not just in Waterbury. We've lost two grocery stores, and it looks like they won't be replaced. The national chains are steadily going under: Steve & Barry's declared bankruptcy and closed their Waterbury store; Linens N Things declared bankruptcy and is closing its Waterbury store. When the plaza with Linens N Things first opened, there was a craft supply store on the other side of Stop & Shop which closed almost immediately and has yet to be replaced. I doubt that Linens N Things will be replaced. Waterbury is turning into a town of half-empty plazas.

On the bright side, the prices of gasoline and heating oil have decreased significantly. But that's probably not much consolation for anyone who's lost their job because their employer went bankrupt or lost their house because the bank increased their mortgage interest rates so much that they couldn't make their payments.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Your State Tax Dollars At Work

Here's a shot of the notorious State Government shuttle van idling outside the Buckingham Parking Garage. When the Rowland Government Center was being constructed, the state employees who were scheduled to be relocated to Waterbury were apparently horrified by the prospect of having to walk all the way from the garage to their office building. To placate them, the state agreed to operate a shuttle van. In the morning, the van sits waiting on Cottage Place with the engine running. When I took this photograph, it was there for five minutes before one woman arrived. The van then drove her to the Rowland building, then returned to idle some more. I don't know what the van's specific schedule is, but it's probably safe to assume it operates for one or two hours twice a day during the week. With the engine running the whole time, even if it's just sitting at the curb.

The distance from the parking garage to the Rowland building is about a thousand feet. One-fifth of a mile. The average person needs four minutes to walk that distance. But the state of Connecticut is willing to spend tax dollars on a shuttle van.

You can't even argue that it's for safety. At 8 a.m. on a weekday, walking along Grand Street in front of the Post Office or, on the other side of the street, in front of several small cafés, a dry cleaner, and a pizza place; then turning down Leavenworth Street, walking in front of law offices and restaurants before reaching the Rowland building at the end of the street--what could be safer?

It's ironic that the shuttle van is green in color; it's very not green in environmental terms.

[I should also add, before anyone asks, the Rowland building is not named for the former Governor. It is named for his grandfather, Sherwood Rowland, who helped expose (and halt) political corruption during the 1930s. While I'm on the topic of clarification, Rowland Park was named for Rowlands who were not related to those Rowlands. The mini-park was donated by the Chase family--Elsie Rowland Chase came to Waterbury in the late 19th century, when her father, Rev. Dr. Edmund Rowland, was appointed to St. John's Episcopal Church.]

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Anya Thai

I've been meaning to try the Thai restaurant on Meriden Road in Wolcott for years, and last night I finally did. Yum! It was delicious! There is something about a Thai curry that is emotionally soothing--for whatever reason, it's comfort food for me. I had a hot curry soup with shrimp, balanced very nicely with a vegetable roll, followed by a green curry chicken dish. It was so good, I could eat there every day. I can't believe it took me this long to try them!

The one downside is that they don't serve alcohol, but considering that I have to drive so far to get to the restaurant, that's probably just as well. It certainly didn't impair my enjoyment of the food!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Condos are not universally bad. You wouldn't know it from the way people in Waterbury have been talking lately, but it's true. Locally, take a look at Heritage Village. That was built many decades ago, but is still high quality and very park-like, with the winding roads and dense woods.

The problem is that condos in Waterbury are almost always built with the cheapest materials and methods. They are some of the ugliest buildings you will ever see, easily considered a blight even when they are well maintained. Bradley Gardens is one of the worst and is a proven fire hazard, but it is certainly not the only example of shoddy condo construction in Waterbury.

Residents of the "nicer" neighborhoods have been complaining loudly about how they don't want condo developments, but I suspect that it's not condos in general they are opposed to, it's the slum-like condos that typically get built in Waterbury that they are resisting.

Building codes typically deal with safety issues. Aesthetics are harder to pin down and enforce. But what about enforcing a minimum ratio of built acres to landscaped acres? How about enforcing a certain number of shade trees per landscaped acres? While I'm at it, how about requiring any new building development to construct sidewalks?

I could keep going with the wish list for a while!

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Last year, I went to the DOT's public hearings about their plans to rebuild the highway interchange in Waterbury, and I thought there would be one more, once they finally narrowed down the options. Instead, they're asking that the city give them an opinion on two options by Wednesday. Neither option is great. I really dislike the idea of spreading out 84 as it cuts through the heart of the city. It's really sort of offensive, as if the DOT is trying to wipe out as much of Waterbury as possible. 84 has to be a double decker through Waterbury, to minimize the impact on the city.

I'm also offended by the DOT's efforts to sugar-coat their proposal. Last year they were very reluctant to state which business would lose their buildings because of highway construction. Now they are giving fractions: 43% of Jarjura's Market, 76% of CL&P, 70% of YankeeGas. Are we really supposed to believe that these businesses would continue to operate with only a partial property? Plain and simple, those are 100% losses. The highway construction will take out businesses that have been reliable taxpayers for a very long time. There is no guarantee that they will relocate within Waterbury. The DOT tries to smooth this over by claiming that new developments will somehow bring in millions of dollars in yearly taxes. What, exactly, are these magical developments and how in the world can the DOT promise that they will happen?


Bonding seems to come up frequently here in Waterbury, as if it were the magic solution to many problems. I wonder how many city residents understand what bonding is. For example, the Mayor has proposed purchasing the Wachovia building for $5 million through bonding. What the newspaper left out is the explanation of how much debt the city would accrue in doing this. How many years will it take to pay off the five million and how many millions more will we have to pay in interest?

When a city makes major purchases through bonding, it's not much different than an individual person making major purchases on a credit card. Given what's been going on with the economy recently, it seems like now is a good time to be much more cautious and frugal.

There have been times when I have had to rely on credit cards to cover my necessary expenses. I learned early on that you have to be careful about how much debt you accumulate--if you have too much debt, you won't have enough money to cover your monthly payments. This could happen to Waterbury with bonding. Too much bonding, and we won't have enough money to make our payments and keep up with other expenses. As I understand it, the interest rate paid by the city is variable. Which means monthly payments could get larger. Can a city declare bankruptcy?

The way I see it, there has to be a limit to how much debt Waterbury can afford, while it seems there is no limit to the number of things the city could spend money on. If the Wachovia building can be acquired without increasing the city's expenses (compare the bonding costs to the rent money saved, then factor in the lost taxes and any ongoing maintenance costs), then it's probably a good plan.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


This year's Downtown Draw is Saturday morning, with judging in the early afternoon. This year's theme is to tie in with The Big Read. It's always a fun event, and it's very cool to see what can be done with chalk. The weather is supposed to be good, so stop by the Green to what's happening!

Photos from last year

Official Website