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News briefs 8.27.03 

A winged ambassador

When a tiny bird lights upon your shoulder, you're inclined to slow down, to move with a bit more care. When this happens in a shop, you find yourself downshifting to browse a few minutes longer.

            Leave it to the animals to keep it interesting on Monroe Avenue. And we're not talking about the colorful kids who stroll up and down the street. Nope, it's the birds. One in particular: Gordon, the eight-year old cockatiel at Mercury Posters.

            "People come in, they're here for another reason, and then they encounter Gordon," says Mercury owner Jim Malley. "They have a little peaceful moment with him, and then they go off on their busy day."

            So what's this little bird's allure?

            "He's just so agreeable," Malley says. "People are surprised at a bird being so friendly and actually giving back something. He surprises just about everyone how he comes out and greets them. They always come back to check on him."

            I've spent many afternoons shuffling through Mercury Posters' endless inventory for Russ Meyer, Frankenstein, or B-movie posters with Gordon as my guide. He's quite the little pal. So much so that Malley risked his life to rescue the bird one day after he flew out the Mercury door and into the blustery weather, landing on a roof across the street.

            No problem, Malley thought.

            "I just shimmied up the gutter," he says. "I was just about to grab him when I slid on the ice, down the roof, hit the driveway, and broke both my heels." Malley got the bird, but was laid-up for six months. Now, Malley keeps Gordon's wings clipped, and the bird seems content milling about the store, his jailbreak days over.

            "I can't believe how many people have bought birds because of him," Malley says.

--- Frank De Blase



Old building revisited

In our August 13 issue, we looked at some 19th century buildings at the corner of Main and Clinton that are likely to be torn down for the new Rochester Central Station. (That's bus station to you --- and definitely not, as the name may imply, a rail or intermodal transportation facility.)

            Soon after, we got a call that alerted us to important parts of the buildings' living history. The call came from Bob Bauman of Weiss Jewelers at 222 East Main Street, a family-owned business that's been at this location for decades. Bob and his father, Sy Bauman, are the proprietors of the store and owners of the building.

            Now 83, Sy's been at the helm for 61 years. He started in the jewelry business with his own father, he says. And he's been running Weiss's at 222 East Main for 40 years. He's not opposed to the transit center plan --- but he says he needs a fair deal for relocation. Will he personally continue running the store? "As long as God lets me, yes," he says. "I feel good, and I like it here."

            He doesn't like the political struggle all around him, though. "It's wrecked everything," he says, "because for the last five and a half years, they've been screwing around. You're in limbo." On the other hand, he says, "the buildings are definitely beautiful," and number 220-222 is in fine fettle.

            After he called, Bob Bauman took us on a short tour of the second floor and basement, and we have to agree: Not only is the building solid as a rock; it's also got much of its original décor beneath later additions. For example, the entire second floor has a tin ceiling in good shape, as well as several Victorian wooden doors and doorframes. (According to Bob, someone has already spoken for the tin ceiling and old doors upstairs, which can be removed and used elsewhere.)

            "All I know is, this is an opportunity for relocating," says Bob. "To where, I don't know yet." He reflects on years of struggle over the transit center, as well as chronic uncertainty for businesspeople on the proposed site. "They've done enough to hurt our business already," he says.

            And what a pity: "It's the little guy like us," says Bob, "that kept downtown going."



Urban re-thinking

You couldn't have found a better venue for brainstorming a greener future for downtown Rochester: a warm (though mosquito-filled) evening on Sibley Place, in environmental activist Nancy Watson Dean's immaculate, oasis-like garden.

            It was August 18, and local political hopeful Harry L. Davis had brought dozens of people together to consider what might be done to resurrect Genesee Hospital, rescue the threatened buildings at Main and Clinton, and re-use the Inner Loop. Davis, who's running an independent write-in race for City Council (South District), invited environmental architect Bill Reed to spark the discussion. Reed is with Natural Logic, a consulting firm that specializes in "embedding sustainability" while designing "high-performance buildings that enhance the environment and cost less to operate."

            Davis believes the Inner Loop, starting with the section near the Strong Museum, should be dismantled and rebuilt as "a more natural environment" capable of "reconnecting the neighborhoods which were divided [by the highway] 30 to 40 years ago."

            In his introductory remarks and throughout a lengthy slide show, Reed kept things on a philosophical plane. His advice? Reed's firm's stock in trade is "intuitive integration of systems," the creation of a "built environment" that balances economic and social concerns with "natural ecology," that is, human activities that "nourish and are nourished by the living systems they are part of."

            Whew. We asked Reed what Rochester and similar cities could do to implement such ideals --- that is, throw off their historical burdens of racism, abandonment and neglect, and corporate flight. Though he was familiar with Rochester from his student days at Cornell, including trips to the Eastman School of Music, he could offer no specifics.

            Reed did refer several times to Natural Logic's ongoing work with the Brattleboro (Vermont) Food Co-op. There, he said, his firm was working not just to redesign the store but to integrate the cooperative with local food producers. Why truck in apples from Washington State, he asked, when they can come from Vermont farms? He noted the job was difficult; in fact, he said the firm was very nearly "fired."

            We followed up by calling the Brattleboro Food Co-op, now a 16,000-square-foot, $11 million-a-year-grossing operation with everything from organic produce to meats to wine and beer. Assistant manager Dick Ernst said the co-op was in the early, tentative stages of work with Natural Logic. "I'm not going to give a pro or con [on the firm]," he said. "They're very intelligent and forward-thinking people." He said the firm researched the "geological history" of the surrounding area, conceiving "a sustainable community which goes beyond the actual building, going to the actual source of our food, involving the [local] farms, and so forth."

            On the other hand, the firm's advice can seem "pretty out there and nebulous," said Ernst. "I really didn't understand [at first] what they were trying to do." He anticipates Brattleboro Co-op members will learn more from reports the firm recently submitted.

Speaking of Rochester Central Station, Downtown

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