Friday, June 18, 2010

Ida's Lesson

Many years ago, I became acquainted with an elderly couple who owned and operated a local business called Rapid Printing on West 242nd Street near the starting point—or finishing point, take your pick—of the Number 1 subway line. By the time I got to know them, Mike and Ida were dinosaurs in an industry that was rapidly changing, if you will, with technological innovations and computerization replacing clumsy, hand-operated machinery and drudge work.

The kindly and very bighearted entrepreneurs nonetheless managed to hang on to the eve of the new millennium, even though their latter business years were anything but profitable. But Mike and Ida had been plying in the trade for more than fifty years, and they desired remaining active and occupied for as long as they physically could.

Prominent in Rapid Printing's store front window was the number 48, which underscored the total hours it took for wedding invitations to be both printed and available for pickup. That’s just two days—a delightfully favorable time frame for harried brides-to-be. But hold your horses.

Ida informed me one day that the 48-hour service referred to business hours—eight-hour days. In other words, it was a six-day service, not two as many folks surmised. “That’s the gimmick,” she said sans any irony. It was, however, a printing industry thing, and not a Bronx mom-and-pop shop’s calculated ruse to lure in unwitting couples soon to be living happily ever after.

In any event, Ida’s larger and longstanding lesson is the “gimmick,” as she coined it. We all need one or two to call our own—and not the duplicitous kind, but something palpable that sets us apart from the pack in visibly apparent and lasting ways. Take it from Ida.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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