Bob’s Your Uncle

The gravestone of Samuel Smedley is back in place:

In order to repair the historic headstone, it was removed from the Old Burying Ground and brought to Jim Bria for restoration at his Artista studio. Three rods were inserted into the gravestone, which was then epoxyed into a granite base for stability.

When the weather gets warmer, Melanie Marks, a historic researcher and professional genealogist, said the committee will clean the gravestone with a biodegradeable solution.

The solution will scour the lichen from the stone without brushing, which could further erode the inscription. While still difficult to read, the light on the upright stone makes the inscription ten times easier to discern than before. I’m hopeful the solution will increase the legibility even more.

All that remains is to pay for the modest cost of the restoration. Interested in making a donation? See the contact instructions at the bottom of the article.

Priorities

Leafing through my local newspaper, it’s hard to decide what to be more outraged about. There’s the fact that Hartford, in its omniscient wisdom, determines the number of taxicabs allowed to operate in the town, and that requests to increase this number due to the new train station (the first on the New Haven line in a century) have been ignored. Or there’s the town’s Board of Finance rejection of $102,300 for a back-up generator for Town Hall:

McCarthy Vahey asked Director of Public Works, Rich White, why it was important.

White said that if power went out during a winter storm and pipes froze, which could happen since the building is old and has little insulation, the pipes aren’t easily accessible because they are in plaster walls.

[First Selectman] Tetreau said the building not only had the tax collector and tax assessor’s office, but also the Registrar of Voters, and pointed out that the entire state almost didn’t vote in the last election because of power outages from a late October snowstorm.

Generally I’m a spend-as-little-public-money-as-possible kind of guy, but archives and records are fundamental to transparent and functional government. A back-up generator for a building built in 1794 to protect that foundation against the double whammy of, say, an unseasonal snowstorm or a direct hit from a tropical storm and a fire is a reasonable expense.

But no. The measure was voted against 5-2. However, you’ll be happy to know the Board of Finance did vote to spend $105,000 to repair bunkers at the town-owned golf course.

Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Sunday Sales

This morning one of my Twitter tweeps circulated a Change.org petition asking Connecticut governor Dan Malloy to reject retail liquor reform:

The Connecticut legislature recently introduced a bill that will endanger your local, independently owned wine and spirits shops. Governor Malloy would like you to think this bill is only about allowing Sunday sales, but its impact is much greater than that. Rather than protecting small businesses and their employees, this is a nod to out-of-state big-box stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, and major supermarket chains.

Under Governor Malloy’s proposed legislation, supermarkets, big-box stores and even gas stations could go into the package store business. … Seven THOUSAND Connecticut residents would face unemployment, and hundreds of small, family-owned package stores would be run out of business.

Background if you live outside the state: Connecticut is one of only two states (the other is Indiana) that doesn’t allow retail sale of alcohol on Sundays (you can still go and have a drink at a bar, though). You might think this is a throwback to our Puritan history — as I originally did when I was a newcomer — but you would be wrong: every few years, a proposal to allow Sunday sales takes flight only to be ack-acked from the skies by the Connecticut Package Stores Association, a powerful lobbyist group. Package stores argue that Sunday sales would give supermarkets and other venues an unfair advantage since they are already open on Sundays, so they have little if any extra operational costs; whereas if package stores have to open on Sundays to compete with them, the packies have to bear an extra day’s worth of wages, heating, electricity, etc. The ban on Sunday sales is plain industry protectionism.

There are several flaws in the CPSA’s argument, the most obvious being their muddy math. Opponents of Sunday sales contend that currently Connecticut experiences 7s worth of sales spread over 6 days. In other words, sales of the alcohol consumed on Sunday is distributed over the rest of the week. By opening Sunday sales, they say, consumption and sales will not increase but instead be spread over 7 days (so 7s over 7 days), thereby increasing their operational costs for being open on that seventh day with no new profit to show for it.

This is zero-sum thinking. It assumes we’re seeing the maximum amount of sales there can possibly be in the state.

What Malloy and others are saying — and I happen to agree — is that while this may be true for the interior of the state, along our outer rim what we’re actually experiencing is 6s worth of sales over 6 days, and in fact an extra 1s of Sunday sales goes to liquor-license holders and governments in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. With Sunday sales, consumers will no longer have to run for the border. So instead of experiencing 6s over 6 days, Connecticut will see 7s over 7 days, reaping the profits and tax revenues resulting from that extra day of business. Put another way: Sunday sales will actually benefit the very same people who oppose it. The proponents’ calculation, albeit probably exaggerated, concludes s = $500 million.

Even if supermarkets and box-stores were to offer wine and spirits, what makes the petitioners think they would suddenly sweep their shelves clear of dog biscuits and detergent to stock anything more sophisticated than Yellow Tail and Jack Daniels? Right now, Connecticut supermarkets sell beer six days a week. But shelf space limits the selection to common denominators: Coors, Bud, Corona. Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada are as artisanal as it gets. BJ’s already offers wine and spirits, but with a like lack of choice; I assume other wholesale clubs are the same. The beer selection at Whole Foods is comparable to a packie but you also pay an extra few bucks per six-pack for the convenience. And you can forget about cider at any of them. Yes, package stores would lose some sales to these markets — just as they already do with beer six days a week. Yet they persevere. Mrs. Kuhl patronizes her favorite shop because of their wine selection and recommendations; I go to another because of its variety of cider. In an America where urchins sold hard lemonade on every street corner, there would still be a niche for stores with diverse inventories staffed by knowledgeable people. It’s called selection and service.

As it turns out, the Connecticut Package Stores Association suddenly agrees that Sunday sales aren’t the industry death knell they’ve always said they are:

The longtime lobbyist for the package stores, Carroll Hughes, said that Malloy’s far-reaching bill could cause hundreds of package stores to go out of business if all of the proposals are approved by the legislature. By agreeing to support Sunday sales, Hughes said, he would focus on blocking other aspects of the bill that would harm the package store owners.

The CPSA instead wants to stop supermarkets and big-boxes from going full liquor and to limit selling hours for everyone. It’s classic negotiation, Lemon. By making vast demands, Malloy has forced the CPSA to submit to one aspect of the free market in exchange for other protectionist safeguards. All the governor has to do now is concede backwards to what he wanted in the first place.

“This Guy Was Living an Action Movie”

The local Minuteman has a nice write-up of my book by way of the restoration of Smedley’s gravestone:

The value of the captured cargo was then shared with the government and therein lay the rub. While the Continental Congress shared its spoils 50/50 with the crew of a ship, Connecticut kept to a two-thirds/one third division, which meant that Smedley had trouble getting crew, Kuhl said. With his ship thus undermanned, it was more vulnerable and hit a shoal off New London.

As for that gravestone, Lee told those gathered in Judge Caruso’s chambers on January 12, that he expects repairs will cost about $525 and that there was a prospect of some small donations already, but he wouldn’t mind if more were forthcoming.

Huzzah to reporter Meg Learson Grosso for highlighting the issue of prize division. It’s one of the most important points I hope readers take away from Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer.

Meanwhile, the judge signed off on the restoration. I’ve been skeptical of it being completed in time for a June 13 dedication ceremony, but now that wheels are moving I’m optimistic we can hit the deadline.

One misunderstanding I had: the inscription will not be recarved. Apparently the stone is too weathered and brittle. Disappointing news since the text is shallow and indistinct, although both expert Melanie Marks and D.A.R. rep Betty Oderwald told me the inscription is in good shape for its age, so maybe it will be easier to read once the stone is cleaned and the lichen brushed off.

Meg and I also made a short video in the cemetery on a cold windy day. Pop your Dramamine and have a look-see:

Smedley’s Stone Update

This week Bill Lee appeared before the Board of Selectmen to seek permission to repair Samuel Smedley’s gravestone:

Lee said he was inspired by a photo in Kuhl’s book to restore Smedley’s grave site. The original grave marker in the historic Beach Road cemetery was broken in half, and cannot be repaired. Lee has already set up a trust for donations to replace the marker.

To do so, Lee first needs permission from the Board of Selectmen and the Representative Town Meeting to make changes to the town-owned cemetery. The selectmen approved his request Wednesday, and the RTM will vote on the petition later this month. If they sign off on the plan, Lee will go to a public hearing in probate court for permission to redo the grave site.

The Daily Fairfield article contains two big mistakes. First, the gravestone will be reused, not replaced. The statement that the original “cannot be repaired” is false; the gravestone is going to be refurbished and reinscribed.

Secondly, we will not be appearing before the RTM because none of the money to repair the gravestone will come from the town. The majority of funds will source from private donations. Any public money for the project — probably minimal — will come from the state and/or federal government due to Smedley’s status as a war veteran.

The next step is the public hearing at 3pm on Wednesday, January 11 Thursday, January 12 at the Judge of Probate’s office in Sullivan Hall, where we will formally request the judge to allow the stone to be removed to the refinisher’s workshop. Bill and I will both be there so stop by if you have any questions.

Onward to Pleasure Beach

A consultant group has revealed a plan for the future of Pleasure Beach:

The plan calls for the construction of food kiosks, public restrooms, sporting fields, a playground, adult fitness equipment, pavilions, walking paths and educational programming on the city-owned property that once was the site of an amusement park.

“You don’t have to do much to make Pleasure Beach a place people will want to go,” said Sorge, a principal of the Hamden-based company hired by the city to map out a plan for the peninsula’s revival.

But, of course, the city must make it accessible. Officials have pledged to reopen the summertime oasis to the public by the end of 2012.

This is Bridgeport so I’ll believe it when I see it.

To be fair, the Finch administration has made more steps toward reopening access than anybody since the bridge burned in 1996. This summer the city replaced the decrepit bridge footing on the mainland side with a sparkly fishing and recreational pier, seen above. Only took them a decade and a half!

The article also says the permitting has been completed to install a floating dock at the base of the pier from which the water taxi will operate. The pier features a cordoned queue on its right-hand side; presumably this will be the entry and exit to a gangway and the floating dock below.