A Personal Connection ~ The More Things Change…

Hank at Work

By Hank Manz  |  It has been a bit cold lately, but even with that I decided to head down to Ranc’s for some ice cream. I am a vanilla person most of the time, but about a year ago my horizons were enlarged when Joe handed me one of his new concoctions. With that memory in mind, this time I decided to go absolutely wild with the pineapple ice cream. First rate!

But then I realized that the whole frozen dessert thing seemed to be getting out of hand in Lexington. In the Center alone there is Candy Castle, Ranc’s, and Baskin-Robbins, along with the just-opened Fruitee Yogurt which has been, by the way, packed every time I have walked by. And if that is not enough, I note there appears to be another yogurt shop going in near Great Harvest.

When I bike through East Lexington, all too often I stop at Macaron Sweeterie. The pastries and frozen treats are one lure, but the benches on the sidewalk are another very important benefit. Enjoying yourself while scarfing down sweets is one thing, but doing so while waving to friends and neighbors is even better. If only there were benches on the south side of Mass Ave in the Center, I would spend even more time there. I remain convinced we could put

in benches there even though others tell me they would never fit. I seem to remember that argument was once applied to bicycle racks on that side, yet today they are there..

Whenever I see a mini-explosion of businesses, I always wonder why banks attract such enmity. Things have died down of late, but with Town Meeting in session the discussion is bound to start anew. I have always held that if your bank is in the Center, then there are enough banks, but if it isn’t, then either you don’t shop downtown or you think the downtown needs at least one more bank.

I chose my bank partly because the branch manager was known to me through her volunteer service and partly because it was in the Center, specifically near Depot Square where I can often be found waiting for a bus. Just in case I do drive, there are usually parking places nearby. The perfect storm of bank availability!

“But a bank is not a destination” one person protested in a hot note to me. Well, it is for me. I can visit my “wealth”, decide if I can afford to withdraw $20 of it, read the Wall Street Journal, say “Hi” to the staff, have a cup of tea, and check out the bulletin board. A bank down the street has pointed out that they have all of that plus a fireplace. Had the winter been colder, I might have cracked. In the interest of journalistic integrity, I have to admit that the first draft of this column was written with a pen from a bank where I have no money on deposit. They have a big bucket of them at the customer desk and every now and then I snag one as I pass through.

I have always been something of a non-interventionist where business is concerned. If there are too many of one kind of business, then there will be a shakeout. I know—there are some who swear that certain businesses can afford to pay more so they are favored, but in talking to property managers, that still seems to be a theory with not much to back it up. Some businesses do require less in the way of parking, of course, and therefore can more easily move into a vacant location, but that is a discussion for another day.

The too-many-businesses controversy isn’t a new one, by the way. While reading old Town Reports, I came across the tip of an iceberg which started to melt more than 80 years ago. Apparently Lexington was gentrifying a bit so piggeries came under fire. Suddenly the selectmen were hearing cases involving illegal piggeries and illegal slaughtering.

Things seemed to quiet down, but apparently the lack of piggeries meant that there was no longer enough manure available for the many farms in the area. So farmers would haul produce to market, then bring back manure on the return trip.

That caused two things to happen. First, the good citizens of Arlington protested the presence of leaking wagons on their streets. I still have it on my list to read some of the Arlington Town Reports from that time to get their side of an obviously smelly story. Then, the presence of manure stockpiles in Lexington started to be a problem. I have yet to find a picture, but apparently the stockpile near North Station, close to the present Public Services Building, was pretty much the olfactory wonder of the world. All this was sort of solved as the farms died out, but I have yet to figure out whether those farms jumped or were pushed. Probably a little of both.

The circle has started to close with the designation of the greater portion of the former Busa property as a community farm so it is going to be very interesting to see what changes that will bring. Years ago when Wendy and I lived in Nebraska, most of our large backyard was a garden. Our neighbor, a retired farmer used to shake his head and say things like “Don’t understand why you folks are messing around with this kind of thankless work” but then he would offer sound advice like “Plant the early corn so it catches the reflected sun from the garage and then the stalks will protect other things from the really hot sun which will come later” and “Don’t let the squirrels have any of the fall leftovers or they will start on your garden early next year.”

We followed most of the advice, but the squirrels were cute so we let them have the leftover sunflowers. Sure enough, the next year they were fighting us for control of the garden. Typical struggle. New people move in with new ideas only to be replaced by even newer people who have to learn things all over. I suspect that will never change.

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