Signs of the Times - "Face Mask Required"

Happy face with mask


As 2020 wore on, and COVID-19 became part of our lives, more and more Americans took to wearing face masks to protect themselves and others from the spread of the virus.  Some wearers made the best of it and made fashion statements with these protective coverings.  However, I became more fascinated by the more mundane signs displayed on the doors of stores, restaurants, office buildings and apartment buildings instructing those entering to wear a face mask.  Unlike mass-produced signs purchased from a hardware store that say 'Welcome' or 'Closed', face-mask signs have more personality.  And much like snowflakes, it seems that no two are alike.  Here are some I've seen in Greenwich Village in the past few weeks that got my attention.






Pleasure chest
This sign was displayed on the door of The Pleasure Chest.


Pj clarke

  With buddha




Another smiley face with mask

  Per tutti

  Polite sign

Alex barbershop

  Masksign protect you protect me





Acne studio

  Color factory
  Chelsea radiology

 Nail salon




Liquor store sign


Wine store

  Sullivan st

Xmas store on christopher

  Masksign simplistic




Near the iufc


Corner bodega

  Vape shop





Caution cuidado

Cuidado careful







Oct 25 varick st

Varick st


East 40th

Masksign post office




Jackson square lobby

  West 17th

 Jones st

Barrow st
  Masksign soho apartment



  Organic crepes

  The spaniard restaurant

Mexican restaurant on greenwich ave





Masksign most colorful

The Evolution of Office Work In the Past 40 Years - A First-Hand Account

Selectric with correcting tape


2019 was the 40-year anniversary of me beginning my first job out of college (Penn State), which was working in the media planning department at New York ad agency Scali McCabe Sloves.  This milestone had me thinking about the "primitive" work conditions I encountered in the spring of 1979 and the changes I've witnessed since then (most which didn't take place until the 1990s).  At this first job the big advance was the IBM Correcting Selectric typewriter, which had a cartridge that enabled allowed the user to go back one space and erase a typo.  Here are some other big advances:


Caller ID

This advance, which was first introduced to our office in the early 1990s, is the one that I still marvel at the most.  Before caller ID we answered our desk phone without knowing who was calling (shudder!).  Since there was no voice mail, if I didn't answer the call it bounced over to my secretary who scribbled down a message on a pink "While You Were Out" tablet.


Caller id phone

Desktop Computers

They arrived shortly after Caller ID.  Before then we accessed research databases using a few computers that were kept in the research library.  And users had to use a sign-in sheet to reserve time.  About 15 years later (2010) laptops, for the most part, replaced desktop computers.  This portability allowed for working from home and taking them to meetings (but making it a challenge for a presenter to make eye contact).  


Replacing paper memos, e-mail emerged in the mid-90s but its availability for the first year or so was limited to staff who were in upper management positions.  Similarly, web access was initially restricted.  Then about ten years later e-mails could be accessed on employees' company-supplied Blackberries, then to personal smartphones.

Dress Codes

Not a technical breakthrough, but the loosening of dress codes coincided with the proliferation in technology.  Before then suits, or at least shirts and ties, were expected to be worn every day until Casual Fridays started in the mid-1980s.  As you can imagine dressing up every day could make working in the summer very uncomfortable (especially since the subways weren't air conditioned until the 1990s). 


These hard-working employees (whose title was changed to administrative assistant 25 years ago) carried out countless tasks that were largely menial, but crucial.  Today, alas, we perform tasks that they once did, making us a bit less productive as we spend time doing timesheets, making travel plans, filling out expense reports, scheduling meetings and reserving conference rooms.  However, one task that we now do that has actually made our lives simpler is doing our own typing and preparing reports and presentations.  This enables us to make revisions immediately and do things in exactly the way we picture them in our head.  Also, we can complete projects without negotiating time with others when we had to share secretaries.


Tess in working girl


Research Library

All of the audience and media/marketing research data we used came in the form of hardbound books and "pocket pieces", and there was a substantial library full of these books; they were constantly being updated (monthly and weekly).  Sources that were used extensively would end up having torn or missing pages, or the binders were put back on the wrong shelves or taken from the library and not returned.  40 years later there are no books published, or libraries, as everything is digitized and accessed from websites. And although missing pages is no longer an issue a new hassle is keeping track of personal passwords for each database.


Classic - library 1991
Here I am in Foote Cone & Belding's meda research library, circa 1998.


Arts & Crafts

We created flowcharts of advertising schedules by manually drawing arrows and writing in numbers.  And when the flowcharts were shown to clients they were often enlarged on huge white boards.

Evolution of Audio-Visual Equipment & Copiers

We progressed from overhead projectors with acetates to Powerpoint presentations, then to webexes that enable us to view presentations remotely.  Scanning documents replaced faxes, copiers replaced carbon paper - and copiers evolved to be able to collate, staple, produce color copies and copy on both sides.  And Excel replaced paper spreadsheets and pencils.

The Clean Air Act

Through the mid-90s smoking was permitted in offices and conference rooms.  Then it was allowed if those in a presentation or a private office agreed.  However, drinking liquor/beer at the office still occurs (at least at ad agencies).


Smoking in the office_shutterstock

Leisure Time at the Office

40 years ago no one would think of openly playing solitaire at their desk or doing shopping, but now lots of time seems to be spent playing around because if it's being done on a computer it looks like work (or listening to music through headphones or earbuds).

Farewell to Face-to-Face Encounters

Finally, an increasing number of of meetings/presentations are now done via Skype or webexes.  Recently, the agency where I work announced that it was doing away with landlines; calls will now come thru our laptops or cell phones using a phone app found on Microsoft Teams.  Some frustrating drawbacks to these new forms of voice communications are technical glitches, audio issues, and persons asking questions/making comments from different locations talking over one another. 


When I began my career, "old-timers" would tell me about how work used to be done - adding machines, doing calculations by hand, working in the summer when air conditioning wasn't a given (offices had ceiling fans).  Today I find myself in that role, but I often remark to younger colleagues that relative to the ways business was conducted in the past, today's technological advances seem magical, making the responsibilities I have now seem almost fun rather than being tedious.


Changing times





New York City in the 21st Century - A New Type of Ghost Town

Risoteria for rent


When I was a kid we learned in school about "ghost" towns, which were once bustling towns in the West and Great Plains that popped up due to farming or the mining of natural resources.  They thrived until the minerals were depleted  or because of persistent drought and were then abandoned.  This was also the fate of many factory towns in the Rust Belt in the last few decades of the 20th century.  Now, in the 21st century, some neighborhoods in Manhattan are bringing to mind ghost towns as their stores and restaurants go out of business on an all-too-regular basis after landlords jack up their rents to unreasonable levels.  Each day when I return home from work I brace myself for yet another "Space for Rent" sign in the window of a store I used to patronize.


Retial space available


To quantify the magnitude of these closings my friend Maury and I spent a recent weekend canvassing Greenwich Village and Chelsea to see for ourselves how pervasive the situation was, and we came across not 50, not 100, not 150, but 208 retail spaces that were closed.  We found the omnipresent "For Rent" signs on fifteen streets, with the greatest concentration on Bleecker St., 8th St. and Christopher St.  And if we had walked on every street in the West Village and Chelsea the number would likely have exceeded 250.  While this is a disconcertingly high number, an article on the website DAN Info reported that the area with the most empty storefronts wasn't Greenwich Village, but SoHo and TriBeCa.


Vacant Stores and Restaurants

What's so troubling is that many of these vacant storefronts were businesses that served the residents of their neighborhoods - delis, laundries, shoe repair stores, and barber shops - only to be replaced by high-end retailers that cater to tourists.  Some of these storefronts can stay empty for a year or longer (the spaces formerly occupied by Manatus restaurant on Bleecker St. and Barnes & Noble on Sixth Ave. have been vacant for more than two years), but landlords have no incentive to find new tenants in a timely fashion.  In fact, it's considered a business loss which is a tax write-off.  As these establishments sit empty, they detract from the quality of life of the streets they're located on (especially since there are multiple locations on each street).  I feel rage boiling up inside of me when I walk by these eyesores knowing that the primary reason for them sitting empty is unrestrained greed.


Retail space




Space for Rent
On Christopher St., the sign on the window reads "Trendy Retail", which is code for "rent is $25,000 per month".



















Hsbc 14th and 6th
Stories about the Great Depression or the Dust Bowl era were often accompanied by a photo of a shuttered bank. However, this photo isn't from Nebraska, but the bustling corner of W. 14th St. and Sixth Ave. where HSBC boasted a once handsome branch office which has now sat empty for 18 months.


Chelsea vacancy
8th Avenue in Chelsea


Across the street from the Chelsea storefront above.


Corner of bleecker and sixth former american apparel
The corner of Sixth Ave. and Bleecker St. was briefly an American Apparel store. Before that it sat empty for a year after being a Banana Republic for many years.


Hairdresser note to clientele
On this door of a shuttered hair salon on W. 10th St. the owner has a message of thanks to customers. The salon had been in this location since 1997.


Restaurant across from me
This site of a former restaurant is at the corner of Barrow and West 4th Streets and is across the street from my apartment. It has sat empty for two years.


Eighth street eyesore
This eyesore on W. 8th St. is just off tony lower Fifth Ave. Once a branch of HSBC Bank, it's been in this condition for years.


Spa belle
Nearly as ubiquitous as Starbucks, six Spa Belle's have been shuttered in Chelsea and the West Village due to a glut of competing nail salons.


The closing of a supermarket is always a concern for residents, especially one like Associated, known for its low prices. It had been an anchor on W. 14th St. for more than 25 years.


Polo store
The retailer with the most square footage on Bleecker St. was Ralph Lauren's Polo store, but apparently the bragging rights were no longer worth the expense.  On the window shoppers are directed to other stores in trendy neighborhoods: East Hampton, West Broadway and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.


Just one of 25 empty storefronts on 8th St. - only Bleecker St. has more.


Restaurant for lease on bleecker
This restaurant is east of Sixth Ave. Empty storefronts can be found in equal numbers regardless of which side of Sixth Ave. they're on.


Big blue for rent sign
I have enough photos to create a decent-sized Pinterest board. This empty store is on W. 14th St. between Fifth Ave. and Union Square.


Store for rent
Not all signs are fancy ones. This one is on the window of a former consignment store that had been at this Jones St. address for more than 30 years.





































Update. Since writing this post in September 2016 the vacancies continued to grow, especially on Bleecker St. in the West Village  The space that used to be Manatus restaurant on Bleecker St. has sat empty for six years, the former site of Barnes & Noble at the corner of West 8th St. and Sixth Ave. has been empty for seven years and the grand building at the corner of Sixth Ave. and West 14th St. that was occupied by HSBC Bank had languished for nearly four years (before it was taken down to make room for condominiums).

Holiday Ads That Spread Christmas Cheer




On a Sunday evening in early December 1971 I was watching a long forgotten Christmas special.  But what I remember was a commercial for Coca Cola in which a group of young people of various ethnic backgrounds was gathered on a hill singing a song called I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke.  It was also released as a single which became a top-10 hit for the New Seekers.  However, because of radio overplay I came to despise this treacly song (akin to Disney's It's a Small World).  Still, whenever I hear it I associate it with the holiday season.


Some holiday commercials can be very cloying, especially the plethora of those for cars with big red bows on top (seriously, how many people really give cars as gifts?)  However, I don't want the theme of this post to take on a negative tone since there is a bounty of wonderful Christmas ads to celebrate.  For instance, some of those by the GAP are delightful.  I dare you not to smile or have the desire to do some toe tapping ...






Target ran a beautiful dreamlike series of ads during the 2006 Christmas season that combined ethereal white and blue hues with soft techno music by British duo Goldfrapp   




In 1999 Amazon ran wonderfully kitschy ads that were take offs of the Sing Along with Mitch TV show from the early 1960s.  But despite the acclaim this campaign received Amazon put its account up for review the following year and the ad agency that created these ads, Foote Cone & Building/San Francisco, resigned the account.  




And during the 2013 holiday season staid K-Mart created controversy with its racy ad for its Joe Boxer line of men's briefs which showed a line of beefy gents in holiday attire performing in quasi-Chippendale's fashion to Jingle Bells (or was it Jingle Balls?).  




Magazines also have their share of stylish holiday-oriented ads.  Here are three from Smirnoff, Tiffany & Co. and Absolut:


This ad for Smirnoff is from the early 1990s.  It was before the flavored vodka craze hit so if you wanted a taste of peppermint back then you'd need to dip a candy cane into your drink.  Perhaps the candy cane in this ad was a subtle way of enticing kids (or kids that read The New Yorker)?




Befitting its image, Tiffany's holiday ads are classy and stylish - and, of course, they always display the famous Tiffany box.




Absolut's venerated all-print campaign has been running since 1980 and was chosen by Ad Age as one of the 10 best campaigns of the 20th century.  Close to 2,000 ads have been created using clever wordplay, names of cities and designers, holidays and creative depictions of the iconic Absolut bottle.  This lovely holiday ad is from the early days of the campaign.  (If you like ads you may enjoy a coffee table book titled Absolut Book which includes 500 of the ads.) 



Wall St. Tanks on Black Monday (October 19, 1987)

DSCN1190 For the five years leading up to today Wall St. had been in the midst of a bull market.  However, after reaching its all-time high at the end of the summer the market began heading south.  Then on the afternoon of October 19, a Monday, a number of friends called me at work to report that Wall St. was experiencing a meltdown.  Stock prices had plunged and the market was forced to close early because the huge volume of selling was just too great for the trading floor to handle. 


At the closing bell the Dow had plummeted 508 points, a decline of nearly 23% (this was on top of 235 points lost the previous week.)  This percent decline was nearly twice that of October 28, 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression.


DSCN1189 I was 30 years old at the time and had been kicking myself for not investing during this bull market (I didn't open my first mutual fund until the following year).  However, on the upside, since I didn't have much at stake I wasn't shaken like many of my older colleagues were.  My boyfriend at the time was very concerned as he was chief counsel at EF Hutton, a brokerage that had been under investigation for various financial improprieties.  Today's market collapse quickened its demise and in less than two months it merged with Shearson Lehman/American Express. (Happily, he kept his job.)


DSCN1188 From work I went home and tuned to the CBS Evening News to try to grasp the enormity of it all.  Wondering how much further might this collapse go was cause for anxiety as Tuesday dawned.  Trading that day was characterized by wild swings, so much that the market closed for a brief time at mid-day in hopes of regaining its bearings.  Thankfully, the market rebounded in the afternoon and half of Monday's losses were regained in the next few trading days.  This rebound was in stark contrast to the Black Mondays of 1929 and 2008 which presaged the beginning of grim economic times.  By contrast, this turned out to be merely a market "correction".




51WJYTDCK0L__SS500_ Although the number of points lost on this day in 1987 was 270 fewer than the 777-point plunge in late September 2008, the percent change was much greater because it was off a much smaller base (back then the Dow was only in the 2,000's compared to 11,000+ in 2008).  By comparison, '08's one-day decline was a drop of "only" 7%.  (A behind-the-scenes account of what transpired on October 19-20, written by a former reporter for the Wall St. Journal, is provided in the book Black Monday: The Stock Market Catastrophe of Oct. 19, 1987). 


Somewhat lost during that week in 1987's financial turmoil was the acrimonious confirmation hearings for President Bush's choice for the Supreme Court, Robert Bork.  At the end of the week the U.S. Senate would vote down his nomination by a 58-42 vote.


Marveling at History Through the Covers of TIME Magazine

Newsstand2When I was growing up magazines were always found in our house.  We had subscriptions to Time, Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, Look, Money and Consumer Reports.  Thrown into the mix were subscriptions my older sister had to Cosmo, People and Rolling Stone.  And I had my own subcriptions to Jack & Jill (when I was in grade school), Weatherwise and Baseball Digest.  And I've always been drawn to magazine covers. During my sophomore and junior years at Penn State I stapled covers from various magazines to the ceiling of my dorm room to give it a unique look.  (I still collect covers that catch my eye and I've amassed a nice collection.)


Until this decade, when newsweeklies began struggling mightily for relevance due to the draw of the Internet, there was a certain cachet attached to appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine (however, unlike Rolling Stone, a song was never written about it).  Since it began publishing in March 1923 approximately 4,600 covers have been published.  I recently surveyed these covers and was mesmerized by the wonderful review of US and world history they provided.  




In Times's first few decades covers were relatively uninspired B/W portraits but they slowly evolved and became more eye-catching, incorporating a mix of styles, e.g., photographs, collages or illustrations.  (Covers of the past decade feature noticeably more white space.)  Some were created by well-known artists of the day such as Andy Warhol (first cover, below), Peter Max (middle cover) and Robert Rauschenberg.  Many covers around Christmastime had a religious theme depicted by beautiful paintings.  Covers can be purchased through Time's website; those featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Bernstein or Jackie Kennedy, for example, are great conversation pieces and make great wall decorations.






As the 1950s progressed cover subjects began to touch upon societal trends and issues.  Many were topics that would have never been discussed in polite company in the first 40 years of Time's existence, e.g., homosexuality, date rape, domestic violence, herpes.  Surprisingly, some social issues of current concern, e.g,. suburban sprawl, salt intake, women's changing roles, obesity, were featured as cover stories 15-25 years ago.






Of course "anyone who was anybody" in the fields of politics, culture and entertainment, religion and sports graced the covers over the years.  However, some personalities slipped through the cracks.  For instance, Judy Garland, Truman Capote, Hank Aaron and Coco Chanel are some of the "movers and shakers" of their time not to get a cover.  And it wasn't until 30 years after his death that Babe Ruth appeared on the cover. (Determining those who haven't been on the cover can be a great parlor game.)




A number of handsome coffee table books are also available including 75 Years of TIME Magazine Cover Portraits and TIME: The Illustrated History of the World's Most Influential Magazine.  In closing, here are a handful of other classic covers:





Time_magazine_ ojsimpson






Nielsen Introduces Its Peoplemeter (August 31, 1987)

Nielsen_peoplemeter Nielsen inaugurated its national peoplemeter service on Aug. 31, 1987 while I was away on vacation in London.  I read about this advance in audience measurement in the international edition of USA Today.  Of course, since TV research was the focus of my job I had been well aware of this change for many months.  This change in measurement was a change that ad agencies had sought for a while since the previous method collected demographic data using an inferior paper and pencil method that relied on a person's memory.  The Big 3 networks, however, were resistant because the peoplemeter would likely result in lower ratings for them and higher ratings for cable networks.


This trip to the UK was my first abroad, a trip I won as grand prize winner of the United Way drawing the previous Christmas at my previous employer, ad agency Young & Rubicam.  And although I had changed jobs since winning it, Y&R graciously honored my prize.  It was a week-long trip for two, including business class travel on TWA and hotel accommodations in the tony Knightsbridge section of London (near Harrod's).  


But enough about my good fortune.  The peoplemeter was a big advance in how TV advertising was bought since it provided ratings for the people who were viewing shows rather than just their household.  It also provided this information much more quickly.  What made this change even more interesting was the fact that big, bad Nielsen briefly had a competitor in the U.S., a British company called AGB Research.  AGB had introduced the peoplemeter to our shores earlier in the year. 




The agency I worked at, the now defunct NWAyer, purchased both services, so our TV analyses compared the ratings of both (although Nielsen was what all national TV buys were made on).  However, AGB went out of business in the spring of 1988 since it was unable to get enough companies to buy its service, especially once Nielsen developed similar technology.  Alas, in the years to come this fate would befall other research companies that attempted to compete against the Nielsen Company.  (25 years later a competitor called Rentrak would prove more tenacious.)


History of tv


Finally, two pop culture references from that week in 1987 bring to mind Nielsen's new peoplemeter.  The day before leaving for London I went with friends to see the movie Dirty Dancing, which had opened that weekend.  And while in London Rick Astley's record Never Gonna Give You Up was a smash hit and I bought the single at the Tower Records store in Piccadilly.  It became an equally big hit in the US shortly after I returned.








Introduction of "New" Coke Enrages Coke Addicts (April 23, 1985)

New_coke April 23, 1985 was a Tuesday and I had taken the day off from work (ad agency Young & Rubicam) because I was having a chest of drawers, platform bed and bookcase delivered from The Door Store to my new apartment in the West Village.  That morning, as I waited for the delivery truck, I heard on the radio about Coke introducing a new formulation for its flagship brand. 


I grew up drinking Pepsi - there was a Pepsi bottling plant in my hometown with a huge illuminated bottle cap on its roof and as a child I thought it was Pepsi's headquarters.  However, I was still curious and bought a can of New Coke the next day.  I didn't detect much of a difference in the taste. (The idea behind the change was to make it closer in taste to Pepsi).  However, the reaction by Coke drinkers was swift and furious.  Because of this backlash "Classic" Coke was brought back during the summer.




Despite my longstanding preference for Pepsi I found my affinity weakening as we entered the 21st century.  I was a longtime diet soda drinker (ever since reading Sugar Blues in 1982) but rarely drank diet Coke because I thought it tasted more artificial compared to other brands.  However, Coke began dabbling in line extensions that piqued my interest.  


Coke_blak Cokezero An array of flavors were introduced, e.g. lime and cherry,that to my taste buds masked the artificial taste, so I found myself drinking diet Coke more frequently. (By the way, whatever happened to Vanilla Coke or Coke Blak?)  Then the introduction of Coke Zero in 2005 reeled me in further as I found it tasted very similar to regular Coke.  While I still occasionally drink diet Pepsi I think Coke Zero is by far the best tasting diet soda on the market.