The personal touch with J. R. Kortman

What Works
What Works
The personal touch with J. R. Kortman

On this week’s Thinker What Works podcast:

  • How to keep customers in the digital age.
  • Creating good partnership boundaries.
  • Surviving until the market comes to you.


Jason: You’re listening to Thinkers What Works Podcast. I’m your host Jason Todd with my cohost Alex Gary. And today we are here with Doc Slafkosky, Jerry Kortman, from JR Kortman Center for Design. He opened in 1986.
You’re a concept store in an art gallery. Walk us through that. What is a concept store?

Doc: Well, a concept store, when it actually first opened back in 1986, we referred to it as a design store. And that was even sort of misunderstood, in a sense that … actually, if you want to get real basic about it, it’s a gift shop. But it’s kind of like a themed gift shop, or a jurried gift shop, where design was our theme.
For instance, you have a water kettle in there designed by Michael Graves, or a watch that’s designed by Philippe Starck or … so, everything has kind of a design pedigree to it. Kind of that. And the store has also expanded and changed over the years, you have to do that when you’re in a small business, you have to keep evolving, because times change. You know, we’ve been in business 32 years. That’s a generation, so when you start out in retail, it’s a whole nother way of looking at it today as we all know.
And then upstairs we have an art gallery, and we feature mostly local artists because we wanted to provide a forum for local artists to show their work, and also in a business way. Not as sort of a charity. As a matter of fact, we used to have on the wall in Esperanto, it said, “arto kaj komerco” which meant “Art and Business.” And the idea of that was that art should garner money for people, it shouldn’t be just a charity. How it sometimes is viewed that way, so that was the idea behind the whole thing.

Jason: Now you mentioned change, you also used the word there, Esperanto. Now at one point in time, I’m familiar with this because I was there. There was a, what was it, a café? Upstairs.

Doc: Upstairs was Café Esperanto and the Kortman Gallery at the same time. We considered the walls the Kortman Gallery, we considered the space within as Café Esperanto. And we wanted it to be an international cocktail and coffee bar and we came up with the term Esperanto, since it was a synthetic language developed by a Polish oculist, Dr. Zamenhof, after World War 1 so people could all speak sort of a common language without having any cultural baggage that goes along with it.
You know, if there’s a French, if you speak French, you can’t help learn about France, or Germany about German. So he thought, “Why don’t we make up a language that doesn’t have any cultural baggage, and it’s a neutral language, we can all speak to each other, and if we can communicate better, there will be more peace on Earth.”

Jason: And that’s the etymology of Esperanto.

Doc: Yes, Esperanto. It means one who hopes, is the translation of Esperanto in Esperanto. Actually, there are still-

Jerry: A group in Paris who we saw …

Doc: They’re all around the world. There’s one in Tokyo, Esperanto, people that sit around and speak Esperanto to each other and read.

Jason: Really?

Doc: Yes, they read books, and you know, mi dankas is thank you. There’s a little bit of German in it, a little bit of like sort of Spanish sounding words, Italian.
So that’s, we wanted it to have this kind of international flair and we would, I also work for Delta Airlines. So I travel a lot and I bring magazines back from all over the world. And cigarettes back in the day when you used to be able to smoke up there. And we also introduced Rockford to cappuccino and espresso. We actually ordered our machine from Italy, because none was really available in the United States. And people would go, “What is this capu-chi, si-?” I mean people couldn’t even pronounce things. Of course, now you can get it at the mobile station, but back then it was pretty exotic, like I said, these were sort of even pre Starbucks days, so this is, at least for this area-

Alex: One of the reasons when we started talking about inviting you guys in, is that Rockford, Illinois used to have a very vibrant downtown, but when you guys opened in 1986, you were about it. So can you walk us through the decision to open in an area that, in 1986, probably wasn’t too promising?

Doc: Okay, we thought it was really important at the time to have a strong urban core. And we noticed that the center of Rockford, the downtown area, was pretty much being ignored. Because of all the malls that were built, and you know, the malls provided a certain convenience, and probably safety factor that people really liked. However, we were noticing, even back in the ’80s a brain drain. A lot of our friends whose kids were getting older, they were moving away. And where were they moving? They were moving to urban areas. They weren’t moving to the suburbs, they weren’t moving to the mountains or the countryside, they were going into urban areas. Where there’s also a good vibe and things going on.
So actually, this is the whole idea behind the café. We were just going to do the store, but we added the café concept because, along with the art, because we felt it needed to be a gathering place. And also to sort of show to the business community in Rockford that downtown is not going to have Wisey’s or Marshal Fields, or the big department stores anymore. It’s going to be different. It’s going to be, we have to redefine it and think about it in a different way. And we could put together a store, this concept store, or this design store, that nobody else, not the malls, no one else, because our competition in a way would be a Hallmark store. But at the same time we were not that.
So actually getting money for the store, the whole concept was rather difficult in some ways. Because they would say, “Can you, in your business model, please cite examples of other stores in the area that are like this?” And what we tried to say to the banker is, “There is no store in the area like this, that’s why we are doing it!” You know, if there were other stores like this, we wouldn’t bother with it. And there were stores like it in Chicago or New York, but we didn’t feel we wanted to do that, because they already had that. Our idea was to fill a void here.

Jason: That is pretty unique, and you have changed through the years, I’ve recognized that. I did go to Café Esperanto back, I don’t know, 20 years ago when I was much younger.

Doc: We closed in 2000.

Jason: It was a while ago so-

Alex: Jason’s turning 40 soon.

Jason: Yeah, it’s true.

Alex: He’s dating himself here.

Doc: Poor thing.

Jason: It’s happening. It’s okay. 39, 41, 40, it doesn’t matter. But yeah, you have changed and it is a unique store. There is really … like you say, I was to New York recently and you can walk into some retail shops there and you’re like “Wow, this is really classy,” and they’ve got some very unique things, like you mentioned a tea kettle but it’s curated, and you’re doing the same type of thing, but you’re doing it in kinda an area that doesn’t expect it.

Doc: Right, and that’s actually how we’ve … one of the reasons we’ve survived in business this long, because we haven’t done it on price points. It’s been on being unique. You know, people come in the store looking for something different. As a matter of fact, tell them about sales, when we try and do sales.

Jerry: If we put something on sale, have a special sale or something, red dots or yellow dots, those things don’t seem to sell.

Jason: Really?

Jerry: They’re not looking necessarily for something inexpensive, they’re looking for something different, something unique that you can’t find everywhere else.

Jason: Something with a bit of character.

Jerry: Bit of character, just something unique, something that-

Jason: Do you think your buyer, getting the idea of clearance, do you think your buyer wants the thing that everybody would … they don’t want the thing that nobody else wants, so if it’s on clearance, nobody must want that so I don’t want it either. Why do you think that doesn’t work?

Doc: That’s an interesting point, because we’ve tried to finger this out. Sometimes we’ll do blue dots and everything’s 20 percent that’s a blue dot or whatever-

Alex: Because Kmart went out of business, so you’re gonna [crosstalk 00:07:53]

Doc: Right, there’s an easier way rather than remarking everything because we still hand make our tags, our price tags. We do not have a computerized system, our inventory is in our head.

Jerry: Don’t tell our accountants that.

Doc: I know.

Jason: Yeah, well, whatever.

Doc: Or our banker. They always kinda laugh at us. Neither of us are really money people, you know, and we’re thing people and we like to sell things. Actually, when we went to the bank, and how we actually got, I think, convinced the banker to give us money is that we brought them a kaleidoscope, we brought them a Michael Grey’s water kettle, or, remember we brought them that Maya bowl?

Jerry: There was a time when we had the café, we brought cheesecake because we sold cheesecake up in the café when it originally opened, yeah.

Doc: So he made a cheesecake and brought it to the banker because we thought we can’t really justify our figures, but we can show you what we want to do. And that, I think, helped a lot because they could visualize. Because even bankers kinda can see, I mean, they shop too.
Because there’s one guy that, we did get no’s, it wasn’t like the first one we went to and we also did get a small business loan from the city but it was contingent on getting a loan from the bank.

Jason: Right, yeah.

Doc: But then the bank became contingent on whether we got the loan from the city, so they started going back and forth and we got to the point where we thought, they’re doing everything they can to make sure that we do not get into this business. But we also got stubborn about it, and we thought “they’re not gonna stop us.”
So we just sort of hung in there, and finally, I don’t know if we talked to the bank or someone, we said “Someone’s gonna have to give here,” and someone’s gonna have to say yes so the other person can also say yes. I don’t know how that happened, maybe it was another cheesecake, but anyway, we did get the money and that helped.
And of course, not enough.

Jason: Sure, of course.

Doc: You know, you never really do, but … I shouldn’t say never, but retail is such an awkward thing to get money for because a banker will look at it as, “Boy, if this thing fails, it’s 10 cents on the dollar.” You know, there’s not much there. However, what we did was we pulled all our resources together and we bought the building. So now we had real estate.

Jason: So we had, gotcha.

Doc: And even though it was in sort of a depressed area of the city, it still … real estate is real estate, it’s property.

Jason: It still had value.

Doc: That was kinda the clincher. So I don’t know if that’s inadvice to someone who’s starting out, you don’t always have the opportunity to buy the place, but there was a barber shop in there and we didn’t even know the place was for sale, but we liked the little building.
And actually, we were trying to get into Stewart Square, which was a development.

Jason: Which is like kitty corner to you, right?

Doc: Kitty corner to us, it was downtown, DJ Stewart department stores. It was kinda Rockford’s Lord and Taylor, it was very high end department store, beautiful store, but it was closed. It must have been abandoned, so a group of, I think it was mostly women, acquired the building and they were selling tiles from the floor to help raise money, and they wanted to refund it and refurbish it and break it up into smaller, like office space on the upper floors and smaller retails on the first floor.
Actually, which ended up being Kryptonite, a bar, that was Porter Drug Stores. That was not actually part of the department store even though it was in the same building of it, and it had that balcony around the top of it, and the balcony was the soda fountain, so people would go up there and have a green river, whatever.
I remember that actually, as a kid, that makes me sound really old. You probably went there too, because it was always an experience to go to Porter’s downtown. But we were gonna go into that space, because we liked the idea of the first floor being our store and then this balcony that wrapped around the entire space would be the gallery and café upstairs and you’d look down into the store.
But anyway, they were just unable to.

Jerry: It took too long for them to get done, and I had quit my job, so we needed to do something.

Jason: Yeah. Something had to happen.

Jerry: Right.

Jason: So you had to come-

Jerry: So we found the building, and we found out who owned it, we approached them, whether it was for sale or not and he said “Sure, it’s for sale.” We offered him a price, or offered him, yeah, a price on it and he said no, what it is is what it is.

Doc: Yeah, there was no negotiating with it. But we had to come up with the money. But I mean, when you look at it today, it was a real bargain. Like I said, it ended up being really a smart move, because we had something now that we could actually borrow with. And then every Christmas you always have to go and get extra money, you know how that is, to increase your inventory, and how we would get that is I would offer them the keys and say “Here, take it. If you aren’t gonna give us the money, then we’re out of the business, you can take it.” And they’d go “No, we don’t want it. Here’s more money.” Kinda interesting how that all worked.
I’m being a little facetious, but …

Jason: But they probably did want, yeah.

Doc: And the other thing that was kind of interesting-

Jason: They want you to stay in business, they don’t want your building.

Doc: Exactly. The other thing that was kind of interesting about it was that the banker, the guy we brought the cheesecake to, when we went to see him to get extra money, he would pull out our file and in it would be clips, like from the Rockford Register, things that he cut out. And he was really impressed with that, because like you were saying, Alex, back in the day we were one of the only games in town downtown so if there was anything about small business downtown or anything happening downtown, we were kinda the go-to people to ask questions to.
And also, they were sort of baffled at it, that we were there and that a year would pass, and another year would pass, and another year would pass, these guys are still there. So I think there was sort of a curiosity about it.

Jerry: I worked at First National, so I knew the banker, Dick Peterson, and he sort of was more interested then when we were the owners, so he kept clipping out information on us.

Jason: Well, you are unique. I’m sure you’re very unique for then, but even today, you’re unique in this area.

Doc: Well, it was interesting when we opened. They came and did a story, and we got a really … this is when there used to be a Life and Styles section, and we were on the front page of it and they got our picture, and it was something about good design and kaleidoscopes too was the headline, and they had this whole story inside. I’m explaining just what I had said earlier about how important it was to have a strong urban core and to keep young people here, all this I’m talking about, and explaining why we were downtown because they were so baffled at why we did choose to go down there. At the end of the interview, the reporter said “So, if you’re successful will you move to a mall?” And it’s like, I guess everything I just said to you just went over your head.

Jason: Missed the whole point.

Doc: Because we said, to this day we say we’re not interested in downtown because our business is there. Our business is there because we’re interested in downtown. We always felt that it was important to do that. It’s taken a long time to see things change, just like other cities, the only thing we’ve been a little bit behind the curve here.

Alex: How does it feel now to see all this activity starting to happen downtown? Actually seeing people walking around with dogs on the weekend, because there’s apartments down here?

Doc: It feels really good.

Jerry: It is. It’s a great feeling.

Doc: It’s kinda neat, but at the same time we still feel like it’s still not … what happens is, there’s moments where it’s like “Hey, we’re back,” you know, like city market nights, certain things like that, that really get you excited. But then there’s also times when we go down there, driving down Main, or I walk to work every day, we live downtown too. Just 9 blocks north of here so I walk to work every day, but you still go by a lot of empty buildings and things that are abandoned, things that are crumbling, and there doesn’t seem to be …
The other thing that kinda happened is because the real estate downtown was so inexpensive, we did get a lot of out-of-town investors that bought these buildings with the idea that someday, I’m gonna pay 250,000 and it’s gonna be worth 3 million. But the thing is, is they just sit on it and let it deteriorate. It’s never gonna be worth that. What makes a building in a neighborhood valuable is what you do to it, what you put into it, when you make things happen there.
When you just turn the other way, then it doesn’t really accomplish anything.

Jason: Which seems like is also true of the business that you’re in, too. You could have stayed the way that you were, you could have just held onto a café, you could have not changed the interior, could have persisted in the gallery the way it was, but you’ve … as I’m listening to you, you have a method, it seems, to keep an eye on what might be coming up next, where do we fit and how can we change to be where the market is going.

Jerry: Yeah, you have to. You have to continually just be aware of what’s going on outside and around the world, to just stay in business and change. As trends change, as people change, you have to keep changing too.

Jason: So how do you do that?

Doc: Well, one thing is that we travel a lot. We’re shoppers, you know, we like to go out and look at stuff, and that, I think, is an important thing. We also, for instance, we do not go to the trade show in Chicago. There’s, you know the Chicago Gift Fair? We go to the one in New York, or we go to the one in San Francisco, because everybody here goes to the one in Chicago. And I’m not putting down the show, it’s a great show, but there’s a different sensibility at both those shows, and we’ve actually gone to Frankfurt, to the show.

Jerry: To Paris.

Doc: To Paris, to the show, to get an idea. Because sometimes you don’t necessarily buy so much there, because the problem with going to shows in Europe is they’ll want you to buy a container of something. You’ll look at this and say “Oh, that’s a really nice vase,” well, did you want to buy a container of them? No, I just want six or whatever, they kinda look at you funny.
But also, we do have a lot of suppliers that are over in Europe and in Asia too, and you really need to see what the trends are, and that’s what we do. Just see, what are the colors? What are they showing, like pillows, toss pillows are sort of in, or some of the things we don’t always buy into because you still have a vision. We do have an awareness of our customer base and what they like.

Jerry: And our store’s more contemporary, it’s not, I don’t know, it’s not antiques and that type of thing, although we do bring in some art pieces and folk art and that type of thing from Asia or wherever.

Doc: Because that’s also become part of interior design elements now. People have Buddhas in their house, and they’re not necessarily Buddhas, but they look cool with a candle in front of it or something. Fortunately I go to Asia a lot, and I comb the markets. Well, we also go to Paris, and we go to Keyon Court, the different markets there, so sometimes you find unique things, one-of-a-kind things like that, but to keep the store, it’s an interesting mix of things. We also buy with the idea that there isn’t anything here that we wouldn’t take home, you know, if it doesn’t sell.
And sometimes we’ll buy something and say “Boy, that’s really cool, but we’ll be needing that thing.” The other thing that will happen is, things will buy something and it will sit there all year, and then it will be the next year, it will sell. It’ll be like wait a minute, we’ve had this thing for a year.

Jason: How is the Internet affecting your business? I know you sell very unique stuff, so people from big stores are going to come in and get different things. But on the Internet, I can find something from China, I can find something from Japan, I can find something from South America. How are you guys handling that?

Doc: You can find probably everything that we have in the store online. However, a couple things going on here is, like I said, we look at ourselves as sort of curators. There isn’t probably one site that you can go to and find the mix of merchandise that we have.
The other thing is, we’ve also believed in the shopping experience. Like I said, we like to shop, and I can buy things online too but I like going into stores. I like to see how things look. We also know, as buyers for our store, that we’ve gotten burnt before. People used to send us discs, remember, with their latest goods on it, suppliers, and say oh that’s really cool. And then we go to the trade show and we’d say “Oh my god, I’m glad we didn’t order these things.”

Jerry: To see it in person is sometimes a totally different experience, too.

Doc: This is the same thing with art. You have artists bring in slides of their work, or images of their work and it looks really cool, and then you say “You know, we really do need to come to your studio, we really need you to bring some pieces in, we need to see how it’s executed,” because you know how you can make things look really nice. These cameras are wonderful, but you can really make things look better sometimes than they necessarily are.
You can also test the quality, but it’s the experience of shopping. We have video going, we really put a lot of effort into having a good playlist.

Jerry: And we gift wrap, and do things that you don’t get.

Doc: Gift wrap, he hand ties every bow, it’s an experience. And then they can yak to us. If they see something, we can tell them about it and everything in our store has a story. It’s just like “oh, yeah, we just ordered 12 of those.” No, we’ll tell you why we ordered them, how we found them, where we …
That’s just the way we are, too. That’s not even, we didn’t realize that was necessarily good business, it’s just the way we think about things. I think that’s another thing.
The other thing, too, is when we’ve looked at doing things on the Internet, that’s a whole nother business. Warehousing and shipping and people sending things back.

Alex: Technology has its limits, and if I remember right, last year, book sales went up and e-books went down, because people are starting to realize it’s really a lot more fun to just read a book, rather than just stare at a screen the whole time.

Jerry: Sure, and we sell books too in the store, and we do, we sell a lot of them. Ours are more tabletop art books or books on design, that type of thing, but people still enjoy opening a book and looking at them. We don’t read, but we like to look at pictures.

Jason: I’m also curious. Partnerships can be hard, right? You’ve been working together for 32 years now, and obviously you must have been friends before. Has there ever been a point where it’s like, ugh, I just don’t want to deal with Jerry today, and how did you get past that?

Jerry: Well, I think it does, daily, sometimes you get tired of the person you’re working with, but it’s never been a real issue, no.

Doc: Well, flying has also helped. The fact that I fly, because I go away, like on Saturday now I go to Amsterdam, I might be gone for five days. So we’ve always had this time away from each other, and that has helped out a lot. And then also, it gives you an opportunity to see something different, and the other thing is that the iPhone has really made such a big difference.

Jerry: The phone, yeah.

Doc: Because I can photograph everything I see. I’ve been flying for 38 years, so my first 20-some years … so the iPhone came along, I never had a camera. So I have years of all this traveling that I have no images, I used to say “Ich bin eine camera,” which is “I am a camera,” and I just would hold it in here.
But this is, it allows me to share it and bring things home and show it to him, because I got an iPhone the first week they came out, and it was just, to me it was “Oh my god, this thing is made in heaven,” because it’s not only a camera but it’s a communication tool, and I can call home and I can send emails. That changed a lot for just the way we operate our business. It’s made it a lot more convenient.
The other thing too is about cards, because that tone about why we started with cards, having cards in the shop because it was hard to find …

Jerry: Because we’re always interested, I’m always interested, I had a collection of cards that I bought around the world when I’d travel.

Jason: Playing cards or postcards?

Jerry: Greeting cards.

Jason: Oh, okay.

Jerry: Because we have a line of greeting cards, several different lines of greeting cards that you don’t find everywhere else, they’re not the normal greeting cards, and so I had drawers full of them. When we opened the store, we have to have unique greeting cards. So we’re constantly looking for new cards that are art-related or just totally different than what you see.

Doc: But that helped put us on the map, because people could come in and buy a card. That’s the other thing too, that it also allows a price point that you could come in and buy something for two dollars, or two fifty, or whatever, or you could buy something and find a card. People would always say “You can’t find these cards in Rockford,” because mostly Rockford was Hallmark or American Greetings, and they would be what the supermarket or the Hallmark stores had.
So we picked up on these alternative card lines, because there were a lot of these stores that were also opening up across the country that had unique card lines, and …

Jerry: And those are also companies that were small businesses just like us, just a few people that did hand silk screen cards and we still buy from these people.

Doc: But the Internet, the emailing and ecards and things like that, it did take a dive, but it’s interesting. It’s come back. Our card sales have just flourished in the past couple years. They were kinda going down and we were like, wondering how much space should we really be devoting to cards, but there’s something about handing somebody a card.
And now, we’ve gone to birthday parties, Christmas, where the cards are passed around and everybody looks at them, and laughs, or oh isn’t that sweet, or whatever, and it’s like giving a gift, almost, and it’s something you can put in a drawer and take it out, and I still find cards for my sister that she gave me, birthdays and things like that. They’re kinda heartwarming, it’s not the same in an email or a confetti.

Jason: What do you attribute the, kinda the rebirth, at least in this area and for your store, of the cards? What do you consider the source of the rebirth of that?

Doc: I think there’s also … there was a generation that sort of missed it, and now are sort of rediscovering these things. Like wow, because a lot of them are younger people that are coming in and buying cards that, because they were all sending each other emails or whatever, or texting or whatever. It doesn’t really necessarily replace it, it’s just an enhancement. Because this is how we’ve been … I don’t think retail, bricks and mortar will ever go away because you cannot replace that experience on the Internet.
You can maybe find the stuff, and then also, like I said, to find the mix of merchandise and things that we have, there’s that kinda personal touch that doesn’t necessarily exist. I suppose if you went to somebody’s eBay account, I don’t know, but it’s not the same thing. You know what I mean?

Jason: Well, you’ve used a couple words pretty consistently. One is this idea of experience, and the other one is story, not only I think of the individual items in there, that everything has a story, but kinda the story of your story, even. But also this idea of that personal touch. You’re gonna be talking to someone who can explain the story behind this, and the store is an experience itself. I was there just recently, and the layout of the store is unique, and it’s pleasing to the eye, and it makes you want to go in further and look at each little piece on every little shelf.

Doc: We use the term, we had a marketing thing for a while, explore. And that’s, we made the store kind of aisle-ist.

Jerry: You had to walk through.

Doc: That you have to-

Jerry: Sort of roam around.

Doc: Yeah, you have to kinda sort of discover things, and that there again adds to the experience. And there again, the music and that kind of thing, we have people that come sometimes on their lunch and say “We just like to come in here and listen to the music and look around, sometimes when I’ve had a bad day at the office.”
Sometimes you feel, oh, I wish you’d buy something, but at the same time it kinda makes you feel good that, the other thing too is that we are not money people, as I said before. And also, obviously you have to make a living at it, you have to make it work, but at the same time, there’s probably other things that we could have done with our investment and our time and maybe made more money out of it, but this is who we are.

Jerry: It’s a passion. Passion that we have.

Doc: And also, contributing to the community, making something, being pioneers and all those kinds of things, and maybe convincing other people to think about things differently. All of those things, I think, become sort of important.

Jerry: The people that we’ve met over the 30 years, that’s amazing.

Jason: I bet.

Jerry: And they’re still coming around. We see them, even our employees from Café Esperanto, they’re still our friends. That’s a nice thing.

Doc: And I mean, mayors have shopped here, politicians. We’ve always had this really interesting mix, our customer base, that we’ve always enjoyed so much. That’s kind of rewarding. Maybe we sound kind of goofy or sentimental about all this stuff, but that’s what’s important to us.
Of course, I’ve never had a vision and then we were talking about this the other day, of living in a mansion or, I don’t know, that’s never interested me. Maybe when I was a kid, everybody dreams of that, but as you get older, I just think more of a sense of accomplishment or making something happen, or creating something, that becomes more important.
And there again, we love art and all, but neither of us are artists. So this is kind of the way we use our creative juices in this business. It’s fun sometimes.

Alex: You talk about the experience and I think the younger generation is starting to realize or recognize that. Part of the fun of Christmas is going out to the stores and running into people you don’t see for 11 months because you’re all shopping together. I could sit at home and buy my Christmas presents and have them shipped, but there’s no fun in that.
My daughter, who’s 15, every year when Ambrose Christmas store opens, that’s the beginning of the Christmas season. And we walk in there and this year, the owner of it said “Hi Hannah,” because she’s been going there since she was five years old, and we go three or four times every winter, but that’s what she looks forward to at Christmas. She’s walking around and seeing the cool stuff.

Doc: Well, of course, as a little kid. And it’s funny, like in Europe, they haven’t really lost that as much as we have here in the United States, but if you go to Paris or London, in London there’s Selfridge’s and Harrod’s and Debeham’s, and John Lewis, all these big department stores and they all still have their Santas, they have Christmas carolers.

Jerry: Big store window displays.

Doc: In Paris, and galleries in Lafayette, they still do the windows that are animated. It’s such an experience to go to those things, and we have sort of lost that. Christmas is, this sounds really …

Jerry: Coming back now with stroll …

Doc: We’re getting that here again because there’s that sense of community about the holidays too that doesn’t happen any other time of the year, where people do come together, and that’s a real important thing. We finally have, Stroll on State in Rockford now, the downtown tree, the official tree is downtown where it used to be up in Sin City Park, so they brought it down here again. That whole idea.
It’s funny, because years ago my family decided Christmas has gotten too commercial and we’re not gonna buy any gifts, we’re just gonna have a nice Christmas dinner and we’re gonna sit around the fire and sing Christmas carols. We all agreed to do it because we thought Christmas was so commercial, and anyway, we stuck to that and after dinner we’re sitting around trying to sing Christmas carols, and it’s like, nobody really did buy anything for anybody. So we’re all just kinda sitting at each other, it was the worst Christmas ever. It was so boring.
I remember going over to some friends’ house, everybody kinda parted and everybody left and I thought, like I said, I hate to be crass about it, but Christmas is about buying gifts. I’m taking it out of the religious concept.

Jason: I understand.

Doc: But even there again, that’s based, that whole thing came from, the Christmas season, the three kings brought gifts. This whole idea that there was a time for gift-giving. That’s an important factor. And you know, being in retail, you really appreciate how important that is. And we get that from our customer too, that sometimes they’ll say we’re just gonna go … this is where we’ve cashed in on the holidays because some people say we’re just gonna go to Florida, or go to Hawaii on a cruise or whatever, but we have to have something special. So they come to us rather than go to the mall and buy socks and underwear, or sweaters, they will come to us because they’re looking for that one special thing.

Jerry: Maybe it’s something special, local to us, like sock monkeys.

Jason: And maybe that’s the idea of commercialization, that instead of buying all these things that are just, kinda quantity issue, you’re focused and your family’s focused at the time also on this idea of, let’s do something that’s valuable and that’s, getting back to your concept of how your retail store is built, you have things of value in it.

Doc: Exactly. And value is added to it because it has that sort of, when you give it to somebody, you have there again that experience that’s behind it. I think that’s a real important thing.

Jason: Well, Doc, and Jerry, you’re JJR Kortman Center for Design, the concept store and art gallery in downtown Rockford has been a staple in the Rockford area for many years and we look forward to seeing what comes for your store in the near future. Thanks for being with us.

Doc: Thanks for having us.

Jerry: Thank you very much.