BUSINESS Feed

The Fresh Market Rises in Chestnut Hill

Helen Ambrose watches construction progress of The Fresh Market store and condominium complex in Chestnut Hill with mixed feelings. A few years ago Ambrose and her neighbors were commiserating about how dead the Germantown Avenue corridor seemed.  She is worried now about the increased traffic the development will bring but still welcomes it. She patronized The Fresh Market store when she lived in North Carolina. “They have amazing meats, seafood and specialty foods,” she says and welcomes more shopping options. She also shops at Trader Joes and Weavers Way Coop and really likes the Chestnut Hill Farmer’s Market (now “Market at the Fareway”) which she hopes can “hang in there.”  Watch video interview here.


Car body shop manager talks shop

Your correspondent took his wife’s car to Dr. Ralph’s Automotive Services Center in Roxborough after she discovered one morning that it had been bashed overnight.  While a technician was dusting off the last traces of the repair job, body shop manager John Klimowicz began explaining the business. While high strength steel is still used in car construction, thermoset plastics are becoming more common. To point out the strength of the repair work, Klimowicz relates that the same epoxies used to weld airplane panels are employed for car panel bonding repairs.  If repaired properly, according to manufacturer specifications, “you can hit it with a sledge hammer and it will not break.” As to a future when driverless cars are expected to reduce collisions? “That remains to be seen.” In the meantime, Klimowicz believes there is plenty of work for Dr. Ralph’s and for the other nine or so car repair shops tightly spaced alongside this industrial stretch of Umbria Avenue. Watch video interview here.


Coffee Roasters ReAnimate the dead (or sleepy)

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 4.58.25 PMThe images on "ReAnimator Coffee Roasters" bags of a skeleton reaching up with a bony hand to perhaps clasp a flask containing some potion held high up by a priestlike figure come from old wood etchings. The name "ReAnimator" is taken from the HP Lovecraft story, "Herbert West - Reanimator," about a doctor who experiments with bringing the dead back to life through ingestion of reagents. Sleep, a state akin to unconsciousness may be an analog for death, a barista at the outdoor Clover Market in Chestnut Hill philosophizes and a workmate adds that coffee drinkers love the revitalizing effect of caffeine. Coffee "reanimates" them.


Retired CSI cop, "Crazy Ed" sells plants outside his home

After 40 years in the police department Avon "Crazy Ed" Wilson now sells plants outside his home on Chew Ave in Germantown. He had seen enough murder and war in the last twenty of his police years working in CSI. Now, four years running, he's been doing "something nice" for the neighbors. He buys plants at Home Depot and Produce Junction and makes arrangements of them in pots. He will bargain with customers but not if they disparage his plants. Wilson's not out to make a profit because he has a pension but tries to break even nonetheless. With his steady customers he tells a running joke: "The thing about my plants - you can't eat 'em and you can't smoke 'em."

Watch video interview here.


Landscaper continues family tradition

Fifty years ago, when John Antonucci’s grandfather, Frank, immigrated from Italy and established his masonry business in North Wales, Pa outside Philadelphia, there was just a stop sign outside at the now busy intersection of Stump Road and Route 309. Frank’s son Salvatore expanded the business and now Sal’s Nursery and Landscaping has nineteen acres of nursery which is mainly a source of plant material for the company’s landscaping operation. Customers can also walk in and buy plants at retail. Sal’s specializes in upscale projects like in-ground pool, pool houses and patio installations. And, unlike the big-box stores, it offers rare varieties and very large specimens so that customers who have lost shrubs or trees say, during the recent rough winter, can match and fill in the gaps in their landscapes. On a crisp spring day, John spoke proudly about the family operation and pointed out several beautiful plants like the cluster of dark red-leafed and flowering ninebarks. (Physocarpus opulifolius)

Watch video and tour here


Eating energy bars made from crickets

Weavers Way Food Coop has introduced a new line of energy bars  - ones made with crickets.

On Tuesday, staff members at the Chestnut Hill store sampled Chapul’s Thai Cricket Bar.

Jon Roesser and Lara Cantu- Hertzler appeared pleased with the bar’s coconut-ty, gingery taste. Roesser noted that cricket flour was listed as the fourth ingredient and figured (correctly) that it served as the bar’s protein source.  Cantu-Herztler was a little queasy about eating insects but thought it was a good idea.

Rick Neth hadn’t seen the product before but reported that in his native Cambodia, insects are sometimes eaten in certain regions.  Farm raised crickets might be baked, used in stuffed, roasted peanuts, or fire-roasted.

On its website, the Chapul company is asking people to join the other 80% of the world’s population who, it says, regularly consume protein-rich insects as part of their diet, and effect a revolution against traditional land-and-water intensive, polluting agriculture.

At the conclusion of the accompanying video, staffer Joe Stanton is mulling over a mouthful.

Watch video interview here.


Money never sleeps: mining litecoins in basement

A father and son  "mine" bitcoins and litecoins 24/7 in their unfinished Chestnut Hill basement.

These "coins," son explains, are virtual currencies not under the control of any government.  As such, the world of digital money has attracted illegal activity such as the Silk Road online black market that the U.S. government has shut down for dealings in drugs.

Rocky relates that bitcoins are convertible to dollars and that when China recently clamped down on their use, the price crashed from upwards of $1200 per bitcoin to $700.

These exchanges depend upon an army of computer geeks called miners (like the duo) to verify transactions through the use of computers installed with software that solves complex mathematical formulas. As explained in an Internet video, miners may work together in "pools". 

The son enjoys both the technical challenge of configuring and adding hardware and the money-making aspect of mining.  A friend of theirs, he says, has earned $100,000 with a shed full of equipment. For now, the duo are transitioning from bitcoin to litecoin which uses the same peer-to-peer network protocols as bitcoin but can be mined using consumer level graphics cards. They currently earn about $16 a day from running their set-up around the clock out of which $2.50 a day covers additional electricity charges.

Dad is not new to home industry; he also keeps bees.

Watch video here.


How Lego conquered the toy industry brick by brick

Legos - it's about the brick

The Lego Company has been fantastically successful. In each of the last 5 years sales have risen 24% and profits, 40%. But it was not always so. For most of its 80-year existence, its reach did not extend so far beyond Billun, Denmark, where Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter unable to secure enough wood to build furniture during the 1930s depression, began experimenting building wooden toys.

The company under Christiansen’s progeny soared in the last couple decades but tie-in products to the Star Wars and Harry Potter movies nearly doomed the company in 2003; sales of those products crashed when the movie franchises hadn’t yet come out with new films.

This, according to Wharton Professor Dave Robertson and former LEGO Professor of Innovation and Technology Management at Switzerland's Institute for Management. Robertson, a Chestnut Hill resident, discussed his new book, “Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry” at the William Jeannes Library in Lafayette Hill this past Thursday evening.

He began his slide talk by distributing baggies, each packed with the identical same six logo pieces, and instructed the audience to “Build a duck” and gave us only a minute or two. Participants then brought their “ducks” up to the front table. At the end of the talk, Robertson pointed to the wide variation of these Lego “ducks” as evidence that incredible creativity is possible even when severe constraints are imposed, a major thesis of his book.

He credits Lego Company’s resurgence to its imposition of key constraints: drastically reducing the number of parts (about 14000 different ones at peak) that had made the manufacturing process unwieldy, getting back to products that are more “Lego-y” and subjecting product proposals to the approval a committee of 3 seasoned Lego designers. And, ultimately, insisting that projected profitability be a constant constraint.

What Lego pioneered was not just a toy, Robertson maintains, but a system of play. And that system “is about the brick.”

Watch video here.