Monday, December 12, 2011

Make It A December to Remember!

real estate Queens

Once First Choice Real Estate reigned as the top residential real estate brokerage in Queens County, NY.  Realtors believe, self-fulfillingly, that the beginning of the Christmas shopping season ends all commerce except for retail.  Knowing that our competitors in the real estate industry usually began to surrender this time of year, we always tried to animate our sales force in December with motivational speakers and events.  December was often one of our best months!

Your perceptions – not the state of the economy, the time of year, or any other external factor – can be the greatest barrier to your success. Think that you can, not that you can not, and make it a December to remember!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Business Advice From King Solomon The Wise

In the book of Kohelet, know to English readers as Ecclesiastes, King Solomon offers solid business advice.

Every fall, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, Jewish tradition calls for a reading of the book of Kohelet – a canon of Jewish Scripture known to English readers as Ecclesiastes.  Kohelet was authored by King Solomon, reputed to be the wisest of all men, whose reign over the kingdom of Israel some 3,000 years ago was the pinnacle of ancient Jewish civilization.  

The words of Kohelet have had a great many modern day admirers.  The great 20th century novelist, Thomas Wolfe, called it “the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound.” 

The song “Turn, Turn, Turn (to Everything There is a Season),” introduced by Pete Seeger in 1962 and further popularized by the Byrds in 1965, and then by Bob Dylan, was directly lifted from the Book of Kohelet. 

It was Kohelet who said, “There is nothing new beneath the sun,” but I wonder if he would have come to the same conclusion if the king had beheld an Iphone.

The book of Kohelet is a very sobering examination of life.  Its message is ultimately a religious one – “the sum of the matter, when all has been considered:  fear G-d and keep his commandments, for that is man’s whole duty” -- but along the way, he offers some sage advice for business owners.

“Two are better than one, for they get a greater return for their labor.  For should they fall, one can raise the other; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and there is no one to raise him.”

“A lover of money will never be satisfied with money; a lover of abundance has no wheat…Sweet is the work of the laborer, whether he eats little or much; the satiety of the rich does not let him sleep.”

Here’s a good one:  “Do not say, ‘How was it that former times were better than these?  For that is not a question prompted by wisdom.” (In other words, just get over it.)

“The toil of fools exhausts them, as one who does not know the way to town.”  (A traveler could be guided properly were he to ask directions.  Conversely, the fool persists in his folly to the point of exhaustion, because he refuses to consult with the wise and seek proper guidance.)

“One who watches the wind will never sow, and one who keeps his eyes on the clouds will never reap…In the morning sow your seed and in the evening do not be idle, for you cannot know which will succeed: this or that; or whether both are equally good.” (Financial advisers would call this diversification.)

And here’s a message for us all:  “Enjoy life with the wife you love through all the fleeting days of your life that He has granted you beneath the sun, all of your futile existence; for that is your compensation in life and in your toil which you exert beneath the sun. “

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How Owning Stocks is Like Having a Moody Girlfriend

They both hold the promise of great returns.

Both can take you to great highs and terrible lows.

At times, you can be fooled into thinking they are predictable.

When they are good, they are good; when they are bad, they are very bad.

There are times when you can’t take your eyes off them, so tantalizing are their movements.

They can make your heart race with excitement and at other times with fear and consternation.

In both, you may often find resistance.

Neither may be reliable when it comes to support.

With both, there may be periods of elation, but they are matched by times that will disappoint.

They can both lull you into a false sense of security. 

They can both be foul in the morning, and turn around completely by the end of the day.

Conversely, they can be most agreeable in the early hours, and utterly wrathful in the later ones.

You may try to understand their behavior, and when you think you do, they will act differently!

They may at times offer you a steady climb upwards, and at others a period of prolonged descent.

When their fundamentals are sound, you should try to endure the temporary disappointments, which are inevitable.

Sometimes, you will want to ditch them; sometimes you should.

Both require you to act with discipline.

Both can lead you to drink.

Both can cost you your life savings.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Coop/Condo Market In Queens Is Buzzing!

Queens’ pre-eminent coop/condo specialist, Anne 
Donohue, of Anne Donohue Realty, informs us that contrary to widespread reports in the media that the real estate market is dead, the coop/condo sector in Queens is still very much alive.

Ms. Donahue says:  There is always activity in market for coops and condominiums because the preponderance of purchasers in this sector are first time buyers.  First time buyers in their 20s and 30s are part of the buyer pool that never goes away.  Young people are always getting married or moving in together.  Single people leave their lives at this stage to strike out on their own.

What changes to influence demand is pricing and inventory.  We are presently in a market with an overabundance of inventory.  Because of this, there is a great deal of competitive pricing.  This has created excellent opportunities for buyers, and for serious sellers.

We are definitely in a market in which there is a strong case for buying.  Inventory is well priced.  The prices for 1 bedroom units in northern Queens range from as low as $149,000 to $170,000.  These are being snapped up quickly if they are properly priced.  The 2 bedroom units are going for anywhere from $189000 to $249,000.   Prices have come down quite a bit over the course of the last six months.  The most active part of the market is the new listings and the price reductions on the existing listings.

Anne has advice for buyers:  Buy!  Rates on a 30 year fixed-rate mortgage were at their lowest in 50 years last week, averaging 4.15%   Fifteen year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.36% last week, down from 3.5% the week before, and 3.9% a year ago.  We advise our clients to analyze the numbers.  At this stage of the game, it definitely makes more sense to buy as opposed to paying rent.

Anne also cautions buyers now to make low offers on properties that are priced to sell, because they may not get a chance to make a second offer.  Properties are moving well when the seller is informed about market conditions, and asking prices are realistic.  We are even seeing bidding wars on units priced to go.  The demand is definitely there.

Anne has advice for sellers, as well:   We may be at or near a price bottom now, but there is so much inventory on the market, that it will take a while prices to rebound.  Listen seriously to good offers.  If the market continues to falter, you may not see them again soon.

Anne Donohue is one of the most experienced co-op/condo specialists in Queens, with 25 years of experience, and over 2700 units sold!  Visit Ann online at  You can reach her by email at

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Value of a Good Assistant

On Friday evenings as we begin the evening meal that ushers in the Sabbath, it is customary to sing a poem/song (Eshet Chayil) to the woman of the house that begins as follows:

An accomplished woman, who can find?
Far from pearls is her value
Her husband’s heart relies on her and he shall lack no fortune.

Judaism has it right here.  The wife gets her due, as she rightly should, a serenade sung to her by the entire family. 

As we usher in the workweek, however, there are no such songs in our cultural or national heritage for our valued and beloved assistants. 

Mary Abrams, the estimable Associate Director of the Executive Office Center, suffices with, “Good morning.  How are you?  How was your weekend?   I could sing to her, I suppose, but at the risk of having a pencil thrown at me.    

Mary was only sixteen years old when my brother hired her as a part-time receptionist for our former real estate company, First Choice Real Estate.  Today, twenty-six years later, (it could actually be twenty-seven), she is married, and the mother of three children. 

I asked Mary recently to give me a suggestion for my next blog. “Write about me,” came her retort.  She was joking, of course, but her reply contained the knowledge that she is as relevant to the Executive Office Center Discourse on Business as any other subject I may choose to write about. And the fact is, she is right.

Mary has been with us for so long that it would be natural to take her for granted.  She probably thinks that we do, but every day, I am guided by her natural intelligence and her unerring intuition, and am newly impressed by her devotion and resourcefulness.

Mary played a critical role in the success of First Choice Real Estate, and she is the heart and soul of the Executive Office Center at Fresh Meadows.   It is only a matter of time before she becomes the executive steward of this company. 

Mary proofs everything that I write. She tells me what’s good, and what isn’t, what belongs and what doesn’t, what is great, and what will get me into trouble.  This will have to pass her scrutiny, too.

Such is the value of a good assistant.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Friday Before a Holiday: To Work Or Not To Work

To work or not to work

Here I am once again, in my office at 7:00 a.m. on a Friday before a holiday weekend, crunching numbers, assessing my progress, developing strategies to help me stand out from the competition. There was no traffic on the Long Island Expressway this morning – going west that is – just me and a couple of other shmendricks driving away from the sun.
An American Robin, by coincidence or by providence, has just landed on the hurricane fence that surrounds the rear yard of my office, carrying nesting material in his beak.  He jerks his head nervously in all directions, scanning the environment for predators, seeking more nesting material or perhaps a good worm.   Now, here’s a creature I can relate to, up early, building a nest for his family, cognizant and ever watchful of dangers in his environment.  He’s not going to the Hamptons for the weekend.  He has a family to protect and feed. 

I am not complaining about being here at the office today, while others are headed toward pleasure.  The quiet and stillness before an impending holiday removes the urgency of an ordinary business day, and lends clarity to the mind.  It’s a wonderful time to think and plan.  

I know that my phones will be relatively quiet today, but past experience has taught me that I’m likely to get a good call.  Pre-holiday Fridays, it seems, bring out the customers with the most urgent need.

The robin that arrived outside my window before by such timely coincidence has now flown off.  His tiny brain understands the imperatives of survival that many people seem to miss.  I'm sure he's not chirping “Ah, there’s no point in working today.  Everybody is already in holiday mode.”  He's chirping, "It's another day.  Gotta get on with it.  Maybe we'll barbecue on Sunday."  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Virtual Office Services Ideal for Home Based Businesses

Thousands of Queens’ business owners commute to work every morning by taking the stairs down to the basement or to another area in the house designated as a home office. 

Every year, an increasing number of entrepreneurs choose to work out of their homes, some out of preference, but most out of economic necessity. The recession has forced millions of small business owners to cut back on rent and overhead expenses.

There are a great many benefits to working at home, most notably, the cost savings.  Foregoing a traditional Queens office space allows you to save on rent and associated overhead expenses.  Additionally, you save on gas, on child care, and a myriad of other costs involved with operating a business out of a rented office space.

Another great benefit is the flexibility it offers you to tend to the needs of your family, especially if you have young children.  You can pick up the kids at school, and get them started on their homework.  You can also get the chicken into the oven at 4:00 p.m. 

Though the advantages to working at home are numerous, there is a downside, as well.  What to do you do when you need to meet with a client?  Do you really want to meet with clients or customers in your home?  In your basement?  Some home based entrepreneurs opt to meet clients at public hubs such as Starbucks.  That may work once or twice, but is not a solution for the long term.

Another downside to working in the house is the temptation to do the laundry or get sidetracked by other household chores.  Your kids can also be a distraction just at the moment that you get an important call.  That has happened to me on more than one occasion, especially when my children were very young.  They seem to demand your attention just as you pick up the phone.

Fortunately there is a solution for home based businesses in need of a professional facade.  It is called a virtual office.  The concept of virtual office services began to take shape about twenty years ago as an outgrowth of the executive suite industry.  An executive suite center offers offices that are furnished, and equipped for telephone and internet use.  They often have a receptionist to meet and greet clients and answer telephones for the tenants.  Personalized answering services make it appear as if you have your own personal secretary.  There is usually a common conference room available for scheduled use, a cafeteria, copy center, and other office amenities.

A virtual office allows you to take advantage of these services on an a la carte basis.  Perhaps you only need an office suite or conference room once or twice a week to meet an occasional client.  Or maybe you need use of a conference room to make a presentation before a group.  Some executive suite centers offer high quality videoconference services, as well.  Or maybe you just need to get out of the house and into an office environment a few days to a week in order to feel more professional.  Whatever you need, virtual office services are often available from the provider in customizable form.  You pay for your use of the office facility on an as need basis.

In sum, virtual office services allow you to maintain a professional appearance without the cost of maintaining a full time office.  It is not surprising that though the office rental market is still reeling from the effects of the financial downturn that began in 2008, the virtual office industry has continued to grow.

See why this guy is upset with Executive Office Center at Fresh Meadows in Queens NY

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When the Bell Rings, Come Out Fighting!

Get ready for a lickin'

When it comes to business, I like to think of the annual fight for profitability as a ten round boxing match. The opening bell rings in the early morning hours of January 2.   I’ve learned, as a mature fighter learns, never to come out flailing wildly in the first round.  I’ve never won by a technical knockout in January, but by the accumulation of points throughout the ten rounds of the year.  The first round is for the implementation of my business plan, and the assessment of prevailing economic conditions.  I dance around the ring, looking for opportunity.

Presidents Week gives us a chance to go back to our corners, and have our shoulders massaged.  But the second round of the fight is usually for minor adjustments only.  In the northeast, winter weather is a big factor.  Advertising is a puny weapon against two feet of snow.   When I can’t bring customers in through the door, I do the things necessary to bring them in at a later date. 

Round three has a variable start date – somewhere between mid March and the beginning of April, when there is a noticeable thaw in the weather.   As the weather warms, there is always a corresponding increase in phone calls.   As buds begin to appear on the trees, customers begin to come out of hibernation.  Now is the time to charge into the ring and take command of the fight.

Just as we are getting into a groove, G-d demands our attention with the holidays of Passover and Easter.   Round 4 begins after spring vacation.  I am in my corner by 7:00 a.m., loosening up, anxious to get back into the ring, and reestablish my rhythm.  This is the time of year when prospects seem most receptive.  I’ve had four months to get a feel of the market, and figure out what’s working and what is not.  I go with what’s working.       

Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, marks the beginning of Round 5.  Round 5 is an important round.  The snow is now a distant memory, and the torpor of summer has not yet set in.  This is the time to move in on my opponent and hurt him. 

Independence Day, Round 6:  Thank G-d we are not in France, where people take off all summer.  What’s with those Europeans, anyway?  Remember when the nations of Europe ruled the world?  What happened to all that ambition?   Patience is necessary during the summer months.  Some people are on vacation.  Where everybody else is, I don’t know.

Labor Day, Round 7:  Labor Day is one of my favorite holidays. Man, do I love that Tuesday after Labor Day.  People are ready to do business again in the fall.  It is merely my job to identify and attract them.   I jab with my right, hook with my left, hammer away at the body, uppercut to the chin.

The Jewish New Year, Round 8:  No sooner have we got our rhythm back, here comes G-d again to remind us that our success in life is not merely dependent on the fight, but the observance of His Laws.  Business activity in New York all but ceases between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  After atoning for my sins, I return to the ring with a vengeance, knowing that the Christmas shopping season is just around the corner, that 30 day period when the department stores become the locus of the Bermuda Triangle.

 We pause on Thanksgiving to give thanks for the bounty G-d has given us.  A lot of people eat so much on Thanksgiving, they can hardly get out of their corners for Round 9 of the fight.  They believe, self-fulfillingly, that the beginning of the Christmas shopping season ends all commerce, except for retail.   Knowing that my competitors in the real estate industry usually began to surrender this time of year, I have always tried to animate our sales force in December with motivational speakers and events. 

The final round of the year is fought in the week immediately preceding Christmas.  Not everybody is shopping for presents, certainly not all of the time.  I’m looking for that one or two people who have finished shopping, or those who are waiting till the last minute.  This year I’m not giving an inch to the economy.  I will be in the ring, bobbing and weaving, feinting and jabbing, swinging away till the last moment.

Monday, May 16, 2011

One Queens Office Building Does More Than Offer Space For Rent. It Offers To Help Its Tenants Make More Money.

The Executive Office Center wants its tenants to succeed, so much so, that it even helps market and advertise for them.

Executive Office Center owners, Steven and Jack Blumner may have hit upon a novel idea when they opened their state-of-the-art business center in the fall. The brothers, former owners of First Choice Real Estate, once the top selling residential brokerage in Queens, are not merely landlords.  They are actively engaged in helping their tenants make more money.

Since opening in October, the Executive Office Center at Fresh Meadows has attracted 50 tenants and virtual tenants, including seventeen attorneys.  “We’re right on schedule,” says Executive Director Jack Blumner, who expects that number to double by the end of the year.

The Executive Office Center, offering serviced office suites and Queens virtual office services, is the first such business center to open in the borough of Queens.  There are scores of executive suite office centers in Manhattan and Long Island, but none until now in the densely populated borough of Queens.

Executive suite centers typically offer a menu of administrative services to their tenants, but supplementing these services with marketing support elevates the concept of serviced office space to a new level.  

Jack and Steven Blumner are no strangers to marketing.  In the 1990s they made their company, First Choice Real Estate, a household name in Queens by sending out millions of pieces direct mail to homeowners in the borough.  Now they are using the World Wide Web to help accomplish their objectives. 

     What they have done is to develop two consumer websites to help promote and facilitate business for their tenants, as a value added benefit.  The two websites are and
· is a business directory of the Executive Office Center at Fresh Meadows tenants that shortcuts the customer’s hunt for business and professional services in Queens.   There are presently 50 companies affiliated with the office center.  In time, there will be several hundred, says Mr. Blumner, “and we want Queens consumers to know that they can find virtually everything they need right here under one roof.”

· offers coupon discounts for Queens neighborhood stores and restaurants, while featuring the professional and business services of the Executive Office Center’s tenants.   Consumers are lured to the website by attractive retail discounts.  Once there, they also find the many different professional and business services offered by tenants of the Executive Office Center.
Tenants of the Executive Office Center are also featured on the 16 foot LED display that faces the busy parking lot of the Fresh Meadows shopping center. 
The Executive Office Center is the perfect place for attorneys and other solo professionals and small companies doing business in the borough of Queens.  It is ideal for companies that need a branch or satellite office in the borough.  The Executive Office Center is also the closest office business center to JFK and LaGuardia airports.  Business travelers to New York may wish to take advantage of the building’s close proximity to the airports.  Day suites and conference rooms are available at hourly, daily and weekly rates. 


Monday, May 2, 2011

Sweeping the Sidewalk

In Sweeping the Sidewalk, the author remembers his father on Holocaust Remembrance Day
Remembering my father with each push of the broom

I like to sweep the sidewalk in front of my office building.  It reminds me of my father. 

As the broom flicks up the dust and leaves that seem to gravitate toward the entrance to the building every morning, I recall the dust clouds that my father’s push broom would launch, as he swept up his building site at the end of each day.

I could delegate this particular task to the company I pay to clean my office building every day, but I haven’t, and I believe that this is the reason.   

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is fitting for me to remember my father in the words of this blog, because he and my mother were survivors of that most infamous period in the history of mankind.   My mother survived the death camps by the grace of G-d.  My father survived the war in the woods in Poland for two and half years, through a combination of grit, cunning, iron will, and fortitude.

My parents met and married at the end of the war and arrived in New York aboard the SS Marine Flasher on May 28, 1948.  Their first stop in the America was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where my father worked in a mattress factory for relatives.  After six months, they made their way to New York’s lower East Side.  My father told me that when he told his relatives of his decision to go to New York, they said to him, “But you will get lost in New York.”  To which my father replied:  “If I didn’t get lost in the woods for two and a half years, I won’t get lost in New York.”

In New York, my father graduated from making mattresses to making table pads, then went on to a series of jobs in the food business.  He bought a luncheonette in Brooklyn, and learned Spanish from a pocket guide, while he was still struggling to master English.  One day, a construction project across the street from the luncheonette, caught his attention.  Every day, he went outside to watch the construction.  Then, as legend has it, he went out and bought a set of architectural plans for a house for $50, and began his career as a builder.  Afterwards, he built homes in New Jersey for 40 years, until we had to retire him at the age of 75.

Back to sweeping the sidewalk:  My father once told me that being a Jew in Poland during the years of World War II was “like being nothing.”  “A dog’s life had more value,” he said.    But my father withstood the brutality of that nefarious regime with his mind and body, and dignity intact.  And he survived in America as he survived in the woods, meeting every challenge that faced him, doing whatever it took to survive. 

Like many children of Holocaust survivors, I have often asked myself the question:  Would I have survived?  Two and a half years outdoors in the cold, without food or shelter.  Would I have had the physical strength, the wits or the guile?  Probably not.  No, definitely not.  That’s why, with each flick of the broom, I say, “I’m like you, pops.  I’m sweeping, too.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Should Prayer be Part of a Business Plan?

I have been asked on occasion, before undertaking a new business initiative, if I have obtained the blessing of a Rabbi.  Here in the secular, material post-modern western world, this is not question to which most people can relate, especially in Manhattan, where voodoo has more credibility than G-d.  This is not a sermon, by the way, just some thoughts about whether or not prayer should be a component of a business plan, along with advertising, marketing, networking, etc.

We are religious in the observance of the secular commandments that are essential to our success in business.  We go to networking events.  We use Facebook and Twitter to help make our websites socially relevant.   I’m 57 years old, and suddenly I find myself “tweeting” to an audience, even writing a blog.  We must pay homage to the secular god of our day and age, Google, in order that we may land on the sacred first page of web searches for our services.  Does it not also make sense to ask the true G-d of the universe to help us comprehend the mystery of Google’s algorithms, and help us achieve our business goals?  It doesn’t if we don’t believe in Him.  It doesn’t if we believe that after creating the world, He deserted his post.  It does, if we believe that He is within each of us, guiding the destiny of the world and of all living things.

In order to seek out the blessing of a Rabbi or spiritual leader of another faith, you have to first believe that obtaining such a blessing would in some way be effectual.  In the Jewish faith, some figures of particularly righteous character are believed to be capable of channeling G-d’s good will upon another.  Years ago, people would stand on line for hours to obtain the blessing of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the famed Lubavitcher Rebbe.  We learn from the Torah that even the blessing of an ordinary man, even a thief and a scoundrel can be beneficial.  

Most people that I know believe in G-d, but their ideas about the subject are very fuzzy.  Since G-d is an abstraction, most people do not relate to Him/Her in a concrete way, except through formal prayer, in synagogue and in church, and other houses of worship.  Most American Jews to not take a proactive role in prayer.  They rely on defense.  They go to synagogue once a year, (if they go at all), on the ominous Day of Atonement, Yom  Kippur, to ask  forgiveness for their transgressions.

The Jewish religion also affords an individual an opportunity to ask for G-d’s blessing, in the form of ritualized prayer, three times a day.  There is an optional prayer that one may insert in each prayer service that relates specifically to livelihood.

I recall a cartoon I once saw in a magazine of a man pleading with G-d to make him a lottery winner.  It showed a large dark cloud in the sky above him.  A zigzag lightning bolt emanated from the cloud along with a booming heavenly response:  “At  least buy a ticket.”

That’s the message of this muse.  If we want G-d to grant us success in business, perhaps we should consider buying the ticket.

Happy holidays to all.

Friday, April 1, 2011

NYC: What Counts Here is the Not the Color of Your Skin but the Quality of Your Work

I recently made the acquaintance of a tutor, who is a native of Trinidad.  He told me that he had relocated to Atlanta some years ago, but found it hard to make a living there.  “The first thing people would ask me,” he said, “is where do you worship?” The answer to that question often determined whether or not he got the job he was seeking.  After struggling for a few years, he moved back to New York.  “Here people don’t care about the color of your skin, or what religion you practice,” he told me.  “They care about the quality of your work.”

The other day, I sought to help one of the tenants of the Executive Office Center at Fresh Meadows, who is Muslim, with a personal referral.  I am a yarmulke (skull cap) wearing orthodox Jew.  He told me of the work he had done for the late Rabbi Wolf of the Great Neck Synagogue, and of other Jewish organizations that had engaged his services.  He said to me, “It’s too bad that everybody can’t come to New York for a lesson in how to live and work with people of all faiths.” 

Mr. Singh, my telecommunications consultant for over twenty-five years is a Sikh.  He wears a turban.   Since arriving in the United States at the age of 17, he has always lived and worked in New York.  He doesn’t advertise and has never advertised because his reputation precedes him.   He also believes that New York offers a level playing field for all races, creeds and colors. “No one is out of place in New York,” he said.  Then, he added, with a laugh, “except possibly the descendents of the original colonists.”  The only time he ever felt threatened by prejudice was just after 9/11.  “People were scared.  They looked at me, and all they saw was my turban,” he said.  “It didn’t last long,” he added, “and it didn’t cost me any work.  People always judged me on the basis of my ability and expertise.” 

I, too, remember my days as the co-owner of First Choice Real Estate, Inc.  First Choice was a microcosm of the borough of Queens, which, with its population of 2.3 million people is the most culturally diverse county in the Untied States.  The agents included such disparate nationalities as Chinese, Koreans, Russians, Irish, Greeks, Indians, Israelis, and spoke a cumulative total of twenty-one different languages.   There was often bickering among the agents, but it was like the bickering of my children. What I remember most about them was not the differences between them, but the family they constituted.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Value of Having a Branch Office

It has been more than thirty years since First Choice Real Estate was founded by Steven Blumner on Main St., in Flushing, New York.  I joined my brother in business in the fall of 1983, opening a small branch office on Utopia Parkway at the other end of Flushing.  By 2004, First Choice had become the top selling residential real estate company in the borough of Queens, and was sold in November of that year.  The buyer was NRT, Inc., a name unknown to most consumers, but at the time, the largest real estate company in the world.

I believe that one of the key steps that led to the success and growth of First Choice Real Estate was the establishment of that tiny branch office on Utopia Parkway.  That office, now the site of small nail salon, had room for only five desks, but the power that it gave us was a new identity as a multiple office operation.  In the mind of the consumer, a branch office signifies growth and ambition, and is perceived as a testament to the company’s success.  In a market crowded with competition, it singled us out as a company of distinction. 

I remember the delicious feeling of having two addresses on my business card and on our company stationary.  I published a monthly newsletter at the time, called the Flushing Homeowner, which listed the Main St. office as our “Headquarters,” and our little office on Utopia as the “Branch Office.”  Once a customer called our office, and apologized:  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “I meant to call your headquarters.”  I oozed with pleasure as I hung up the phone. 

Today the former First Choice Real Estate Building on 186th Street in Fresh Meadows is now the home of the Executive Office Center at Fresh Meadows, an office building offering full service, furnished and equipped offices and virtual office solutions.

The Executive Office Center offers companies an opportunity to take the same strategic step we took in 1983 -- but at a comparatively insignificant cost.   You can open a “Queens branch office” at the Executive Office Center for a mere $39 per month.   A virtual office at the Executive Office Center gives customers the appearance of an actual office.

A number of well established attorneys have signed on at the Executive Office Center as virtual tenants.   Most have offices outside the borough, and are seeking local market penetration.  A virtual office at the Executive Office Center gives customers the appearance of an actual office, and their new Queens address broadcasts the same powerful message that conveyed with the opening of our branch office.  “We are an ambitious company.  We are confident and competent.  We are a company with whom you want to do business.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Business of Survival

My father, Henry Blumner, flanked by my mother, Lillian, on his right, and his sister, Linda, on his left, after World War II.

I like to sweep the sidewalk in front of my office building.  It reminds me of my father. 

As the broom flicks up the dust and leaves that seem to gravitate toward the entrance to the building every morning, I recall the dust clouds that my father’s push broom would launch, as he swept up his building site at the end of each day.  I could delegate this particular task to the company that cleans my office building every day, but I haven’t, and I believe that this is the reason.   

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It is fitting for me to remember my father in the words of this blog, because he and my mother were survivors of that most infamous period in the history of mankind.   My mother survived the death camps by the grace of G-d.  My father survived the war in the woods in Poland for two and half years, through a combination of grit, cunning, iron will, and fortitude.

I was never able to beat my father in an arm wrestling contest.  Not even as he lay in bed in the intensive care unit of North Shore Hospital on the last day of his life, three years ago.  I held his hand just hours after he had been weaned from the respirator, and said to him teasingly, “How’s your grip?”
“You want to try?” he answered.  I knew immediately from the tension around my fingers that I didn’t have a chance.
I had tried to take advantage of him a few times before in a hospital setting.  One Sabbath I had taken him to the emergency room at North Shore because of a bout of pancreatitis.  After a long day lying on the hospital gurney, I slipped my hand into his, and squeezed it strongly.  “Are you ready?” I asked him.  He said, “I am too weak.”  I knew this was a set up.  And, of course, my arm was down before I could even muster a challenge.
Those who knew my father, knew him as a kindly old gentleman with a powerful handshake, but that handshake was the vestige of a powerful man, whose strength of mind, body and spirit I would like to recall today in his merit.
My father was born in Bielsko-Biala, Poland in 1913, the son of Chaim and Malka Blumner.  He was one of six children, only one of whom is now left. 
Early in my father’s childhood, his family moved to the town of Zasuv, which was not far from the  city of Radomysl Wielki.  My brother was doing some genealogical research a few years ago and came across the Radomysl Wielki Memorial book. This book, and others like it were written after the war to record the life and the lives that had been obliterated by the Nazis.  The Radomysl book also tells about the life and people of the surrounding towns.  In this book, I was excited to find references to both my great grandfather and my grandfather.  About my great grandfather it says in Hebrew:
Mr. Yichiel Forstenzer was respected in the town, would give charity generously, and participate in all the organized activities of the Jewish people of the place.
About my grandfather, it said:
Chaim Blumner, the son-in-law of Yichiel Forstenzer, was a member of the younger generation, and took upon himself demanding tasks for the benefit of the [community].
It is easy to see how my father's menschlich  character emerged from such a background.
My father was an ardent Zionist in his youth.  He felt his destiny was to go to Israel.  As the story goes, he was attending Hachshara in Poland, preparing to move to Israel.  Then, in 1938, one of his friends drowned in the harbor in Haifa as a result of the British policy of denying entry to ships carrying refugees.  As a result my father’s parents asked him to postpone his plans for a year.  But a year later the war broke out in Poland, and my father was caught in the tragedy of the Holocaust. 
My father rarely spoke about the Holocaust when I was a boy, though the unspoken words weighed as heavily upon us as if we knew the awful details.  My father was not one of those who endured the concentration camps.  Instead, he survived the war by hiding in the woods with his father and younger Brother, Beryl amidst a group of about twenty others for two and a half years.  They did not actively fight the Germans.  My father wanted to, he told me, but his father cautioned against this desire, knowing that it would bring more Germans into the woods to hunt and kill them.  My grandfather was about the sixty years old when he was in the woods with my father. 
I can barely imagine how it is possible for anyone to survive outdoors in the wintertime, with rags for clothing, and no food, in temperatures that often fell below freezing.  Sometimes, when I would push my father to synagogue in his wheel chair in the wintertime, I would bend close to his ear and say, “Was it as cold as this in the woods?” and he would laugh.
How, indeed, did my father endure those long years in the woods, I have often wondered, especially on those wintry days when even the down in my LL Bean parka can’t keep me from shivering.  My father gave the answer to my children a few years ago at the dining room table.
“Leaves,” he said.  Leaves are very warm, he told them.  He made a bed of leaves to lay upon, and a blanket of leaves to cover him.  “You would be surprised,” he said. “Leaves can keep you more warm than a blanket.” 
My father further explained that he found moisture a few feet below the earth’s surface, and was able to collect spoonfuls of water to sip.  They also had a cup to collect rainwater, but were challenged to drink from it because it had three holes.
Potatoes constituted the bulk of his diet, stolen at nights from farms along the periphery of the forest.  My father had a nickname in the woods, he told me.  It was “Two Potatoes for My Father.” 
The loving and gentle man that raised me often told me that he was, “sixteen times surrounded to death.”  I was highly suspicious of this claim when I was a boy.  I wasn’t sure if this was true, or whether it was a self-aggrandizing myth my father had developed about himself as he grew older.  But eventually, I realized it had a strong basis in reality.
I am aware of many circumstances in which my father cheated death, and helped save the lives of others, such as the time my father had hidden his father in the barn of a Polish farmer.  My grandfather had been discovered, and the barn was surrounded by the Polish police.  My father, against the dire warning of his younger brother, crept into the barn and led his father out to safety.
There was another time when he returned to his bunker only to discover that Nazis had surrounded their hideout.  My father, acting with four others, created a diversion, giving him a chance to evacuate his father and the other members of the group.  A bullet went through my father’s cap, missing his head by an inch. 
There was another story my father used to tell about the time he and his father and brother were caught between the crossfire of the retreating German army and the advancing Russians.  My father found himself in the middle of a cornfield, with bullets and missiles flying overhead for a full day, until his brother lost his composure, got up and ran in the direction of the Russians.  They all scattered, but miraculously, all made it to safety.  My father told me he found a sympathetic Russian Jewish officer who cried when he beheld my father’s pathetic appearance.  This officer commandeered a tank and helped my father find both his father and younger brother.
There was a young boy with my father in the woods.  His name was Phil Jochnowitz, and he was a first cousin to my father.  In 1998, Phil attended the 50th wedding anniversary celebration we held in our parents’ honor.  He made a short toast to my father.  Here is what he said:
There are many remarkable human beings in this room.  One of those remarkable human beings is Henry Blumner.  It’s a joy for me to be here to celebrate this wonderful milestone in his life.  You know how modest he is, how funny he is, and how he hates attention because it embarrasses him.  My name is Phil and I’m his cousin.  I’m also a holocaust survivor.  I’m witness to his extraordinary heroism during World War II.  He saved many lives and risked his life many times to save me.  We lived in the woods for 2 ½ years.  I was four years old and when the Germans were trying to kill us, I could not keep up with the adults, so Henry carried me on his shoulders.  Believe me when I tell you that I was a rotten little kid.  But you won’t be surprised that Henry always accepted me and loved me.  There is no way to repay someone who saved your life again and again.  I can only tell you, Henry, that I admire you and love you with all my heart.  Let us drink to a man among men. Henry, biz hundred und zwanzig.”
My father told me that his longevity was the reward he received for keeping his father alive during the war.  He was very proud of this fact.  He often lamented that he was not able to save the life of his mother.
G-d loved my father, and apparently this blessing extended to his immediate family, as well.  Five of the six children survived the war – my father and his youngest brother in the woods, and the others in separate concentration camps.
My mother met my father’s sister Faicha, in the Leipzig concentration camp.  My mother described Faicha as a great survivor, who was very handy with sewing.  She was always fixing a pair of slacks or something for the German girls in order to earn an extra piece of bread.  Faicha would sometimes share this extra ration wish my mother.  She said to my mother, “One day, if we survive the war, and my brother Heshe will survive the war, I would like to introduce him to you.”
And so it was.  My father’s family gathered in Kracow at the end of the war.  The smaller towns were unsafe, because the Poles were killing Jews who returned to their home towns.  My mother reached Kracow, and heard that Faicha was alive and had a family. She went to visit her, and thus the shiduchwas made.
My parents were married in Bad Ischl Austria on June 28, 1947 in the summer palace of Kaiser Franz Josef, which had been turned into a DP camp.  I have pictures of my parents in Bad Ischl.  It is here where they began to smile and laugh again.  They formed friendships with other concentration camp survivors here, while they waited for their immigration papers to the United States.  The friendships they made here replaced the brothers and the sisters and the cousins that they lost during the war, and they were to remain closely connected to them throughout their lives.
My parents arrived in New York on May 28, 1948, aboard the SS Marine Flasher, which carried holocaust survivors from Germany to New York between 1946 and 1949. 
Their first stop in the Goldeneh Medina was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  But after six months of working in a mattress factory for relatives, my parents made their way to New York’s lower East Side.  My father told me that when he told his relatives of his decision to go to New York, they said to him, “But you will get lost in New York.”  To which my father replied:  “If I didn’t get lost in the woods for two and a half years, I won’t get lost in New York.”
My parents’ first apartment was an apartment on Stanton Street on the Lower East Side.  It was a 5thfloor walkup, with a bathroom outside in the hall, and the bathtub in the kitchen.  After my brother was born in 1950, they moved to into a one bedroom apartment in Union Square.  “This was already a luxury for us at the time,” my mother once recalled to me.  Eventually they moved out to the greener pastures of Queens.
Meanwhile, my father graduated from making mattresses to making table pads.  He went on to a variety of jobs in the food business, until one day a construction project across the street from the Daitch Shopwell where he was working, caught his attention.  He went outside every day to watch the construction.  Then, as legend has it, he went out and bought a set of architectural plans for a house for $50, and began his career as a builder.  He built homes in New Jersey for 40 years, until we had to retire him at the age of 75.
Life was hard for my parents in America in the early years.  They didn’t have much money, but they worked hard and saved and were satisfied with what they had.
I was always proud to be the son of Henry Blumner.  In my life I haven’t met too many people who were nicer, kinder or friendlier than my father – or my mother, for that matter.  I have countless memories of my father extending himself for others.  I don’t remember bitterness or cynicism or hostility in my house.  What I remember is empathy and good will toward everyone.  It is good to like people, as my parents did.  People who like others are liked in return.  And my parents had a great many dear friends.
My father had a wonderful uncomplicated view of life.  I remember a conversation I had with him when I was in college.  I was at a crossroads in my life, not knowing which fork in the road to take.  My father looked at me in bewilderment and said, “What’s the problem?  I don’t understand.  This is America.  There is no one shooting at you here.  You can do anything you want.”
And he always ran at an optimal level of efficiency.  He was always up at six o’clock in the mornings.  When I walked groggily into the kitchen at 10 o’clock or so on a Sunday morning, he would say to me, “Nu, so what did you accomplish today.  So far, I prayed, I did some gardening, I read the newspaper and I ate breakfast.”
My father also had a twinkle in his eye, which I believe he inherited from my grandfather.  I saw the same quality in his older brother, Nathan.  His jokes were unbearably corny.  I used to tell him that age improves the taste of wine, but had nothing for his sense of humor.  I used to rate his jokes on a scale of one to 10, usually giving him a one or two.  That would always make him laugh even harder.
Another wonderful characteristic my father had was that he never complained about anything.  He was not one to moan or kvetch.  If you asked him how he felt, he would say, simply, “fine.”  Rabbi Polakoff of the Great Synagogue was the last person to see my father alive.  On Tuesday night, October 7, he saw Rabbi Polakoff passing by his room in the intensive care unit at North Shore Hospital.  He called out to him, “Rabbi Polakoff, in here!”  Rabbi Polakoff said at the funeral service that he gave him such a hand shake, he nearly pulled him into his bed.  Rabbi Polakoff asked him how he was feeling.  How well could my father have been feeling?  He was hooked up to a million tubes.  He had pneumonia in his right long on top of an underlying condition of pulmonary fibrosis.  He was breathing with the aid of oxygen.  His heart had been jumpstarted two nights before, and he hadn’t eaten for two days.  And his answer was, “wonderful.”
My father taught me a great many things in life, not so much by instruction but by the example that he set.  One of the things I appreciated most about him was the love and respect he had for my mother. I had the chance to talk at length to my father on the last day of his life.  I asked him, “Pops, do you think you have lived a good life?”  His answer was, “Yes – because of mom.”  I said to him, “A lot of bad things happened to you during your life.”  He waved them off with his bandaged hand.
I do indeed remember my father as an exemplary husband.  My mother was the love of his life, and he always helped her in whatever way that he could.  He was not the kind of man who was embarrassed to put on an apron, though I remember him looking pretty silly in one.  He washed and dried the dishes alongside my mother at the kitchen sink, and assisted her with housework, even after a long day of work. My parents had a large network of friends – mostly survivors – and once my mother told me with a smile that the men in the group were angry at my father.  They were aware of the loving assistance my mother received from my father, and apparently he set the bar a little too high for everyone’s comfort.
His message to us about her was clear and unwavering throughout all the years of her life. “Your mother,” he always said, “is one in a million.”
When my mother passed away six years ago, I did not think at first that my father would endure her passing.  Steve and I took him to the intensive care unit at North Shore, twice a day, for three weeks, where he would kiss her hands and kiss her feet.  We sat many long hours together at her beside, and I will never forget the things he said to me about her.  “She was so good,” he said. “She was so fine.  I adored her.  I had 60 beautiful years with her.  She gave me such a good life.  She gave me beautiful children.  She was everything to me.  I was so proud that she was my wife.  I kissed her hands every day.  I love her today, I loved her yesterday, and I will love her always.  She will be on my mind until the last moment of my life.” 
And this was true.  In the three years and three months since my mother passed away, she never left his mind.   He wouldn’t let anyone sit in the chair in the dining area that she used to occupy.  He dabbed the tears from his eyes every day.
My father may have missed my mother terribly, but he did not lack perspective.  He often said to me: “I had sixty beautiful years with your mother.”  Nothing is forever.  I am grateful for what I had.”
It was hard for me to see my father without mother during the last years of his life.  To see him often caused me more pain than satisfaction. 
But there was a silver lining.  When I visited my parents while my mother was still alive, it was she who tended to dominate the conversation (as Jewish mothers often do).  My father would sit contentedly at her side, while my mother jabbered away.  But in her absence, I got a chance to connect to my father again.  I saw him almost daily, visiting him for lunch or taking him to the Samuel Field Y.  He was with me every other Sabbath, and with my brother on alternate weekends.
On Friday mornings, I would buy him the Jewish Forward, the Algemayner Journal and the Jewish Press.  On Sabbath evenings, we would sit and read together, if my girls allowed us to. He loved to talk to my wife, and arm wrestle with the girls.  This past summer, when my family was away in Israel, we had the opportunity to spend a few Sabbaths together alone.  I spoke to him about my life, about its joys and its travails, and he gave me fatherly advice.  They were two very special days, though I did not realize it until his passing.
I didn’t have the good fortune of having grandparents when I grew up.  I am forever grateful that my children knew him, that they had a chance to climb on him, to laugh at his corny jokes and shenanigans, to hear his stories about the war, and to feel his love.   I’m glad that they heard his Yiddish and his accented English.  His life was a connection to the long generations of our ancestors who lived in Europe.  He was the last link to an era that has all but disappeared.
There wasn’t a day that passed that my father didn’t tell me that he was proud of me, that I had a wonderful wife, and beautiful children.  He adored Bosmat, and the kids, of course, were the feathers in his cap.  He always told me that I was a lucky man.
The week before my father died, he reached his 95th birthday.  They had a birthday party at the Samuel Field Y on Thursday afternoon.  He was so pleased.  When I picked him up, he said to me, “They made a beautiful party for me.  We have to get them a cake or something.” I said, “Pops, it’s your birthday.  The cake was in your honor.  We don’t have to replace it.”  It was not his nature to take, but only to give.  On Thursday night, he enjoyed another birthday celebration with my brother’s family.
On that Friday night, when I picked him up before the Sabbath, I knew something was wrong.  He was very quiet, and he had more difficulty than usual walking from the car to the house.  He sat quietly at the dining room table during dinner, and dozed off after the meal.  My father was diabetic, and I was usually strict with his diet.  But on this night, I indulged him.  I had bought him a nice rich creamy birthday cake, and cut him a good slice.  We read our cards to him because he didn’t have the strength to read them himself, and the children showered his head with kisses. 
The next morning, after a difficult night, I called Hatzalah Ambulance to bring him to the emergency room.
Among the letters of condolence that we received was one from a cousin in Israel who had seen little of my father throughout his entire adult life.  Yet, her description of him was as accurate and perceptive as any that we received.  She said:
“Your father had immense wisdom, courage and capacity for loving his nearest and dearest and even strangers…he gave to each what they needed most and was grateful that he could give, could encourage, could save their lives and most of all – bring a smile to their face.  What I will remember most about your father is his jollity.  His jokes, his laughter...his cherubic face watching the mad world around him and trying to do what he could to make it better..
..and his special loving expression as he gazed upon his wife, children, and grandchildren.  You must find the strength to bear this loss and celebrate the life of a very great man, never to be forgotten by all those who knew him.”
It is hard for me sometimes to believe that my father is gone.  He always seemed so ageless, as if he could outsmart even time, itself. 
Though my heart is pained by his absence, I am grateful for the 95 years G-d gave him on this earth.
My father had a good long life.  He had a happy marriage for sixty years.  He had two sons who tended to him lovingly in his old age, and six grandchildren who adored him.  Indeed, we should all be so lucky to live such a full and satisfying life.