Red Letter Cover Photo: And then More Important Items

Instead of reporting the news, we apparently became the news last month, inadvertently causing a buzz in the business community with our Book of Lists cover.

I'm going to comment on that briefly, as I've only had a handful of direct inquiries. (And I am only commenting at all because one of those questioners was a reporter, so I'm assuming the interest may extend beyond my contacts.)

In creating that cover, the art department's mission was to photograph a collection of well-known and diverse iconic businesses — from MGE's downtown smoke stacks to the world-renowned EPIC, to The Avenue Bar (the place business meets more legislators than at the capitol.) Red Letter News, an old and well-known establishment (and written about by In Business in the past year) was also photographed as part of a bold, pop-art design.

The word "bold" obviously fueled a creative spirit of adventure. I saw the finished cover, and admit a touch of apprehension upon first seeing the mix of buildings — even viewing the cover as a flat, one-page image on a computer screen wherein Red Letter News is a far less predominant image. However, taken as a single image, the cover reflects the breadth and depth of the wide range of businesses in our community, using a composite of notable landmark buildings from west to east, and extending to the old World Trade Center in Middleton.

A couple people asked (and so I'll answer): Yes, it is within my purview to veto any word or image created by staff. However, I have a talented crew who cares about mission, and sometimes we see things differently. That's part of a multi-generational office — and diversity was the point of the cover.

A final thought in making the decision to run the photo was reminding myself that the Book of Lists was not researched, compiled and published as a marketing arm for Madison, or as an insert in a relocation package, or as a recruitment tool to attract new businesses.

(Though that is the typical by-product, and truly, I do cherish that role.) But the core purpose of the publication is to be a useful tool for Madison-area businesses looking to extend their networks and client base.

This is the most controversial cover we have printed, and (as that was not our intention or desire), I do find some solace in being reminded of the many stakeholders we have, and I thank the six people who called me directly — and also all of you who contributed to the buzz about the cover of a Book of Lists.

Like the decision to add Terrence Wall's voice to our publication, there is an underlying reason for every decision we make. Bringing you our collective best editorial content and graphic design is the common thread.

Okay, moving on….

I've been talking to a lot of people, through formal interviews and informal conversation about the recession and how they are coping. Many have said that they aren't "hysterical," but they are "cutting back" on things personally, and taking a prudent wait-and-see approach with their discretionary funds.

Hmm. Normally I have a weekly meeting with Bill Haight over lunch, and the occasional "convenience" dinner with my husband, when we're both on the run, and usually I do both at Monona Garden, a modest family restaurant at the intersection of Broadway and Bridge Road in Monona. Recently, I asked the owner how his business was going.

You can imagine that Nick Semovski has had his challenges of late, with both the economy and the snow-closing days creating "perfect storm" conditions for restaurateurs to take huge slowdowns.

"And I haven't seen you much lately, either," he pointed out, grinning.

Wow. I thought back to the last few times I'd been in. "I've been on vacation, and also away for a family emergency," I assured him. "It's nothing more than that, and I'm back. Except, I'll be gone next week, too, with the holidays, and…."

"And you hope I'm still here when you get back," he quipped.

Yes, I do. He's part of my routine and someone I count on. Nick is always there, regardless what time or what day I go in. Always ready to show Bill and me to a table, and always there to thank us for our business. He always has a quick joke for my husband, a sweet compliment for me.

And, without thinking about it, I probably did cut back on the business I've given him. The times I've been in to eat.

Nick has a good business for a restaurant because he cares about his patrons as well as his bottom line (and aren't they connected?). Now is the most critical time for his patrons to care about his business. Monona would lose more than a few jobs if that particular business didn't weather this economic storm. It would lose a part of the neighborhood.

I'm sure you have your own Monona Garden businesses in your neighborhood, and I'm not suggesting you blow your budget. All I'm hinting at is that we all become more conscious of the choices we are making with the money we do spend — to consciously protect those businesses and vendors that mean the most to us.