Four- and six-bit bargains

On Tuesday, when the rains stopped and the sun came out, the temperature rose, as did my spirits.

But during the deluge, facing day after day of cold, unrelenting downpours, my thoughts were focused on building – either an ark or a gallows.

Luckily, that changed on Tuesday. With summer suddenly (if only momentarily) in bloom, I became the light-hearted lad of yore. And to celebrate my born-again bonhomie, I hopped in my car for a trip to King Arthur’s.

To clear up any possible misunderstanding: The King Arthur I referred to was not the one of Round Table legend. Instead, he’s the one who owns Norman’s store in Bloomingdale – Art Niederbuhl Jr.

Endangered species

If you’ve never been in Norman’s, you missed two Adirondack classics. One is the store itself; the other is Art, himself.

The store is a beauty – an authentic Adirondack general store. The interior’s an old-time wonderland: wooden floors and walls, huge shelves and drawers, and intriguing wares. It’s a throwback to the days before slick linoleum floors, aluminum shelving and fluorescent lights less appropriate for food shopping than for performing autopsies.

Then there’s Art, an endangered if not an almost extinct species an independent grocer. And the label “independent” applies to Art in all its connotations. Which is part of the appeal of the joint in the first place: When I talk to Art, I get his view of the world at large. I also get his views of the world at small, i.e., the socio-political goings-on in the Kingdom of Bloomingdale. And here’s the thing: Art sees the world in a light I find fascinating. He always points out things whose meanings I either half-understood or never understood in the first place.

But on Tuesday I was going to the store for shopping, not enlightenment. Norman’s has the best cheese in the North Country. It’s big block cheddar, direct from the factory, whose taste is unmatched by any of the pre-packaged stuff and it’s the secret of my world-class mac-n-cheese. And now that you know my secret, if you don’t take advantage of it, you might as well stick to the swill in the box.

The question

Anyhow, when I walked in the store, even before I had a chance to say hello, Art was all over me like a cheap suit.

“Did you know the Enterprise is gonna raise its newsstand price to 75 cents?” he said.

“Uh … no, I didn’t,” I said.

“Well, they are,” he said. “Up from 50 cents. And the Saturday paper’ll be a buck-and-a-quarter.”

“OK,” I said. “But the cost of everything is going up. From what I know, the price of newsprint has doubled in the past few years. Plus the Enterprise hasn’t raised its price for at least 10 years and -“

“I know all that,” he said, cutting me off. “It’s not raising the price itself that got to me.”

“Oh,” I said. “So what did get to you?”

“What they said about the newspaper price being tied into the cost of a cup of coffee.”

“The price of a newspaper is related to the price of coffee?”

“Sort of,” he said.

“Sort of how?” I asked.

“Well, in the notice they sent out, they said, and I quote, ” the price of newspapers used to be in line with the price of a cup of coffee.’ Unquote.”

“All right. And the point of that is … ?”

“The point is you can’t find a 50-cent cup of coffee anymore, let alone a 75-cent one.”

“Sounds right to me,” I said.

“It does?” he said.

“Sure,” I said. “Where you gonna get a 50-cent cup of coffee?”

“Right here,” he said. “That’s where.”


“That’s right,” he said. “My coffee’s still 50 cents a cup. So what am I supposed to do? Raise my price 50 percent because the Enterprise raises theirs? That’s what I wanna know.”

“Well, I’m sure I don’t know right now,” I said. “But I’ll figure it out.”

“You will?” he asked. “How?”

“Just wait,” I said.

“How long do I have to wait?” he said.

“A bit longer than I’ve been waiting to buy a pound of cheese,” I said. “Provided I even can buy cheese here.”

Sufficiently chastised, he scurried over to the cheese, cut and wrapped a chunk, which I then paid for and went on my merry way.

The answer

The next morning I called him at the store.

“Got coffee, Artie?” I asked.

“Sure do,” he said.

“OK, don’t sell it all till I get there.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“It’s all the name of investigative journalism,” I said and hung up.

When I got in the store I immediately went to the coffee maker, filled my travel mug and drank a bunch.

“What’s this about?” asked Art.

“Please,” I said, “don’t disturb me when I’m working”

I drank some more.

I learned three vital things in the Navy. One was Morse code. The second was never to volunteer for anything. And third was what good coffee tasted like.

Finally I finished my mug and looked up at Art, who’d been staring at me the whole while.

“All right, Artie,” I said.

“All right what?” he said.

“All right,” I said. “I’m ready to pass judgment on your coffee.”

“So how is it?”

“This is easily a dollar or dollar-and-a-quarter cup of coffee.”

And it is. Art makes excellent coffee.

“You think?” he said.

“Absolutely,” I said. “In fact, you wanna know how great a deal your coffee is?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Well,” I said, “at 75 cents a cup, it’s almost as great a deal as a 75-cent Enterprise.”