Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Negotiation

I knew there were some amazing spaces above the sidewalks of Okmulgee but few had I ever seen.   I grew up here.  I took dance lessons from Phi Delta Lee Neal on the back mezzanine of the Commerce Building at 7th and Grand.  I used to love to ride the car elevator to the second story of Fidler-Harlan and gaze out of the wrap around windows at my home town.  As a kid I’d roam in and out of Jones Furniture, M&D Star Drug, Ramsey’s Department Store and many other of the shops that called downtown home.  But by the mid-70’s,  when I was growing up, there were no occupants of the upper stories of our downtown buildings.  It never even occurred to me that there was anything more than what was directly off of the sidewalks.

Rob had often mentioned  touring the offices in the 2nd story of the building at 7th and Morton.  He had asked the building owner, who was a childhood pal and fellow Okmulgee High School Class of 1979 graduate, if he would take him upstairs one year during his reign as the “Head Nut” (also known the chairman of Okmulgee’s annual Pecan Festival that was held for 15+ years in June).  It was the Summer of 1995 or 1996 (he was the Head Nut for 3 years).   Every so often, over the past 18 or so years, Rob would occasionally mention those offices; usually when there were tales being told about the history of Okmulgee or the Pecan Festival.  It was never something that was ever given much of a second thought.  That is, until the phone call this spring……

“Hey Rob……someone told me you would be interested in buying the building at 7th and Morton if it were to come up for sale?”

The retail store there had been closed for 7 or 8 years.  The display windows were covered with paper and the upper story windows were either boarded or broken and the only inhabitants were a gang of pigeons.

Rob replied, “Who told you that?  I don’t really need any more property to manage.  We downsized 3 years ago from 30 units to 14 units.  I’m getting old and tired.  I do nothing but work all of the time now.  But you know……I would like to maybe see the building”………..

So we took a tour and thought we were really being sneaky parking down the block and around the corner.  When we walked out of the front door, there stood several ladies who were setting up for the annual Relay for Life event.  As soon as we emerged we got the “Hey…..are you guys going to buy this building?”  And where it came from, quick as a flash, I replied, “no…..just doing a routine insurance inspection”.

And immediately I began to consider the ramifications of just having told a flat out lie to a friend……..who is not only a teacher but Catholic to boot…………….

While I was considering what my eternal life was going to be like, having just committed the one sin that I preach CONSTANTLY to my kids to not do, the ideas began to churn….. “what ‘if’ we bought the building?  What if we made apartments upstairs?  What if we divide the 7000 square foot retail space into smaller spaces?  What if…..what if…..what if….”

Several days passed.  Several dreamy discussions took place.  We decided to make an offer.    And we waited….and waited….and waited.  Finally, after an excruciating 72 hours, the answer was no.   Just no…..not even  a counter offer.  So Rob asked if they would like to counter.  The reply was a simple “No.  We don’t like counter offers.”

So the next morning, Rob emailed them again.  “I get that you don’t like counter offers.  I don’t either.  But if you were to counter, what would be your price?”.  That evening we got the number we had been looking for.  The next morning, we drew up an offer that split the difference.  By bedtime, we had a deal!

Rob re-opened the door and staircase on Morton Avenue.  It had been closed off in approximately 1954.

And within 10 days, Rob had opened up a door and staircase that had been closed off for over 60 years.  And what was at the top of the stairs was a treasure waiting to be discovered.

The Book

So I curled up under my electric blanket with a snoring bulldog at my feet and a snoring husband at my side and I began to read……Chapter 1….Chapter 2…..Chapter 3……wait a minute……what town is this book about?  Chapter 4, Chapter 5………it can’t be about Siloam Springs…..Chapter 6, Chapter 7……….good golly…..this guy has to be writing this about Okmulgee.  “Rob…..wake up……you’ve got to listen to this……….Rob…..”.

The next morning I thrust the book at Rob with the , “you have got to read this book”.  I got the standard “ok” and then he set off for the day’s activities.  So I texted Rusty, “have you read this book?” to which I got the usual “I’ve started it and I need to finish it”.  That earned him the scream via text “GO GET IT RIGHT NOW AND START READING SO I’LL HAVE SOMEONE TO DISCUSS IT WITH!”.   A week later, with no one having read it and having no one to discuss it with, I pushed it all to the back of my mind…….or at least I tried.

Fast forward a month.  We had found our new Main Street director.  I gave her a couple of weeks to settle in before I appeared in her office and thrust this book in her face. “Please read this book.  The town that he’s flipped is very similar to Okmulgee.”I went home and asked Rob again, “please….read this book.”  His response, “do they make it on an audio book?  You know I never sit still long enough to read.  Get it on audio and I’ll listen to in my truck.”  They don’t make the book in audio.   Dang.  Back to square one.

Several weeks passed and I finally just let the book go……obviously none of my contemporaries were readers.  Then I got the call from Heather, our new Main Street director.  “Guess what? Ron Drake….the book guy is going to be presenting in Sapulpa next week and I’ve gotten us an invite to come hear him!  Are you in?”    “Well, yeh…..”

Well, the presentation did not disappoint any of us that attended.  Even my non-reading pals were intrigued now.  The message was clear and straightforward; your downtown is not the only downtown that is not thriving.  You have to embrace the businesses that are located on the highway as they are an important part of your town.  Downtown is a different niche.  Take a good look at your downtown spaces in a different way.  Imagine if the 2nd story spaces were loft apartments.  If you get people living downtown then they will bring life to downtown.  They will want cafes, coffee shops, book stores, art galleries, cool shops to frequent.

So the next day, at any given time, you could spy us walking around Downtown Okmulgee, looking up, seeing what had been right in front of our faces for the past 100 years and imagining things in a whole new perspective.  By days end, Okmulgee Main Street had contacted Ron and hired him to come over and consult.  In that conversation, Heather asked what he thought about several of us coming over for a day trip to experience Siloam  Springs for ourselves.  Two weeks later, we loaded up in a borrowed church van and took ourselves a little road trip.

Roadtrip to SiloamAfter a tour of several of the  loft apartments, retail spaces and Ron’s office we settled in for lunch at 28 Springs.  It was fun to walk in and see familiar faces as many of the people we had met earlier in the day were there dining as well.  Ten of us enjoyed a great meal and spent the ride home brainstorming about the potential that we have in Downtown Okmulgee.

One of the last comments I made to Ron as we left was, “you are going to absolutely fall in love with Okmulgee when you see our buildings.”  To which I got the standard reply “I’m sure I will.”

Well, not being one to just sit by and do nothing, I called my fellow MS board member and photographer Paul A. Orosco and asked if he’d take a few shots of some of our downtown buildings so we could send them to Ron before he visited Okmuglee.   Anyone who knows Paul won’t be surprised that his reply was “Sure.”  And no one will be surprised that when he brought me a cd of the requested photos there were 97 shots of Downtown.

They say a picture says 1000 words…..well, Mr. Drake was speechless when he saw our downtown.  He even made a detour to come through Okmulgee the week before his scheduled consultation so he could see them for himself.  I think he fell in love with Okmulgee’s downtown that day.

Behind the scenes and on the QT, Rob and I had been looking at a beautiful building downtown.  I could hardly contain myself and keep my mouth shut until we worked out the details to get it under contract.  the book

As you can see, I finally convinced him to sit still long enough to read the book…………………

……….and this is where our story begins.



The Lunch

It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; several tables set up the Episcopal Church, a great homemade meal prepared and served by several from the Main Street Board.  A handful of the diehard Main Street supporters and another handful who were just there for the free lunch.

Rusty was quick to introduce Rob and I to Linda Barnett, who is with the Oklahoma Main Street, as she was going to be our speaker.  As our Main Street program was without a director at that time, she gave us a pep talk and reminded us about our rich history as one of the founding programs in Oklahoma (we established in 1986) and that this is just a rough patch that you’re going through and that she knew our search for a new director would be successful.

When she touched on the architecture of our beautiful downtown buildings, she mentioned a presentation she had heard recently and said, “he has a book and if anyone wants to see it, just contact me and I’ll let your read mine.  But I’m going to be off for 6 weeks having a knee replacement”.

While I enjoyed her presentation, what was really running through my mind was, “what has Rusty gotten me into?”…… director, very few people here, a very tired vibe amongst those present.  Geez……it’s going to be a looooonnnnngggg 3 years on this Board.

The next month at a monthly Education Foundation meeting,  Rusty came up after and said, “hey kid, I just went ahead and ordered a copy of that book that Linda spoke of….” to which I then replied , “……….and…….?” “Well……..I  haven’t actually read it yet.  But I will and then I’ll bring it to you, ok?”

At the following month’s meeting of OEF, I cornered Rusty; “how was that book and are you going  to bring it to me?”    “Well, kid…..I’ve started it but when I finish it, I’ll bring it to you, ok?”   That night I got on Amazon and ordered the book…………..

It arrived via UPS on Friday night.  Sell-Sheets_RonDrake_update-2-5-13-940x1238

Bring Back the Mac

IMG_2243Have you noticed the beautiful building that stands regally on the SW corner of 7th & Morton in Okmulgee, OK? She needs a little facelift and I’m her new BFF that’s going to help make that happen. #OkmulgeeRising

#Okmulgee Rising

How do you make a “positive disruption” in a small town like Okmulgee, Oklahoma?  That seems to have been in my mindset for the past 22 years.  I’ve tried the traditional methods; getting involved in civic organizations like Okmulgee Service League, Chapter Z of PEO, Chamber of Commerce’s Pecan Festival and Okmulgee Main Street.  I’ve volunteered to serve on fund-raising campaigns to build the YMCA Aquatic Center and the restoration of the Okmulgee Public Library.  I’ve spent countless hours in our public schools and working on the board of trustees of the Okmulgee Education Foundation.  Every one of those have given me so much joy and satisfaction; leading to life-long friendships and acquaintances while enhancing the quality of life for many aspects of Okmulgee.

Then there was the phone call last Fall………”hey Margaret……Rusty…..I want to ask you something and I really want you to think about it before you say yes”………would you consider serving a 3 year term on the Okmulgee Main Street Board?”

I’ve actually learned how to say “thank you but no” over the past few years.  It’s getting easier to say every time I do.  This one was different…….this one was a request from a lifelong friend and when I say lifelong, I truly mean lifelong………Rusty is a friend and classmate of my brother.  They also grew up in the same neighborhood in Okmulgee.  He was at the hospital when I was born and I found a picture last month of us at my 1st birthday party……so lifelong is not an understatement.

So as all of the reasons I was going to decline this invitation ran through my head, my mouth opened and I spoke the word yes……………

“Great, plan to come to our annual lunch meeting and presentation next week…..Linda Barnett from the Oklahoma Main Street is the speaker and you can sit with me.”

UUUUUuuuuuuuggggghhhhhhh………..what had I just gotten myself into??????

Little did I know, that lunch meeting was going to change my life……….