The Real Life Ventures and Adventures of Trey and Batman
by Trey Nosrac
The sturdiest structure on Main Street was originally a United States Post Office. A brass historical plate on the cornerstone dates the red brick, two-story edifice at 1908.
Like many buildings on many Main Streets from that era, the Post Office became other things through the years. It was a hardware store, a bank, a restaurant, a flower shop, and a baseball card shop. Today, it is an antiquarian bookstore, The Second Story.
My new horse partner wanted to browse through the old books. My reading was going to be on my I-pad, the race program for the Meadowlands Racetrack. My reading location was going to be a park bench beneath a massive oak on the town square.
After an hour, he walked out of the bookshop toting a large paper grocery bag filled with books. He joined me on the bench and set the bag between us.
I peeked into the bag and asked, “Any good ones?”
“Not really. But the owners, Mark and Marie, were very nice, so hopeful and so passionate.”
“That sounds like you overpaid.”
He shrugged, “Money’s relative. I bought you a couple.”
He pulled out a large book with a faded red cover, handed it to me and said, “For your library.”
I took the book, “Harness Racing Guide for 1913. Awesome, thanks. I’ll file it between my golf magazines and then use it as a doorstop.”
He smiled, “Or cut one of those prison holes in the middle to stash your weed.”
“The nose knows.”
“You will be happy to learn that my guy grows it hydroponically.”
He reached into the bag and fished out a thick and well-worn blue book. He leafed through the musty smelling pages and opened it to the foreword.
Then he said, “This horse racing book was written by a man named John Splan and published in 1899. What’s this book worth? What was it worth when it was first printed? What will it be worth in 10 years?”
He handed me the blue book.
I took it and answered, “In six months, these two books may be worth more than The Second Story Bookshop. Seriously, besides a strange billionaire from a strange land, how many people in central Ohio are going to drop in and buy used books, let alone OLD used books?”
He sighed, “You’re probably right. They’re in the wrong place, in the wrong era. I hope they have more of a business plan that a love of rare books and enthusiasm.”
He tapped his index finger on the red Harness Racing Guide for 1913 and said, “Most people don’t realize that the year this book was published, old book collecting and rare book collectors were a very big deal. The purchase of a bundle of old books by collectors was front-page news. Famous newspaper columnists followed all aspects of the book-buying world.”
I said, “That sounds like my sport. Harness racing went from the front page to a footnote.”
“Knowing what I know about business and technology, every time I see a worthwhile business like The Second Story or harness racing, my first impulse is to try and rescue them. Maybe I overestimate my ability, but I think I can help because I’m not stuck in old ways or blinded by love.”
A trio of sparrows landed in the grass between the bookstore and our bench. I said, “In the months that I have been driving you around, you HAVE had some interesting thoughts. No doubt, if you had the reins of our sport, the picture would be brighter.”
“Trey, business is about predicting the future, taking a gamble on the future. Take your sport, what are the plans, what are the risks, what are the projections and where are the revolutionary ongoing projects?”
“You just asked me four questions in five seconds and I don’t have any answers.”
“In the tech universe where I spent my life, we are long-term planners. We often work on projects and don’t know where we are going. We take vague ideas and imagine paths to get there. Nothing is too radical and nothing is off the table.”
“That’s why I call you Batman, Billionaire Always Thinking.”
We both leaned back in the warm sun on the park bench and looked at the front of The Second Story, silently hoping that a customer would appear to walk in the door and keep the dreams of the owners alive.
I asked my new friend, “If you walked over and gave the owners one piece of business advice, what would you tell them?”
He mulled over his answer, and then spoke clearly, “I would tell them the same thing I would tell your sport — spend your time, your money, and your energy on a digital presence. Their customers are not within driving distance, they are everywhere in the world. A bookshop and a racetrack are pleasant diversions, but at this point in time, the numbers don’t add up.”
He took the red book from the bench and used it as a prop as he talked, “A dozen employees in digital advertising and digital commerce, particularly if they have a percentage of profits, can put this book in front of the eyes that might want it. They can even increase desire. The can merge with other bookstores, cross-markets, create markets, and do many things.”
At that moment, Marie stepped out of the front door of The Second Story with a white sprinkling can. She watered a basket of yellow flowers in a pot resting on a black metal stand. She glanced left and then right down the empty sidewalk. Then she shifted her gaze to where we sat. She waved to Batman and he waved back.
As he waved, my friend whispered softly to me, “Alone on Main Street in the year 2018, they haven’t got a chance.”