October 7, 2015
News & Opinion: Memories of the Phoenix Building from Ryan
For 18 years we have made our home in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward, but with books covering every last spare inch and spreading out over multiple floors of the sturdy Phoenix Building, we knew we had to move. Many of our staff members worked in that building for all or most of those years, and we'd love to share some of their memories with you. Thank you to everyone who does business with 800-CEO-READ in a variety of ways—you made this expansion possible! (Read more about our move here.) You can now find us at: 544 S. 1st Street, Milwaukee WI 53204.
Today Ryan tells us about his best memories from our old office:
The fire escape as a pseudo break room that has allowed relationships to build and experiences to play out.
On my brother Dylan's first day he joined [former employee] Scott and me out there. Dylan, as he can be, was nervously chatty. Scott didn't say a word the entire time until he put out his cigarette and said to Dylan, "Less talking, more smoking." Of course, talking was part of the point, and we all got to know a lot about each other as people on that fire escape.
And we got to know the neighborhood from there, as well. My other brother Aaron and I would stand out there watching the new hotel being built from the ground up, trying to guess what they're doing or what certain machines or building materials are for. About once a week Shawn would also give us updates of early morning progress.
On the humanity and generosity of 800-CEO-READ
I remember being shocked and full of anxiety in a Texarkana hotel room watching coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which I had just escaped. Thankfully, the company I left (a decision that made Jack Covert none-too-happy) offered me a part-time temporary job to help me get through the whole ordeal. On my first day back, I walked into shipping and receiving, and Jack, without stopping, said, "I'm still pissed at you, you know."
Even after I left the company for a second time, I was still invited to the summer party every year. When my daughter Bea was born, the company sent us a Peapod gift certificate. It was no-doubt the perfect gift for first-time parents, and we were really touched.
I’ll also remember generations of shipper/receivers who, damn right, took pride in getting the old freight elevator to stop just right, aligning just above or just below floor level depending on whether they are loading or unloading the elevator.
The gone-but-not-forgotten 6th floor vending machine with horrible, glorious, microwaveable, wrapped in plastic food like cheeseburgers and Jimmy Dean's sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches.
When the shipping desk was behind the wall in what later became the center of the warehouse, but was then the opposite side of the wall from Roy's desk, I remember… 1) hearing Roy constantly giggling and guffawing while talking to familiar, long-time customers, 2) The first time Sally pulled up a stool and asked if I was happy shipping/receiving, or if I wanted to more, and 3) Jack's walk-bys/check-ups/interrogations, which was probably the most annoying skill David Schwartz ever taught him. Those two and their need to make sure stacks of boxes were thoroughly explained at all times.
Lastly, I’ll never forget the first time I realized I had a mentor, but not understanding until later that I actually had two. Every day, I strolled into Jack's office, went up and down over the old concrete hump in the floor, sat down, and picked his brain. At other times, when I showed up late or was visibly hungover, Jack practically dragged me back there: "You need to stop being an asshole." (If this isn't an exact quote, it’s pretty close). The fact that he said it about 28 times speaks to the kind of opportunity this company can provide and the patience it demonstrates to give employees those opportunities. The "not realizing I had two" part was after I left, as I was trying to make a home in New Orleans, I realized that our current General Manager Sally Haldorson's less direct instruction combined perfectly with Jack's heart-on-sleeve style and made me a much better person, and better prepared for life.
About Blyth Meier
Blyth Meier joined us to lead our marketing department in 2015 after doing that work for the Milwaukee Film Festival for the previous five years. While she made good use her filmmaking degree at that job, here she returns to her first love—books. As an undergraduate English major at the University of North Dakota, Blyth’s favorite time of year was the annual Writers Conference, which brought many of her soon-to-be favorite authors to the remote Northern Prairie: Sherman Alexie, Peter Matthiessen, August Wilson, Toi Derricotte, Mark Doty, Natasha Trethewey, and Terry Tempest Williams. Blyth lives in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee, where she gardens, cooks, takes photographs, and participates in a yearly 24-hour bike race. At 800-CEO-READ, she runs our social media accounts, writes for In the Books, and is the keeper of all our marketing spreadsheets.