At trade shows, at industry events or even over the phone, I like to promise retailers two things.
1) Our news products are guaranteed accurate or your money back; and
2) Someday I’m going to visit your store and buy something.
At the Orgill Fall Market in Orlando, Fla., earlier this year, I exchanged a few pleasant words with Jason Kearns of Mensch Lumber of New York City. I didn’t know where he was located until he gave me his card, and I blurted “Hey, we’re neighbors!” Of course, I promised to visit and buy something, someday.
Someday came last week.
Five subway stops and a couple of long blocks on foot through East Harlem, I arrived at the Manhattan branch of Mensch Lumber, a roll-up-your sleeves, high-volume distributor of building products to Gotham City’s heavy-duty contractors.
On the sidewalk, piles of Quikrete, stacks of drywall and rows of wheelbarrows gave the entire block a hard-at-work flavor. And so did forklift operators carrying loads to and from trucks parked on 106th Street.
Visiting a yard like Mensch (which is headquartered in Flushing, N.Y., across the East River), always instills an appreciation for the skill sets of the urban dealer. The traffic, the parking, the space constraints, the competition — they all combine to raise the degree of difficulty for the operator.
“This is where it all happens,” Kearns said. “It doesn’t get more urban than this. We’re in the middle of East Harlem. This location is busy all the time. We’re the first stop into the city for a lot of our guys coming from Queens.”
Mensch looks like it’s been operating on 106th Street since the Harlem Renaissance, but the dealer actually has only recently set up shop here — pushed out of its original location in a case of eminent domain involving the Second Avenue subway, still under construction nearby.
In Orlando, it would have been impossible to guess that Kearns was the manager of a busy, inner-city lumberyard. But here on 106th Street, in the middle of the Mensch Lumber showroom with phones ringing and product moving, Kearns, a former brick layer, looked and played the part completely — taking phone calls, encouraging staff and remaining calm at the helm.
During our conversation, a kid in a bright green Mensch shirt passes us. Kearns asks him where he’s going. The answer is unsatisfactory.
“You should always have an answer for where you’re going,” Kearns advised, and it looked like the advice was received in exactly the right spirit.
No nonsense is tolerated here on 106th Street. So I figure it’s time to settle up and get out of the way.
“What do you need?” he asks.
Kearns leads me to the aisle. “These are the Cadillacs,” he says.
— Ken Clark