Remembering Sandy Mendelson

UPDATE

15 July, 2021- an attorney called and asked that I revise this post, because I’ve somehow hurt the family of the deceased. I’ve edited the new parts of the post- not the block quote from Apr 8, 2012 which is inset- to remove anything that isn’t 100% factual. Just because the man died- doesn’t mean the facts get to be altered.

Yesterday they had a funeral for Sandy Mendelson. I didn’t go.

I also read in the paper, on the TV news websites, that he was a “supporter of downtown” and a “successful business man.”

I have a different perspective on him. But, I wasn’t going to spend part of my 4th of July weekend writing about him, I have better things to do. Luckily I’d written my “Sandy Story” long ago, and anyone who knew him or did business with him has one. Most of the time their story included something not very nice. For all his jocularity, deep down, he was cruel – especially to those closest to him. I once watched him berate his son, in front of a customer to the point of tears, where Harlan pulled cash out of his pocket and threw it at his dad, saying, “Here’s your _______ $25,” and stormed off.

My Sandy story started around December 1999:

I stood up at the Dayton City Commission meeting after losing against Bootsie Neal and Dean Lovelace for a commission seat, and threatened to file for an injunction to stop the “emergency legislation” the commission was enacting to purchase the former Sears site downtown for the Riverscape fountains project.

A brief recap of the Sears project: a group of local businessmen formed an LLC to purchase the Sears building for $200,000 with a five-year option on the real estate that it was on for $1.5 million. The businessmen included Alan Rinzler who owns the Talbot Tower and other real-estate holdings; Sandy Mendelson, owner of Mendelsons; Jason Liff, a local real estate broker and former owner of MotoScooto, and Bruce and DeNeal Feldman, owners of Economy Linen.

Full disclosure once again- after I threatened to file the suit to stop this “emergency legislation” I naively approached Mr. Mendelson to do his advertising, something he mentioned when giving me a $500 cash donation for my campaign (a donation I had to return and get as a check to satisfy the BOE- who doesn’t believe cash is legal tender for donations larger than $100). He told me to “go-to-hell” when I called- which I didn’t understand, since I didn’t realize at the time he was part of the LLC. Over lunch at Franco’s he explained his part of the deal and told me that “nobody cares” about this, and I had a simple choice- file the suit (which at best would stall the deal and force it into a regular ordinance- taking two readings and 30 days to go into effect) and “find my body parts in different area codes” (exact words- you don’t forget threats like that from someone you barely know at the time, who wears a lot of gold jewelry) or, drop it, and have a nice little advertising account that puts money in your pocket.

For a year and a half, my firm did award winning advertising for Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet. We re-did his logo, introduced the new tagline “The first place to look for every last thing” and developed the “explorer” character in a series of TV ads. His business grew substantially. When we couldn’t agree on terms for me to close my business and come run his retail operation, including the eBay business that I had pushed him to, we parted ways. I did do a small campaign a few years ago because he had severely damaged his brand publicly by suggesting he was closing and moving to another location and his sales were down. He stiffed me for a few thousand dollars: to date, it’s the biggest uncollected debt my business has had in 22 years.

Back to the Sears deal- if the names DeNeal and Bruce Feldman don’t ring a bell, maybe Bruce’s wife’s name does: Debbie Feldman, our county administrator, who is one of Montgomery County’s highest paid government employees (as far as I know only Steven Johnson at Sinclair is paid more and it’s a horse race between Debbie and Dayton Schools Superintendent Lori Ward for second depending on how you count their perks).

The price that the LLC got for their $200K investment and option on the Sears deal? $8.7 million.

Front page story anyone?

Source: The different standards for public graft and corruption in Dayton, Ohio | Esrati

The tagline is still painted on the side of the building facing Canal Street Arcade and Deli. When I first told it to Sandy, he barked back, “Why not just the first place to look?” and I had to explain that he was a liquidator and had “last things.” It was a play on finding things in the very last place one looked, because – obviously – you’d found it and stopped looking.

He also watched the first TV  spot with the explorer character and said, “Who’s the chubby kid?” then told me he was “giving me enough rope to hang myself.” I explained that a Pierce Brosnan walking through his shithole of a store in a tux wouldn’t quite work. After the ads started running, he said, “Get that chubby kid back.”

The ads were successful: they changed the perception of his store from a place for pocket-protector-wearing engineers to a place to go on a shopping safari. It didn’t matter what I told him about shopping aisle width (needed to be wide enough for 2 carts to pass each other, or that if you put a cart in a shoppers hands they’ll buy twice as much), nope, he wasn’t interested in the anthropological science of shopping: he thought packing it higher and deeper was all it took to make him more money.

I didn’t really hate him, until he fired a young lady I recommended him to hire. He claimed she’d been stealing from the drawer, but I knew better. Months after he fired Ruth, he caught one of his “trusted” back office employees shorting the drawers. She’d been doing it for years. He refused to apologize to Ruth.

(removed opinion) The obituary for most people idealizes their life. If there was anything to idealize about Sandy, I don’t know what it was other than his midas touch.

The man lived a life of turning shit into shinola, moola, bucks, and somehow he managed to have more inventory than any business I’ve ever worked for yet figured out a way to not to have to pay taxes on any of it. He was a genius at making money; I’m not so sure he was as good at making friends.

But those he did make friends with sure manage to keep making out, as I saw the new Economy Linen building rising at the corner of James H. McGee and Gettysburg. The Feldman family must have taken lessons from how Sandy made his money because they are still making money off the taxpayers of Montgomery County with their tax breaks and free land, all while Ms. Feldman makes the big bucks at Dayton Children’s Hospital.

They can carry Sandy’s torch as supporters of Dayton who are really just in it for themselves.

Because he’s gone now, and I won’t miss him.

While I’m proud of the work I did for Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet, I should have filed that lawsuit- and risked people finding my body parts in different area codes. At least I wouldn’t still feel dirty all these years later.

UPDATE

15 Jul 2021- I was at another memorial service about a week later- talking to a former employer. This post was discussed. I told them how I’d tried to talk Sandy into building a “Battle Bots” arena on the 2nd floor- and hosting teams from local schools to compete- and to broadcast it locally. It would bring young people into the store- and inspire more creative uses of the junk he had accumulated- as well as serve as a promo for his company. He couldn’t understand the concept- so it died on the vine. For the lawyers who think that I somehow hurt Sandy’s family with this post- and the family- it’s nice to know that your feelings are so affected by my words- since Ruth is still waiting for that apology- a decade plus later.

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