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Why It Matters & What It Can Accomplish

April 9, 2012

There has been one question that I’ve been holding onto since the end of January. And it’s kind of the ultimate question.

Clearly, I take the Times Union Best of the Capital Region poll too seriously. In the past I’ve mentioned a lot of the reasons.
– It’s about highlighting truly great local businesses.
– It’s about rising up over the drone of mediocrity that permeates the region.
– It’s about getting national chains off the list of what is best about living here.

Those all stand. But in my mind there is a bigger idea behind this too. Because while the above are all noble goals, if they were just an end to themselves, I’m not so sure I would be as committed to the cause. However, we’ve been so busy discussing which places are best, promoting the slate, and defending some of its selections, that there hasn’t been a chance to reflect on the deeper meaning of the FUSSYlittleBALLOT.

It may sound a little crazy, but hear me out.

First the question that –S asked all the way back in Phase One, which references a statement I had previously made:

> This poll affects not only how the region sees itself, but also how those outside
> the region see us. When people consider relocating to the area or take the next
> step and move here, among other things, this annual poll is a resource for information.
Why is it? You mention Yelp, UrbanSpoon, etc, why are you assuming people relocating wouldn’t have heard of these resources where they come from, and wouldn’t trust them as well here? I think you are putting way too much emphasis on (and credit to) the TU poll.

I’m going to answer the direct question and then address the part about what I think changing the poll results can do for the region.

My background is in advertising, and not just any advertising, but national brand advertising over mostly traditional media platforms. This is not to say that I devalue online communications for the strengths that they bring. However, I am keenly aware of the power of reaching a mass audience with one message at the same time.

Let’s take a case in point. This video is the number three clip of all time on YouTube with over 291 million views, but I’ve never heard of it until just now. But go around and ask anyone over 30 to sing the Oscar Mayer Bologna song, and you’ll get it every time.

Yes, Yelp and Urbanspoon are out there to help those who know of those resources and trust them. However, that’s still overall a very small section of the population. And even while the local newspaper’s role in public life is diminishing, it still reaches the largest percentage of those who live here. Plus it continues to be an authoritative voice in the community.

The Annual Reader’s Choice poll has an even further reach.

And while the results of this poll are not the paper’s editorial picks, it still runs under the banner of the Times Union. The results are imbued with their authority. The fact that these selections are all reader-generated fades into the background, and all that remains is that the Times Union said they were the best.

The better question would be, how would changing the results of the Times Union poll amount to a hill of beans? Well, here’s another question.

Why would anyone open a serious coffee shop in the region if Albany is perceived to be a Dunkin’ Donuts kind of town? Yes, there are people who like their DD coffee, loaded with cream and sugar, sucked through a small hole of a plastic lid, atop a Styrofoam cup. They may even sell the most coffee in the region.

But Caffe Vero is doing a brisk business, and it has been great to see people start to flock to our one solid espresso joint. Now what might happen if this relatively little known place on Lark Street got propelled into the top spot of the Times Union Poll results? This is my hope:

1)    More people would find out about its existence
2)    More people would make it through their doors
3)    More people will taste what espresso is supposed to be
4)    More people will have less tolerance for lesser coffee
5)    Others will notice Vero has no competition
6)    More excellent espresso places will open
7)    Better espresso for all

If you can extrapolate this to the other food categories in the TU poll, you can hopefully see the path to raising the bar of the entire food scene and culture of the Capital Region.

Okay, great. So there’s better food. Big deal.

Yes, it is a big deal. You know why? People like good food. And they don’t like paying a lot for something that’s mediocre. Apparently this isn’t true for people who live here, because in the past our choices have been quite limited. But visitors to the region who vacation up in Saratoga Springs generally seem to breeze right past Albany.

And that’s a shame. Because we’ve got history and beauty here too. What we don’t have is a lot of cute neighborhood centers to walk down with great restaurants in which to eat. There are a few places that are coming close, but could still use some work. And it’s amazing how businesses thrive when there are great restaurants that brings people out.

Ultimately, this is the goal. It’s a bit lofty, and it’s a bit far removed from the immediacy of what I’m asking you to do. Plus the timeline goes out a good bit farther than just this year. A process like this takes time.

But to get great restaurants, we need to celebrate the best restaurants that are here now. If we continue to reward mediocrity, we’ll never get to where we need to be. And people will continue to breeze past Albany on their way to Saratoga Springs, Lake George, the Adirondacks and Montreal.

Please help me with this small but meaningful first step.

Review the slate of businesses on the FUSSYlittleBALLOT and go vote for them on the Times Union site. Then send an email to all your friends asking for their support. Albany can be great. We’ve got the seeds of greatness here. They just need to be watered. You may want to wait for rain, but I’m going to grab a hose.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. derryX permalink
    April 9, 2012 11:50 am

    My opinion is in pretty close agreement with the majority of what your saying here. In fact, I think the concept of the ballot is a great thing to get the conversations going about what people are perceiving to be the top quality places. Where I disagree is where people just vote because they see it stated here and without experiencing it for themselves. I think that’s the most important step, because if the cycle you mention happens, and more “good” places pop up, they’re doomed because they’re opening up in an area where people love to talk about the good stuff, but nobody goes to it.

    That said, I’m happy to mention that many of my selections for the TU Best of poll align with the the ballot (based on my own first hand experiences, of course), so I consider myself a supporter in that regard, and I’m always up for discussing this stuff because it gets the buzz going in a positive direction.

    • April 11, 2012 1:53 pm

      I think that’s the most important step, because if the cycle you mention happens, and more “good” places pop up, they’re doomed because they’re opening up in an area where people love to talk about the good stuff, but nobody goes to it.

      That is a really, really good point. It’s in nobody’s interest to promote false demand.

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    April 9, 2012 12:10 pm

    Have you noticed that there are zero or one comment on your postings on the FLB? Unless there’s a side issue like “what is a restaurant?” I don’t think readers are really interested. I know I’m not.

    • April 9, 2012 1:25 pm

      Comments are not indicative of interest or traffic. Ideally, if something is said astutely, a quiet nod of the head will suffice.

    • -R. permalink
      April 9, 2012 1:56 pm

      Despite Mr. Sunshine’s distinctly un-sunny disposition today, I tend to agree with him at least in some small part. I read FLB mainly because of food, its cultural resonances and interactions and Mr. Fussy’s smarmy attitude about it all. Nearly every blog I’ve read has some content that’s superfluous to my personal interests. Mr. Fussy’s fascination with esoteric extractions for anachronistic cocktails and his recollections of Jewish family dinners don’t really grip me, but hey, it’s OK – it’s his blog and he can write whatever he wants. Similarly DerryX’s fascination with Jersey Shore borders on the incomprehensible for me, but you know what, I like the rest of what he does.

      It’s also why blogs (or bloggers) are important. Things slip through the cracks. We are a culture of immediate gratification and short attention spans. Sometimes, some things need expostulation. We need to collectively sit and stew over the shades of gray, because life isn’t all black and white (at least for me). Hence, trying to understand how to promote quality and choice, and attempting to raise the collective bar as a whole is a noble endeavor; these things take time and effort. If we were left to the devices of the TU’s collective brain-trust, we’d continue to be stuck with Dunkin Dognuts and Subway as a representation of “our” “local” “best”. Let’s hope our little discussions here amount to more than a hill of beans.

      • Mr. Sunshine permalink
        April 9, 2012 5:48 pm

        Obviously I do not think the T-U’s list of “best of” is anything other than family entertainment, and has little or nothing to do with good Capital Distict food. Therefore I dub Daniel B. Don Quixote in this matter. Love him otherwise.

  3. April 10, 2012 4:41 pm

    Then again, let’s not think that this means we have to leave out or ignore Saratoga Springs — they’re part of our area, too, and they do have some great foodstuffs that should also be included when we talk about the best foods of the region.

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