Wednesday, February 24, 2016

It is good to be Wendy Schmidt

I don't spend a ton of time envying other folks. First off, I've got it pretty darned good. Second, I've always considered envy a waste of emotion. Joy, anger, sadness - most emotions serve a cathartic purpose. Envy, not so much. 

And then I go and read about Wendy Schmidt's yacht slip and, well, I'm almost gripped by a case of the envies. 

Not that, if I had $4.75M to spend on anything, I'd buy a boat slip, on Nantucket or anywhere else. Personally, I don't have a 156 foot boat to put in it, so I don't need one of the scarce deepwater slips - there are only three - in the harbor. 
"You can see how demand would be quite high," said Jen Shelley, a Nantucket real estate agent who represented, but declined to name, the buyer. "It's such a rarity. There were multiple interested parties." (Source: Boston Globe)
Hey, I was married to an economist, so I know all about supply and demand. So I can see how it operates on Nantucket, where there's a plentiful supply of rich people and a dearth of boat slips that will work for a boat that's about three times longer than the house I grew up in. 

But just being able to flash that kind of cash on a parking space for a boat did get me wondering just what else you can do when you're Eric Schmidt of Google's wife, and you run the Schmidt Foundation, and you have both time and money to spend on making life perfect.

Well, one thing Wendy Schmidt has done is establish a nonprofit:
...launched to help preserve the character of the island's quaint downtown. 
I've only been to Nantucket a couple of times. Once was just after I graduated from high school. We're pushing 50 years on that visit. The other time was in the early 1970's. So it's been a while... I found it charming and quaint, and, given that I do like charming and quanit, I can't really come up with a plausible reason why I haven't been back. And now I really want to go, if only because that nonprofit - ReMain - is doing what it can to keep up the charm and the quaint, including buying "a popular bookstore so it could remain open."

Hmmm. I do have an indie bookstore about 20 minutes walk away, but my friend Marin and I, whenever we see an empty storefront on Charles Street, talk about how much we'd love to open a bookstore, stock it only with books we like, put in a couple of armchairs and open it only when we felt like sitting in one of those armchairs. Of course, stocking it only with books we like would doom it to financial failure, but if we had Wendy Schmidt money, that wouldn't be a worry. We could have a bookstore in the neighborhood that would always be there for us.

ReMain has also "helped finance renovation of the Dreamland Theater."

And that would be nice, too, to have a theater that was just there. I'd give mine to the Actors' Shakespeare Project, so that they'd have a permanent home of their own. They always find wonderful venues for their wonderful productions, but I don't imagine they'd mind if I bought them a venue so that I didn't have to look up every play they do and figure out where it's going to be performed, and how to get there.

ReMain also established Petticoat Row Bakery, so that Wendy and other islanders could just walk into town and get a baguette. (The Times article cited below mentions macarons and lavender madeleines, but, alas they weren't on the current menu. Maybe during the summer when the rich and famous head in for their ration of charming and quaint...)
Not all her causes are on a grand scale: When three local girls needed money to start an ice­pop business this summer, Ms. Schmidt not only gave them a loan, but agreed to sell the pops at the Petticoat Row Bakery, a bake shop she founded in 2010. (Source: NY Times)
The village of Grafton, Vermont, was restored in the 1960's and turned into an absolutely charming and quaint town that likely bears no resemblance to what the town looked like in the 1850's, when there would have been things like mud streets and outhouses. I visited it a once or twice with my husband, who grew up in Bellows Falls, just a few miles down the road from Grafton. Bellows Falls, alas, was never known for its charm and quaintness, so no foundation ever stepped up to restore it. But it's probably more typical of the places where most native Vermonters still live. A few nice (charming and quaint) houses, a lot of run-down buildings, a few bars, a couple of churches. I will note, however, that Bellows Falls has a quite nice indie bookstore. Grafton, I believe does not.

The charming and quaint quotient of Grafton Vermont is nonetheless quite high. And, if it bears scant resemblance to what it was actually like back in the day, I'm guessing that goes double for Nantucket. What do we think Nantucket looked (and smelled) like when it was a whaling center?

But that's okay. I'm fine with keeping what was great about the past (charm, quaintness) and omitting restoration of the yucky bits (outhouses and whale blubber).

Meanwhile, the Schmidt Family Foundation, which Wendy Schmidt runs, does things that go far beyond propping up bookstores and investing in bakeries. Their mission:
Applying new knowledge and innovation is our model for problem solving and for advancing original research in science, energy and the sustaintablity of the world's biosphere.
Keeping bookstores, bakeries and theaters open so that they'll be there when you need them. Goosing the price of a boat slip (which at least made a couple of people - the previous owner and the agent - quite happy).  Trying to do something about the keeping our fragile and fraying planet earth going. (Let's hope it's not too late...)

As I said, I'm not an envious person, but it's got to be good to be Wendy Schmidt.

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