In 2004, Thomas Frank released his book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” This book held particular scorn for Emporia residents, not just because of the author’s twist on the William Allen White editorial by the same name, but also through the author’s description of our community. In the book, Emporia was characterized by embracing the aesthetic of “boarded up windows.” The phrase “boarded up windows” is almost universally synonymous with dilapidation, blight, neglect and disaster.
If you want to generate a bad feeling about a community for commuters or pedestrians, simply have inappropriate window treatments. Windows that don’t fit their openings, utilizeinappropriate materials or are either partially or completely boarded up indicate a lack of investment. From the inappropriate aesthetic, consumers can infer all sorts of negative things about a community. So, why don’t people simply fix their windows?
A lot of historic windows are like many other historic elements of a building- they were designed for extended use through appropriate maintenance. The “maintenance” element of window repair generally called for a skilled craftsman that specialized in window repair and replacement. As attention to craftsmanship generally declined and was replaced by mass production, many windows fell into a state of disrepair. Instead of fixing blighted windows (or replacing them), they simply throw some plywood or other boards on the top of the damaged windows. Occasionally, windows were just torn completely out and replaced by boards.
Now, before we continue, I think I should clearly state that I am in no way, shape or form a carpenter (or anything close to it). My woodworking experience is strictly in the realm of wood carving and the occasional picture frame creation. Growing up on a farm, I was more into metal work, hydraulics and basically all types of welding/oxyacetylene work that has absolutely no bearing on my current life. When it comes to carpentry, I’m about as handy as a headache. But, there are people and resources out there that can assist in the maintenance of windows, and there are some pretty simple things you can do yourself.
1. Understand the parts of a window so you can identify what is there, what isn’t and what is damaged. We all hate to deal with things we don’t understand. Nobody wants to walk into a hardware store or call a professional and say “the window thingy looks like it’s broken.” So, look at the diagram below and familiarize yourself with some basic terminology.
2. Inspect your windows on a fairly regular basis.- This sounds simple, but you can’t know something is wrong if you never look. Are your windows in good condition, or is one on the verge of falling out? When was the last time you checked their condition? Should you check them now (we’ll wait…)?
3. A little caulking never hurts…- Energy loss is money thrown down the drain. No, plywood on a window exterior isn’t an effective insulator… Take a little time and apply some clear caulk to yourwindows. You’ll be surprised at how much energy you can save by replacing cracked putty with some new material.
4. If wood needs paint, then paint it!- Again, this sounds simple but often goes on the very bottom of a “to do” list. Unpainted/untreated wood will simply rot, and then you have some serious problems. Find your appropriate color and the type of paint consistent with the materials you are painting. Give chipped or pealing areas the attention they deserve. You’ll be surprised the difference a coat of paint makes.
5. Out of sight is just plain unsightly.- The following scenario happens WAY to often downtown: a building owner identifies a deficient area of their building, they are presented with options to either cover the problem or fix it, they choose to cover the problem, and then the problem gets much worse behind whatever the building owner covered the problem with. Look, we understand that building owners aren’t made of money. You have to budget for repairs and get a return on your investment. But, it’s generally cheaper to make small, consistent maintenance investments instead of much larger replacement or structural fixes. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And, inappropriate coverings just look bad.
6. Know when to call a professional. The Kansas Historical Society has a great series of windowrepair videos you can access by CLICKING HERE. Once you watch a few minutes, you might think to yourself “nope”, and that’s okay! There are some professionals that can help you out. The important thing is to take action in a safe, responsible manner. Hanging out of a bucket truck while fixing a window isn’t super fun (trust me on this one), but some people have the time and talent to do work themselves. If you don’t have the time or talent, contact Emporia Main Street and we will do our best to point you in the right direction.
7. Understand that your windows matter. Boarded up windows show a lack of investment and maintenance. Boarded up windows (or inappropriate window treatments) send a distinct message to your consuming public, and it’s not a positive one. Remember that your building exterior creates the first impression that your customers get. You can’t really sell high quality merchandise with superior service to the consuming public if they think your building isn’t quality and hasn’t had the TLC consistent with good service in a long time. Your exterior aesthetic has to mesh with your interior message to create a holistic customer experience.
Do a little spring maintenance and check out your windows. Make a plan to enhance your building exterior! We have a lot of people coming to the area in the next few weeks that may know absolutely nothing about your business. Your exterior sets your first impression. What type of impression do you want to make?