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In 1934, in the depths of the first Great Depression, a Russian immigrant named Leon Rubin and a friend signed a lease for 2580 Broadway in NYC, between 97th and 98th Streets, and opened a radio repair shop they called Radio Clinic. They not only survived the depression, but thrived after the war, selling all sorts of appliances and opening a second store on 83rd St. If you lived on the upper west side and owned an air conditioner, there’s a good chance you bought it at Radio Clinic.
In 1966, Leon’s son Alan left his career as a metallurgical engineer to join the company, outlasted his brother-in-law to become its sole owner, and like his father became a fixture in the neighborhood. It was Alan Rubin who found a way to help the legendary musical archivist Alan Lomax preserve his historic field recordings of folk singers.
But good will did not protect him from being looted during the 25-hour blackout in the summer of 1977. Nor did it get him the financial or programmatic government assistance he needed to fully rebuild in the immediate aftermath of that terrible night.
And yet he persisted, staying at 98th and Broadway, and keeping his employees on the job, for another thirty years – until the neighborhood revitalization became so successful that the rent became just too damn high.
Alan Rubin sold the business in 2008, and could only watch when it finally lost its lease in 2014 and moved to Queens.
The story of Radio Clinic is an important story of how urban policy, family ties, demographics, economics and the human spirit come together – and sometimes fall apart – as a small business rises, falls, and tries to rise again. It is the story Jen Rubin tells with heart, and soul and just the right amount of policy wonkishness in “We Are Staying: Eighty Years in the Life of a Family, a Story, and a Neighborhood.”
In addition to her writing, Jen leads storytelling workshops around Madison, co-produces the local Moth StorySlam, co-hosts Inside, Stories Podcast, and teaches the occasional social policy class at the University of Wisconsin School of Social Work, all part of her longstanding activity for social change. As a devotee of that original yellow Walkman, she is an obsessive maker of mix tapes – there’s an extensive one for the book, included as an appendix and available on Spotify – and claims to be the best challah baker in town, although I cannot independently verify that. She is also a former professional demonstrator of Atari video games. Her website is rubinjen.com It is a pleasure to welcome to Madison BookBeat my friend Jen Rubin.