I continue to refine and gather more financial survival tools for my middle class poor financial survival toolkit. I have to. Financial survival continues to be more challenging. Social Security will go up $5 for us on January 1, 2017. Our cable bill went up $6. So we will start 2017 with a dollar less. Situations like this require continual accumulation of new financial survival tools.

savings tips for the poor middle class
Large Change Jar from

First I would like to mention some general tools. Then I will get into major expense categories and tools that are specific to them. Here are some general tips:
• save change in as large a bottle as you can find
• avoid monthly fee checking accounts
• avoid credit card fees
• join groups that offer discounts to members
• make use of discounts you are entitled to for being a member for a particular organization such as AARP, the military and many more
• buy in bulk, only when things are on sale and always look for discounts
• make a purchase with a no fee promotion credit card that requires set payments over time
• use EBATES, GROUPON, etc.

BOTTLE REFUNDS This is probably one of the most important resources for not only the poor middle class but everyone. Redemption of bottles and cans is probably one of the best known tools for creating income through recycling. People in all kinds of circumstances do it. You paid for the bottle. You deserve to get the fee back whenever you can. Those nickels will add up. This is not income and it is not taxable. You are just getting back money you already paid out.

recycling as a poor middle class financial survival tool
Bottle and can recycling machines from recycle | ecycler

Depending upon your financial status, you can make use of food pantries. They often have clothes in addition to food. For people who can afford to pay, thrift stores are a great resource for finding furniture and all kinds of household items.

Refer to the post The Poor Middle Class Financial Survival Toolkit to learn about using travel specific credit cards.

Clipped paper coupons, online coupons and text discounts proliferate. Get into the habit of only buying things on sale for a discount.

I learned to make my own laundry detergent. It is amazing how much money it saves. The guideline is to make your own whenever you can instead of buying prepared products. It is easier than you think and saves so much money.

These are three categories that can be the major areas of expenses in the budget of a member of the poor middle class. They are so important that a separate blog posts will be devoted to them.

financial survival tools for poor middle class
Discount coupons from Google












This series continues with, The Poor Middle Class Housing Crisis




Save on Household Expenses

Change in a Five Gallon Water Jar

Save Money at CVS

Best List of Senior Discounts

Best List of Senior Discounts for Restaurants

Military and Veteran Discounts

AARP list of discounts

Shop At Home

Buy Second Hand Clothes Online

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The Importance of A Budget

Creating and sticking to a budget is the poor middle class financial survival tool that allows for clarity and transparency. It is crucial. The best way to start is with pencil and paper. Determine your major budget categories. Transferring them to a computerized bookkeeping program is simple. We have actually set up our computerized bookkeeping system based on the following categories plus additional subcategories. It works very well for us. But you can stay with a manual spreadsheet if you prefer.

How to set up a budget
Free Online Accounting & Bookkeeping service from











Setting Up Expense Categories

This is how we have been able to come up with a budget. We set up a bookkeeping system. First, we add up our income. From there, we have a clear picture of how much there is available to spend. Then we set up our expense categories. Everyone has their own profile based on their life, family and needs. These are the major categories we use:

Within each of these major categories, we have set of subcategories that reflect our expenses:

• Rent
• Household
• Utilities

Budget for housing is a crucial financial survival tool
Senior Housing from















• Groceries
• Breakfast/Lunch/Snacks

A Food Budget is a crucial Financial Survival tool
Cartoon Food from Clipart kid















• Auto Insurance
• Gas
• Maintenance
• Public transit

A budget for transportation is a financial survival tool
Transportation from















• Personal items/hobby
• Rx copay
• Medical
• Dental Care
• Supplements
• Life Insurance

A budget for the family is an essential tool for the financial survival toolkit
Man and woman on the couch from














• Eat Out/Celebrate
• Entertainment/Culture
• Vacation

a budget for fun, entertainment and vacation are essential for a financial survival toolkit
Island Vacation – Cartoon Island With Seagulls from

What’s Next?

You may find, as we have, that your expenses exceed your income. As seniors on fixed incomes, as young people working more hours but earning little money, as breadwinners who has lost their livelihood, this may be your challenge too. The additional posts in this blog series will be devoted to a solution. That solution is building and implementing your financial survival toolkit.




Sources & Resources

Debt Free Adventure

Beginner Bookkeeping

Debtors Anonymous

Senior Housing Turnarounds

The Viper Tool Storage Company

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The Poor Middle Class Crisis is the story of The Poor Middle Class. It is designed to be a resources guide for the Financial Survival of the Poor Middle Class. This guide is an instruction manual for building resources known as a ‘financial survival toolkit’. It also encourages readers to start or find and participate in a ‘financial survival support group or community’.

The Poor Middle Class, itself, is a relatively new phenomenon. Our personal membership was precipitated by the 2008 stock market crash the same week as a primary income earners job layoff. For others families, becoming affected by the poor middle class crisis may have been due to the subprime mortgage scandal. It cost many families their homes. The Poor Middle Class are composed of people who were once middle class, who likely have college degrees or advanced degrees, had careers and good jobs, had homes with equity in them, had pensions, had good health insurance and savings.

the poor middle class blog
45 million Americans rely on food stamps, 1 million about to lose them – report from @Jim Young/Reuters

The Challenge for The Poor Middle Class
Financial survival has become a critical issue for the Poor Middle Class. This is a crisis that has led to the growing need for new, resourceful financial survival tools. These tools are not exclusive to one demographic, one age group, a particular sex, or one location. But because I am a ‘senior’ living in New York State, some of the tools and resources may apply specifically to people in this demographic.

As a result, I especially welcome your comments and additional suggestions to expand the resources for anyone’s financial survival toolkit. Therefore, I invite you to visit and participate in my companion Facebook page, The Poor Middle Class Crisis & Resources.

poor middle class crisis
‘The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans’ from ‘My Secret Shame’ from The Atlantic by Neal Gabler

Financial Survival
Now, we have almost nothing left of that life. But we are not technically poor. Therefore we do not qualify for the level of government benefits reserved for those living in poverty. But we are no longer middle class, either. We are in a place where we cannot meet the obligations of a middle class lifestyle. But we are not poor enough to get enough assistance to survive, either. We also are unable to find or maintain jobs like we had before the financial crisis began. The result is that we need to become very resourceful to survive. Therefore, I needed to gather new financial survival resources. I have created a ‘Financial Survival ToolKit’ in my mind to transform this crisis into an adventure rather than a place of fear.

poor middle class crisis
From ‘Americans on Food Stamps’

My Financial Survival Toolkit
It has taken me years to compile the resources, tips and suggestions I have in my financial survival toolkit. In addition, I continue to add to it. I am a visual person so I find it helpful to choose visual tools to help me implement concepts and ideas. I love the cabinets and tool boxes created by the The Viper Tool Storage Company. Therefore I chose one of their set ups to be my virtual financial survival toolkit. Many of my real tools are based on my own experience. Some are based on ideas and tips I have gathered on my financial survival journey. There may be resources that you already use. Other tips and tools may be new, hopefully useful suggestions. I also welcome any input and suggestions you may have. Please enter them in the comments section.

 financial survival toolkit for the poor middle class crisis
A Financial Survival Toolkit for gathering all my Finaincial Survival Tools that can be bougt at the Viper Tool Storage Company in mnay cheerful colors

Financial Overview
I keep an overview of my monthly finances at all times. This means that I monitor my income and expenses with the benefit of online banking, automatic bill paying and computerized bookkeeping. It includes payment of most of my bills by autopay after my monthly income becomes available. There is a flow to all of this. It has taken me some time to create a system to coordinate the ins and outs of it. Sometimes I feel like a juggler. At other times, I still feel like a beginner.

The Poor Middle Class Crisis And Solutions
There are plenty of financial survival tools following this post in the series, The Poor Middle Class. The next post is A BUDGET: THE MOST ESSENTIAL FINANCIAL SURVIVAL TOOL FOR THE POOR MIDDLE CLASS. Read it and others on The Alison D. Gilbert Blog.




Sources & Resources
I’m Middle Class and Poor: It wasn’t supposed to be that way

5 Charts That Show How the Middle Class Are Disappearing

Americans on Foodstamps

Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Lest We Forget: Why We Had A Financial Crisis

The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans

My Secret Shame from The Atlantic by Neal Gabler

Your Stories of Financial Struggle

Americans are trapped in a ‘cycle’ of financial insecurity

Young Invincibles, Financial Health

Report on Financial Health of Young Americans

How To Combat The Senior Poverty Epidemic

White Working Class Poverty

Parents Taking on Child’s College Debt and Putting Themselves at Financial Risk

5 Great Jobs for Retirees

Viper Tool Storage Box aka My Financial Survival Toolkit

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NEVER GIVE UP WITHOUT A FIGHT, One Man’s Battle to Survive Leukemia and the Music Business, Written by Lee Heiman

Never Give Up Without A Fight, A True Story by Lee Heiman
Never Give Up Without A Fight, One Man’s Battle to Survive Leukemia and the Music Business, A True Story by Lee Heiman
A Book Review by Alison D. Gilbert

When I attempt to read a book, it is usually like climbing a mountain. I struggle through each paragraph like a mountain climber attempting to secure his footing to take the next step. Unlike a mountain climber determined to reach his goal, I usually give up after a few pages. Sometimes I will breeze through with what I call ‘the fan approach’ stopping at pages along the way. Sometimes I just take a look at the small type and quit.

‘Never Give Up Without A Fight, One Man’s Battle to Survive Leukemia and the Music Business’ is that once-in-a-great-while experience I have when I read a book. I can’t put it down.

Then I asked myself, ‘is it because I know the author, Lee Heiman since seventh grade in Long Beach, New York and was curious about his life since high school? Or is it because the book is so damn engaging?’ I confess, it may be a combination of both. But only a reader who does not know this driven, risk taker will know which it is.

A Mesmerizing Story

I think that everyone will be mesmerized by this story. Lee’s indomitable spirit exhibited through his six month hospital stay, his continuing survival from incurable cancer as well as the enviable brass with which he has also faced the music production entertainment business are all fearless and admirable qualities Lee possesses. He does not withdraw from opportunities or challenges. I was so taken by his story that I told Lee I had to write something about it to let everyone know about this mesmerizing story. The words, ‘a book review’ came out of my mouth. He gladly agreed.

The Challenges of The Music Business and Leukemia

Lee’s book seamlessly weaves a single cloth from these two major parts of his life’s journey, his experiences in the music business and his battles with incurable leukemia. It is as if one cannot exist without the other. Lee approaches both, with equanimity. He displays amazing courage and exhibits a perseverance against all odds. These are integral to his character. He faces life, good and bad, head on.

Never Give Up

Lee approaches surviving his illness with the same tenacity he approaches the music business. He gives it his all and fights as hard as he can. The odds have not always been good. Anyone in their right mind might have given up long ago just like I usually do with reading books, declaring it a losing battle. But Lee has not. This is not to say that in both areas of his life, he has had only successes and no setbacks. He still experiences ups and downs. But he never gives up.

Lee Heiman, The Author
Lee Heiman, The Author of ‘Never Give Up Without A Fight, One Man’s Battle To Survive Leukemia and the Music Business’. For more information about the author and his book, go to
Why You Must Read This Book

You must read this book. It will renew your faith in whatever you believe in beyond yourself or instill a faith you may never have had. How he survived and continues to live with an incurable disease is a miracle. It is a miracle that is fueled by a spirit that just won’t quit.

In Conclusion

It is an honor to know Lee and to have the opportunity to write this book review. Lee is a man of substance, depth and keen sensitivity. I never knew that part of him when we were in school together. But perhaps both the fire of his adulthood and his life’s battles have set these qualities in him like ore becomes steel. It is what keeps him going. It may help to keep you going through your own challenges in life. Be sure to read, ‘Never Give Up Without A Fight’ by Lee Heiman. You will be inspired by it and feel glad you read it.

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SYNESTHESIA: A Neurological Phenomenon

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Do you know what synesthesia is? Do you know anyone who has it? Are you a synesthete? I have synesthesia. I have had it since childhood. I have always considered it to be a fun game I could play in my mind, seeing numbers in specific colors. I can sometimes still experience a correlation between days of the week with colors and numbers,too. I never told anyone about my ability until recently. I had no idea that it was unusual, had a name or was an actual brain function that some other people experienced as well. At least one in 2,000 people have this neurological phenomenon.

I have synesthesia. These are the colors and numbers that automatically correlate with each other in my mind.

Wikipedia description of synesthesia
“Synesthesia (also spelled synæsthesia or synaesthesia; from the Ancient Greek σύν syn, “together”, and αἴσθησις aisthēsis, “sensation”) is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.[1][2][3][4] People who report a lifelong history of such experiences are known as synesthetes.
In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme-color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored.[5][6] In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990), or may appear as a three-dimensional map (clockwise or counterclockwise).[7][8] Synesthetic associations can occur in any combination and any number of senses or cognitive pathways.[9]

“Little is known about how synesthesia develops. It has been suggested that synesthesia develops during childhood when children are intensively engaged with abstract concepts for the first time.[10] This hypothesis – referred to as semantic vacuum hypothesis – explains why the most common forms of synesthesia are grapheme-color, spatial sequence and number form. These are usually the first abstract concepts that educational systems require children to learn. Only a fraction of types of synesthesia have been evaluated by scientific research.[11] Awareness of synesthetic perceptions varies from person to person.[12]”

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PART FIVE: The Charrette New York Chronicles Synopsis

Part Five was written by me, Alison D. Gilbert, The New York Graphic Design Examiner. It was published by the on January 22, 2012

The frontage of the Flagship NYC Charrette Store on 33rd Street and Lex
The frontage of the Flagship NYC Charrette Store on 33rd Street and Lex


The articles previously published here about The Charrette Corporation in NY detailed its history starting with its humble beginnings by architectural graduate student, Lionel Spiro and later, with Blair Brown an under classman. It literally began in a supplies closet at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (HGSD). The inspiration behind its beginnings was one of necessity. At that time, there was no single store in the Boston area where a design student or design professional could acquire all the supplies needed for a project.


Since it was the nature of design work projects to be done in ‘charrette’ (working until a last minute deadline), time was always of the essence. So the idea occurred to entrepreneurial Lionel, to gather the needed materials in bulk and sell them to the other students. To say that the idea caught on is an understatement.

Neither Lionel nor Blair had ever intended to become anything but architects. Lionel graduated ahead of Blair and got a taste of the life he thought was his calling. But time proved otherwise. So when his friend Blair graduated from HGSD, Lionel asked Blair if he wanted to go into business with him. Again, the idea was a natural since no single store still existed to serve the needs of designers.

Lionel found that he could be of greater service to his beloved field of architecture serving the designers themselves than potential architectural clients. It seemed like a good idea to Blair, as well. Thus Charrette came ‘out of a supply closet’ to become a full-fledged business.


It started small but before long the founders realized how wide spread the need was that they had identified as students. What to call the company was a ‘no-brainer. ‘Charrette’ said it all to any design student or professional who needed a design supply or tool, right away. Their first retail destination was Boston.

After a short time, Lionel decided to take on the NY Design world. This covered graphics, architecture, interiors, fashion, theatre, etc. Any discipline that needed a straight edge, a drafting board, tape, markers, Letraset or any of the top quality supplies that could be found in the Charrette treasure chest.


Charrette’s New York beginnings were humble architecturally, two consecutive stores in midtown on the East side. Neither was a show place but the clientele were the glitterati of New York. There was a constant stream of Broadway and film stars to add to the crème de la crème of the graphic design, architectural, interiors, fashion and other types of design firms in and out of their doors.


Such a clientele needed the right setting, backdrop, environment to reflect not only who they were but what Charrette represented and what there was to see and purchase. The store needed to be set up more like a Tiffany’s displaying Charrette’s tools like fine jewelry behind glass. Each customer would be greeted, often by name, by a sales person escorting him around and waiting on him or her from start to finish.


HGSD classmate and native New Yorker, David Paul Helpern, was chosen for the challenge of creating the NY Charrette Crowning Jewel, the ultimate NY Charrette store. Everything was custom made, the woodwork, the special cabinetry, the floors, the ceilings and the lighting. All were made from the finest materials and to exacting specifications. The store could be used for nothing else. Everything was retrofitted for the superior line of design tools that Charrette fashioned and sold. The entire store was designed like a ‘last’ for custom pairs of designer shoes.


The Invitation to The Charrette 'Crowning Jewel' Store designed by Johanna Bohoy
The Invitation to The Charrette ‘Crowning Jewel’ Store designed by Johanna Bohoy













The store had a catered affair for the Grand opening. Charrette’s NY Crowning Jewel was featured in several magazines. It is possible that the entire Charrette culture became a template for other chic boutique style stores that followed by selling things that would not normally be displayed this way or offer the kind of service that was offered for what others might have designed and considered mundane. But there was never anything mundane about Charrette.


It is with extraordinary gratitude that this author has had the opportunity to interview primary sources for this entire series. My utmost thanks go out to both founders, Lionel Spiro and Blair Brown for their time, patience and even samples of Charrette supplies, materials and catalogs.

Also, a special thank you goes to fellow New Yorker and architect, David Paul Helpern for sharing his memories as the architect of the Charrette NY Crowning Jewel built at the corner of the East 30’s and Lexington Avenue in New York.


There are also countless staff members who worked in the retail stores, at the headquarters in Massachusetts and in the field on the commercial side in numerous states. Art directors, who created the immaculate design materials and displays that always arrived at each store with very specific instructions on how they were to be assembled, shared their stories. Interviews have also been held with former customers whose memories and memorabilia, were lent, sent and photographed for this series.


Although I have not mentioned any of the staff by name for fear of leaving someone out accidently, each knows who he or she is, as my thanks continue to go out to each member for the joyful experience of sharing stories. But I must mention one person who, before this series could begin, was found on a Google search for Charrette. He is Stephen Dill, a former employee. I found him on LinkedIn. Charrette was on his resume as a job link. Thanks to him, every person in this story, including the founders, was able to be located. Thank you, Stephen.


A LinkedIn group was set up by and for Charrette Alumni. It is open only to this group of former employees. My thanks also go out to Jack Skidmore and Mark Levitan, its founders, for allowing me to become an honorary member and for their fond memories as well.


It has been an honor and an experience of a lifetime to spend a period of many months compiling all the materials and interviews that have gone into these articles. May they in some small way pay tribute to an outstanding NY (graphic and other types of design) institution and be part of the legacy that Charrette contributes to the NY design scene.


PART ONE: Invitation to a graphic memoir, the Charrette Corporation
PART TWO: The baby was born in a Harvard closet
PART THREE: Charrette meets ‘Big Apple’ graphic standards
PART FOUR: The Charrette New York creative culture
PART FIVE: The Charrette Chronicles Synopsis
The Charrette Alumni Group on Linked

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PART FOUR: The Charrette New York Creative Culture

Part Four was written by me, Alison D. Gilbert, The New York Graphic Design Examiner. It was published by the on February 21, 2011.

The first time the Charrette Catalog cover was printed in 4-color fluorescent inks instead of the usual 4-color process © Jim McClear 2011
The first time the Charrette Catalog cover was printed in 4-color fluorescent inks instead of the usual 4-color process
© Jim McClear 2011


The historical digs for the Charrette NY stores unearthed an abundance of artifacts and details. The process leading to the creation of their flagship store at 33rd & Lex, and the story since make it apparent that this chronicle needs and deserves to include every gem encountered along the way.

From interviewing several primary sources, a single article has evolved into a series with no sign of wanting to end. Unlike Charrette NY, which did conclude after 20 years as the premier place to purchase design supplies, its story is very much alive. There is even a Charrette Alumni Group on LinkedIn, with many members yet to be interviewed.

Stephen Dill was the first Charrette Alumnus discovered and interviewed. He arose from a ‘Charrette’ search on LinkedIn. He led the way to co-founder Lionel Spiro.

Mark Levitan started with Charrette straight out of school and rose through the ranks of almost every department over his 29-year tenure. NY architect, Rand Rosenbaum, AIA, worked in the NY stores in high school and then while at Pratt. He continued to order Charrette supplies from Cornell. Art Director, Johanna Bohoy, created award-winning graphics some of which are in the Cooper Hewitt Museum in NY and the Smithsonian in DC.

With each of these and interviews to come, Charrette NY jewels emerge. They provide a unique perspective adding color, charm, and even panache to the stores, staff and customers. A creative culture was born within the NY design scene that became a template for chic, boutique style stores that catered to a select group and are a NY signature.

The list of clientele was a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of NY architects, graphics and all kinds of designers. It included a cast of celebrities and glitterati that make the Charrette NY story sound more like a Broadway event than a retail business. (To this day, that list remains buried like other artifacts were. It may never be unearthed.)

There is no doubt that place, time and cast were intimately woven together to create a shimmering fabric. It was a cloth that stretched from Boston to NY and down the East Coast to DC, and out to the Midwest.

The Charrette NY family history and genealogy still ache to be documented until every detail of its glorious life has seen the light of day. This creative culture was home to thousands of people who all played a part in its magical, rich and on-going tale.


PART ONE: Invitation to a graphic memoir, the Charrette Corporation
PART TWO: The baby was born in a Harvard closet
PART THREE: Charrette meets ‘Big Apple’ graphic standards
PART FOUR: The Charrette New York creative culture
PART FIVE: The Charrette Chronicles Synopsis
The Charrette Alumni Group on Linked

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PART THREE: Charrette Meets ‘Big Apple’ Graphic Standards

Part Three was written by me, Alison D. Gilbert, The New York Graphic Design Examiner. It was published by the on February 4, 2011.

Charrette meets the 'Big Apple'
Charrette meets the ‘Big Apple’


It was not long after its official birth in 1964 that the owners of the Charrette Corporation, a well-established New England design supply institution, realized the opportunity to spread its wings and expand. The need for their multi-dimensional approach to the sale of design supplies was not limited to architects or its Massachusetts borders. Between 1968 and 2002, Charrette opened a total of 26 locations in 16 states, as far west as Chicago and Detroit and as far south as Washington, DC. The need that co-founders, Lionel Spiro and Blair Brown, had identified as students and started in a Harvard Graduate School of Design closet, was not exclusive to architectural students but was viable for designers and students everywhere.

According to Lionel, who came to be in charge of the NY stores, “In 1967, the first NY store opened. It was located on the second and third floors of 139 East 47th Street. After a short time, the need for a better and larger location was apparent and the store moved to a brownstone building at 212 East 54th Street.

“Its showroom/store area was on the main floor and some storage was in the basement. By then, Charrette ran a truck from Boston to New York every night which enabled customer orders and store restocking to be done from its 125,000 square foot warehouse containing 36,000 different items. This enabled Charrette to accept telephone orders from customers in NYC up to 5:30 and deliver the orders with a 96% fill rate, the next morning.”

When the parcel of land containing the Charrette store on East 54th Street was demolished to make room for the ultra-modern ‘Lipstick Building’, the store had to move once again choosing a larger space at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 33rd Street.

The establishment of Charrette’s permanent New York home necessitated the skills of an architect to design their very own showplace from a barebones office space in the design district. For this task, Lionel turned to one of his Harvard Graduate School of Design classmates, New York based architect, David Paul Helpern. Mr. Helpern is still practicing and it was possible to interview him to learn more about the design and building of the showplace that was Charrette’s home for 20 years. Upcoming articles in this series will include excerpts from that interview and more about Charrette’s NY graphic standards.


PART ONE: Invitation to a graphic memoir, the Charrette Corporation
PART TWO: The baby was born in a Harvard closet
PART THREE: Charrette meets ‘Big Apple’ graphic standards
PART FOUR: The Charrette New York creative culture
PART FIVE: The Charrette Chronicles Synopsis
The Charrette Alumni Group on Linked

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PART TWO: The Baby Was Born In A Harvard Closet

Part Two was written by me, Alison D. Gilbert, The New York Graphic Design Examiner. It was published by the on January 14, 2011.

The Harvard Graduate School of Design Logo
The Harvard Graduate School of Design Logo

Charrette did not enter the New York scene until a few years after its birth. It was actually born (although not yet named) in a closet at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The idea was to house in one location all the supplies design students would need. This eliminated the need to take the time to travel to a dozen different locations to gather all the materials required for their projects.

As strange as the name Charrette sounds, anyone who has attended design school or has worked in a design office knows what a ‘charrette’ is. When students and professionals (particularly) in architecture stay up all night to meet a deadline, they say that they are “en charrette” or they are “charretting”.

The term came from the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, which in the 19th century was the leading school of architecture in the world. When deadlines arrived, a CHARRETTE, the French word for wagon, would be pushed through the building and students had to place their drawings on the “charrette” or they would not be accepted.

Many students would actually sit or straddle the wagon as they signed their work or put down the last few lines. Students came to study in Paris from all over the world. When they graduated and returned home, they used the term “en Charrette” to define the last effort to finish a design project. This description applies primarily to the architecture and planning fields.

According to Lionel Spiro, since he and Blair Brown, the founders of Charrette, only planned to supply architects, they chose the name that they felt had special significance to their targeted market. However within a short time, Charrette was discovered by a succession of design professionals who used many of the same products.

Eventually manufacturing companies such as Raytheon, Ford, GM, and Chrysler eventually turned to Charrette for the majority of their design and engineering drawing needs. In addition, Charrette was discovered by hundreds of relatively small design offices within much larger government agencies in Washington.

Also included were structural, mechanical and civil engineers and later other engineers including electrical and electronic engineers. Commercial (graphic) designers, product designers and other creative people working at ad agencies, media firms and even television shows like Saturday Night Live became regular users of Charrette products as regular New York customers.


PART ONE: Invitation to a graphic memoir, the Charrette Corporation
PART TWO: The baby was born in a Harvard closet
PART THREE: Charrette meets ‘Big Apple’ graphic standards
PART FOUR: The Charrette New York creative culture
PART FIVE: The Charrette Chronicles Synopsis
The Charrette Alumni Group on Linked

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PART ONE: Invitation To A Graphic Memoir, The Charrette Corporation Chronicles

These chronicles of The Charrette Corporation first appeared on the, written by me, Alison D. Gilbert as the New York Graphic Design Examiner. This story includes primary research, most importantly interviews with the founders, Lionel Spiro and the late Blair Brown. In addition, many former corporate staff members, store employees and even customers all graciously gave their time to tell me their experiences and so many wonderful stories. ceases to exist this month, July of 2016, five and a half years after I started writing for them. The Charrette Chronicles and other posts would perish without transferring them to my own blog. The Charrette Chronicles appears here as a series of five posts. This introduction, Part One, was originally published on December 10, 2010.

The red Charrette van made overnight deliveries of much needed supplies long before the existence of FedEX and all the overnight deliverers.
The red Charrette van made overnight deliveries of much needed supplies from the warehouse in Woburn, Massachusetts to clients in New York City. This was long before the existence of FedEX and all the other overnight delivery services even existed.


No story about Graphic Design in NY would be complete without at least mention of the establishments, new, old, and gone that have supplied the design industry with the many, unique tools it required primarily BC (before computers) and through the transition to AD (age of digital). In compiling a list of them, one store stood out so distinctly that it deserves an entire article, if not series of articles about it, Charrette.

So much research for this designer supplies institution has been accumulated that there is an entire ‘back story’ to this series. It details the process of using the Internet to unearth materials and people. Many of them have been extremely generous in coming forward to share their experience and memories about this wonderful but extinct designers supply company that was founded in Cambridge Mass in the mid 1960’s.

This story is an attempt to go back in time and capture the years of glory Charrette held in the industry, in general, and in NY, in particular. It will include facts about its lifespan of several decades and some of the key players involved. It is a very moving story and one that any author can only hope to be worthy of writing.

Since the materials that have been so generously donated, lent and found on-line are still accumulating, this piece will serve simply as an invitation to the graphic memoir of Charrette, It had stores at three NYC locations. First it was on 47th Street, then on East 54th Street (before the brownstone building it was housed in was torn down to make room for the ‘Lipstick’ Building, Finally it was relocated to its homage to modern design, a frontage of glass and red metal in the design district, the East 30rds. How fitting a stage upon which to continue this story.


PART ONE: Invitation to a graphic memoir, the Charrette Corporation
PART TWO: The baby was born in a Harvard closet
PART THREE: Charrette meets ‘Big Apple’ graphic standards
PART FOUR: The Charrette New York creative culture
PART FIVE: The Charrette Chronicles Synopsis
The Charrette Alumni Group on Linked

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