Community Voices - Carol Lasser

Carol Lasser  HusbandCarol Lasser is Professor of History at Oberlin College and has lived and worked in Oberlin for 36 years. She has a long history with the Ben Franklin and the owner, Krista Long, and serves as a member of the board of the Bill Long Foundation.

Q: What are some words or images that you would use to describe Oberlin

A: Oh, that’s an interesting thing! Quirky, intellectual, musical. What can I say...civic minded, progressive. Some images, the Ben Franklin, Tappan Square. I think of the public library, and I think of that funky 1930s post office.

Q: How did you come to be in Oberlin?

A: I was hired for a job in the history department 36 years ago. It wasn’t a hard decision at all. I felt enormously fortunate to get a job, and beyond that enormously fortunate to get a job at Oberlin, an amazing liberal arts college. I’m a 19th century historian, so I probably knew more about Oberlin in the 19th century than the 20th century, but I knew more about its history than most people who come to town. I knew what I was going into.

Q: The next question gets more into sustainability. The way the environmental studies department defines sustainability is with 3 Es: environment, economy, and equity. What is sustainability to you? How would you define it?

A: That’s a really helpful definition, because I don’t think I have a really good definition. It’s investing in the future.

Q: Are there any things that you do in your life that fits your definition?

A: Well, I recycle. I’ve invested a lot of emotional energy in my three grown children. I think that’s actually really important. We talked a lot about values. We talked a lot about social justice.

Q: Tell me about your connection to the Ben Franklin

A:  Well the Ben Franklin has been here for forever and ever right? So I’ve watched a lot of changes to downtown Oberlin, and I’ve watched the Ben Franklin go through a couple of iterations, and I have really always appreciated the Ben Franklin as an alternative to going out of town to malls. So I buy everything I possibly can at the Ben Franklin, it’s a great place.

So the Ben Franklin to me is, well, a locally owned business. It’s great to have a locally owned business. It’s great to be able to walk to town and buy things that you could buy elsewhere, but instead you can shop locally.

Back in the bad old days when I first moved here, we had a bookstore that really was a co-op. The manager of that for many years was Krista’s father, who was the famous Bill Long. Bill Long ran a great co-op book store, and I bought most of my books there. When it became Barnes and Noble I stopped buying books at Barnes and Noble, and when eventually Mindfair became part of the Ben Franklin I was thrilled and went back to buying books at Mindfair. Krista, in a way, carries on a great deal of that tradition.

I’m also a member of the board of the Bill Long Foundation. It is a local community foundation, we call it good money for good people, and it gives grants for local stuff that runs everything from school trips for kids who can’t afford it to grants for the local senior citizen’s center, or to various different community projects. It’s the only foundation that you will ever find any place in the world that has community participation on how to give away money. I’m not kidding, it is one of the coolest things. Krista is also a member of that board, representing Bill Long’s ideals. So I see Krista as continuing some of the things that I really liked about the community connections that came out of the co-op book store, now you can find them in the Ben Franklin.

I buy everything I can there, I love it. They traditionally have really great toys. They have really interesting things, they have great kids books, they have puzzles. It’s just a really fun place. And again, I buy everything I can there. I don’t want to go the mall unless I have to. She runs a community minded enterprise.

Q: Can you tell me about anything specific that the Ben Franklin does?

A: They are just a good presence. They are good community citizens. [Krista] really cares about the community. She does a lot of outreach herself, but she’s there as a kind of anchor. She hires people who other people wouldn’t hire, her father was one of the first people to hire people of color to be salespeople in downtown Oberlin. These are good progressive values.

Q: Is there anything that you would want to tell fellow community members that hasn’t come up?

A: I think we’re all aware that shopping locally is really really important. I think we’re all aware that local businesses know the people in the community, and help the people in the community. I know a dollar spent in the community will stay in the community. We can say all those things and be civic minded and sustainably minded, but I also just think she has a great sense of what to stock. It’s fun to shop there.

I think it’s important to support community businesses, but only if the businesses, on the other hand, are also supporting the community, and this is a model for that. It’s a good place.

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