The New Year And The Old Economy:
A Time To Reflect On Change

Accessing your resourcefulness may lead 
to a more plentiful and contented life

Robert Wozniak

© Copyright 2009 by Robert Wozniak


So much of middle class America is stressed out these days. We all hope for a better
future. Some of us wish we had done things differently and many of us know of friends
or family who have started to experience our economic recession.

I still believe Americans are resourceful by nature and not beyond making big changes
when it seems that such change is what is required. Collectively, our nation made a big
change with the recent election. Time will tell if it was big enough to revitalize our
economy and change some of our bad habits. But still, our nation’s people are

On a more person note, I write these thoughts as an opportunity to tell my story of
economic crisis and change. I have a family now, a mortgage, a mom who needs a loan
occasionally, a kid’s college education to think about and a dream of a vacation house in
warmer climates. After 15 years of selling out-of-print academic books to universities
and professors around the world, after benefiting from the invention of internet
commerce and, and suffering from Google’s aim to digitize all the books of
the world, I was ready for a change that could incorporate my desire for the American
dream and my concern for the preservation of the environment.

In 2003 my wife Alicia and I bought our building on Northampton Street in downtown
Easton Pennsylvania. At the time, the second floor was 20 ft wide and 220 feet long, a
narrow empty 4400 sq ft rectangle without dividing walls, heat or living space. Today our
business Easton Yoga ( is on the first floor and we have renovated the
second floor into our residence. Still with more than 10,000 sq ft of building we have
plans to renovate more of the building for both Easton Yoga as well as the residence.

As I started restoring my building, there were a few things I really could not do. I hired
plumbers and electricians and occasionally a carpenter. And I learned that there are good
contractors and bad. I hired a brick mason to do some emergency repairs on my building
and was disappointed by the end result. Sure, nobody but me was likely to ever see the
repair but this was the first property I had ever owned and I felt an obligation to care for
this 1860’s building and to save it for future generations. It was important to have repairs
done carefully but finding the people to do that was not so simple

I used to walk around Easton and wonder about what had happened to the brick buildings
of this town, my own included. I wondered if the brick was bad or perhaps the steel mills
of Bethlehem had somehow caused terrible acid rain. I noticed a lot of people choosing
to paint their brick every few years rather than trying to restore their buildings. I noticed
brick face stucco everywhere and aluminum siding over brick. None of this made sense
from an aesthetic perspective let alone the impact it was having on the buildings.

I was hitting the internet looking for information on brick restoration and the cost of
stucco as an alternative to repairing the brick on my own building. What I found
suggested that the type of mortar used to repair a building mattered a whole lot more than
I had imagined and that a lot of the damage to brick in Easton was actually because of
poor repair work to the original old lime mortar, not acid rain.

Using the Internet I found mortar recipes and general suggestions of how to repoint a
building. Knowing very little, but with the voice of an estimator telling me that I needed
to replace 2,000 bricks before I could even consider a $35,000 stucco job still ringing in
my head, I bought some sand in bags from Home Depot, some white Portland cement and
Type S Hydrated lime from Eastern Supply a local masonry supply house. I attempted
repointing but I soon realized the limits of the Internet for educational purposes – at least
for the moment.

In 2006 I came across an Internet ad for a lime mortar workshop hosted by US Heritage
in Chicago. ( The advertisement for the workshop claimed that if you are not totally
satisfied with the knowledge you will gain from the first day of the workshop, they will
give you a refund and pay for your travel. ) They sounded pretty sure of themselves and
the workshop was within walking distance of a cousin’s house on the north side of
Chicago. I had a place to stay and an opportunity to catch up with family even if the
workshop turned out to be worthless.

As it turned out, it was anything but worthless. What blew my mind at this workshop
was the story of the history of the use of lime in building and repair of masonry buildings
and its untimely demise with the invention of Portland cement and the modern
engineered building industry. In the course of just a generation, the traditions and use of
building with lime were replaced by a faster, harder, cheaper, stronger steel and cement
that changed the way buildings were built. A tradition that had a history going back to at
least 11,000 B.C. had vanished in a moment of time… or almost vanished.

Back home in Easton I began to use my newfound knowledge from US Heritage to repair
my own building. What I found was an inner peace that I had not felt in my career for a
long time. I continued to repair our building, mostly in our yoga studio where we added
three rooms for therapeutic massage and another bathroom. Our yoga business, under the
guidance of my wife Alicia, grew at more than 50% in 2007. But my book business did
not. Despite the fact that the Internet had allowed so many more people to buy books
from so many different places around the world, booksellers like myself were in a price
war, a race to the bottom on the Internet, a form of deflation that ruined a centuries old
business in the course of a few years.

In April 2007 I officially started Preservation Works Ltd. ( A
name that suggests preservation does in fact work as a system of principles by which a
building can be restored correctly so as to prolong the useful life of the building.
Restoration in general and historic restoration in particular is the greenest most
environmentally sensitive form of construction because the building already exists and its
carbon footprint has already been created. Lime mortar brick and stone buildings use
natural materials designed for very long life. Brick buildings are generally thought to
have a usable life of about 350 years. Lime mortar is particularly green and the process
of making it is surprising simple. Lime stone (calcium carbonate, CaCO3) is kilned at
more than 900 degrees Celsius which causes the water (H20) and Carbon Dioxide (C02)
to be released. The kilned limestone becomes quicklime (Calcium Oxide or CaO) .
Water is then added back into the quicklime to create lime putty or calcium hydroxide
(Ca(OH)2). Lime putty is added to sand to create mortar and once the mortar is in the
wall and starting to cure it does so by absorbing carbon dioxide and turns back into
limestone. Eventually, the mortar will have absorbed virtually 100% of the CO2 it lost
during the kiln process thereby making it carbon neutral and really handy for building.

Three of my first four projects in the summer and fall of 2007 were far more difficult
than I imagined. I priced the projects by the seat of my pants. Each project took longer
than I planned and I got heat stroke one day and fell down a flight of stairs another. Still,
it was a good first year. My projects from 2007 look good. I was becoming a saver of
old buildings and homes that were cherished by their owners.

In 2008 I continued to hone my skills on projects in Philadelphia, Bucks County and
Easton. What I continue to discover is that much of the traditions really were lost to the
fast pace of our modern times. The nature of the building industry for the last few
generations is mostly about speed and cost. There is no longer time to learn about the
traditional building techniques that can take a little longer and sometimes cost a little
more. Therefore when repairs are done on these old traditional buildings, the skilled and
qualified modern construction worker becomes unknowledgeable and often inflicts costly
damage to bricks, stone, slate roofs, windows, woodwork or plaster among other

I am only in the early stages of reinventing my lot in life and the future of Preservation
Works Ltd. I do hope to expand the business to involve crafts persons knowledgeable in
other aspects of historic restoration. I have taken the first steps to understanding
repointing and repair of historic masonry but the process takes years of practice and
openness to learn from others. I turn 40 years old this year and I figure I have a good 40
to 60 years of work ahead of me if I stay healthy and take my own yoga classes. Plus,
who is really considering retirement at the moment?

Perhaps nothing ever does stay the same and that is an essential life lesson. Occasionally,
we are struck with a crisis be it health or economy, be it our nation, our family or our
selves, it is best if we rise to the occasion and make some changes. Then, we put our
faith in something greater than ourselves and wait to see what happens.

Robert Wozniak lives in Easton Pennsylvania with his family. He grew up in
Minnesota and in suburban Philadelphia. He graduated from La Salle University in
Philadelphia. He paid his way through college working in well known Philadelphia
restaurants like Under the Blue Moon and The White Dog Café. In 1994 he became a
second-generation antiquarian bookseller taking over a business his father had started in
1976. In 1999 he moved from Brooklyn NY with his book business to Easton PA to
escape the rising cost of living in NYC. In Easton, Rob fell in love with the town and the
people finding them open and honest and friendly with a bit more time on their hands
than his friends in NYC. He also found love and married shortly after.  He is still very
happy and very in love.

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