Final Sale

June 24th, 2007 | By Neal Menschel and Samantha Broun

Sherwin's Clover Farm Store

Sherwin’s Clover Farm Store

WATCH View Final Sale – 6:30
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About Final Sale

When Winthrop “Winnie” Sherwin announced that he was retiring and closing his store, I knew I wanted to document it. I had lived in West Groton, home of Sherwin Brothers Clover Farm Store, for about twenty years. My children, now grown, had gone to a four-room schoolhouse up the road from the store. After school, they would walk to Sherwin’s and buy penny candy from Winnie or from his sister, Helen, who also worked there. It seems a little Norman Rockwell, and it was. Besides the candy, my kids absorbed the sense of community that centered in Winnie’s store.

I started hanging around Sherwin’s and taking pictures in October, 2006. Whether it was about world politics or local burial plots, the conversation and constant banter between Winnie and his customers was always lively and I realized that adding an audio component to the project would give it a whole other dimension. That’s when I contacted Sam.

Winnie Sherwin
Winnie Sherwin

Over the next two months, Sam and I spent time interviewing, photographing, and hanging out at Sherwin’s. In December, we recorded the final minutes of Winnie’s last day in the store. In the end, one of the most challenging parts of the process was assembling the photos and sound so that they enhanced rather than competed with each other. In our first draft of the piece, photos and sound seemed to drain each other of their messages. We’ve done several drafts since then and we think we finally got it right.

We’re grateful to Winnie, Helen and the people of West Groton who so gracefully accepted us — along with my camera and Sam’s microphone — into the midst of their daily routine.

This is our first multimedia work for the web. Consider us hooked.

Tech Info

Neal began taking snapshots with a digital point and shoot for the first week until Winnie and his customers got used to him taking photos. Once he felt he had become more of a fixture, he started using digital SLRs. The photos were edited and minor adjustments were made using Aperture.

Sam used a Sharp MT877 mini disc recorder with a Beyer 58 microphone. She edited in ProTools.

The multimedia was created using the original version of Soundslides.

About Neal Menschel

Neal Menschel has been a photojournalist for the past thirty years. He is presently the director of the photography track at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, ME. Prior to Salt, Neal was the Director of Photography and Senior Photographer at the Christian Science Monitor in Boston, MA. As a freelancer his clients included The New York Times, WGBH-Boston, MIT, Tufts, WBZ, Front Line, Newsweek, People, Geo, and others. Besides fervently exploring multimedia, Neal still freelances. He is working on a book about families of West Virginia with his writer/radio producer daughter, Molly.

Sam and Neal

Samantha Broun and Neal Menschel

About Samantha Broun

Samantha Broun earned degrees in Sociology and Education and worked with youth for 15 years before going to the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies to study radio. She now happily lives and works in Woods Hole, MA where she is an independent producer/editor with Atlantic Public Media,, and WCAI. And, where every day is a radio day.

Additional support for this work provided by
Open Studio Project

with funding from
Corporation for Public Prodcasting

35 Comments on “Final Sale”

  • Ibby Caputo says:
    minor adjustments

    This was really great.

    Neil, what sort of adjustments were made to the photos on Aperture?

    Sam, what was it like for you collecting sound in this environment? Did you find that you also had to become a fixture in the store? And was this a difficult task considering how close you have to get your microphone to people when they talk?


  • John Barclay says:
    A moving moment captured in time..

    This is a wonderful piece that you have both captured. It created emotion in me that was surprising for having just met these dear folks over the span of 6 minutes. I felt sad at the end with a lump in my throat… Really great images and a great edit of the story Sam. :)

  • Elizabeth White says:
    Nice Moment


    You created a great dynamic between the sound and the images – very skillfully maneuvered.

    To take one example: the sequence of the sister turning off the light (which starts with 0:47 remaining). You hear the "last sale" exchange starting in black, so the viewer is focused on the audio, which is very poignant – "$1" – nice. Then you go to an image that’s graphically very beautiful, but doesn’t have a strong subject (i.e. you’re eye is caught by the shadows and contrast, not so much a facial expression or a narrative situation), so this keeps the attention on the audio: "have you’ve been waiting all day to that?" – great. Then you timed the series of the sister switching off the light to the sound of the door closing. She stretches up to turn off the light, the door creeks back on it’s hinges, then slam, and the light is off. And of course, the narrative coming out is gold: "everything done, everything done, I’m bushed, bushed" – what great repetition.


  • rachel Al says:
    HI SAM



    SO NOT T V




  • Jeff Barclay says:
    Wonderful piece

    Captivating audio very skilfully blended with stunning images. Your timing was right on. Great work Sam.

    Jeff Barclay

  • Ronan Kelly says:
    Pacing & Real World

    Lovely piece – sound and pictures.

    Watching it, though, perhaps because they were stills, I kept feeling that I wanted to control the slideshow myself.

    The audio I was quite happy to let flow – we’re used to that; but with stills, we usually click to the next picture. It’s something I’ll have to get used to.

    One other thing: Where to next for them? Why no buyers? I bit more of the reality of their situation might have made it less "Norman Rockwell".

    Having said that ‘thank you’ for a charming prelude before the day’s work.

    Ronan Kelly,
    RTE Radio,

  • John Barclay says:

    I did not have that feeling at all (control of the stills). In fact I believe the stills made the piece that much stronger. Video would have detracted. Stills helped me become invested in the piece rather than participate as an observer.

    I do agree with your "one other thing"… I wanted to know more about why the legacy was not carried on… Maybe the next piece will tell that story?


  • bruceschimmel says:
    Who did he sell it to, and why?

    Nice sense of place, nostaligic, sweet. But I keep wondering why they had to sell the place. And who’s buying it? Or did I miss that?

    thanks, Bruce

  • Jake Warga says:
    Bye bye small-town America

    Good job, all previous compliments apply with the addition of: Thank you for not doing the "ken burns" effect (slow crawl into an image or across). It’s SO done with.
    Thanks for getting him to say “Car” and “Yard” in same sentence, the ultimate challenge for an interviewer in the East.
    Good shots: details of dusty images on shelf, the abandoned interior end, sequence of turning off light (last one out always turns off the light).
    Bye bye small-town America, decline as slow as molasses, but not as sweet.

  • Sue Mell says:

    Lovely, lovely, lovely–very moving.

  • Elizabeth White says:
    Likes, Dislikes, Ideas

    I agree with Jake Warga about the Ken Burns effect. In slideshows I find it distracting and arbitrary, rather than "dynamic".

    I also liked the shots of the products on the shelf. However, I wanted to see more of them. I think that would have been a nice time to do a visual catalougue, a kind of inventory of the store. The piece focuses on the human experience of the store, and the owner’s relationship with his costumers and neighbors – but he also spent seventy years stocking those shelves!

    I really like the use of the black slide in transitioning. But it seemed to get a little routine and less meaningful as it happened over and over. I think of the black slide as a way to declare difference between (major) movements in the piece – more like the start of new chapter, rather than a paragraph break. I’d be curious to hear about your logic in using it as you did.

    I thought the archival photo at the beginning was perfect. Sure, he says he’s worked there for 70 years, but the picture does so much to make the reality and enormity of that statement felt.

  • Neal Menschel says:
    Final Sale

    Hello, this is Neal, the photographer on "Final Sale."

    Thank you all for your comments, encouraging and helpful. Now, to answer a few questions and then a few comments:

    Winnie has run the "Sherwin Brother’s Store for seventy years. His brother passed on several years ago and it has been he and his sister Helen since then. He is eighty-eight years old and makes it clear that it was time to move on. We knew that by ending the show ambiguously with the gutted building it would leave questions in the viewers minds, and add a certain sadness to the situation of closing. The epilogue is that Winnie, without advertising sold the store to someone that he felt would successfully continue the business, and at the same time maintain it as a center for the community and neighborhood. The store has been completely renovated, it was beautifully done, and has reopened and is humming along very well. Winnie and Helen were there for the opening, and were delighted and impressed with the "new store."

    It is interesting hearing people’s comments about video vs stills. I maintain that we retain stills in our memory, whereas video can be fleeting. That three to five second screen time allows the viewer to process, initiate understandings, and make connections. As for the Ken Burns effect, I can see a place for it in a limited way. I recently read that video (and I apply it here to a slide show) should work like the human eye, which does not zoom or pan, but should be a mix of tight, medium, wide, and very tight shots.

    As far as adjustments in Aperture for the photographs, it was limited mostly to exposure, color balance, and occasional contrast adjustments. Probably less then what would have been done in a wet darkroom. I periodically add sharpening, and only rarely burn or dodge in Photoshop.

    Sam is really the main editor of the final slide show. We originally edited in the photographs together, and ended up with way to many images. It was cut down to less then half to give the audio some breathing room, then Sam added the black slides to give it even more room and to allow for transitions between scenes and characters. It also, as someone stated, allows the viewer to concentrate on the audio before having to deal with deciphering an image. In the end, it flows, and the images and audio do not fight for your attention. (It has been pointed out to me that perhaps, the left side of the brain can only do one thing at a time.)

  • Steve Young says:
    Multiple Edits

    The first time I saw/heard this piece I was absolutely stunned by its beauty, its emotional depth, its sense of story and completeness. I still am but it’s gone through some revisions (I’m lucky enough to work in the same building as Sam and the Transom folks). The only change I’ll mention (rather pointless to bring up first drafts) is that there were a lot more photos in the first one and the tempo of the photo sequence was faster. I very much liked this effect, especially with the scene of the kids at the counter and the banter over change. The sequence included shots of all their faces and hands from different angles around the dialogue. To me, using still photos and audio this way to recreate a scene negates (or transcends) the need for video which,as they say, always shows us too much. I respect your reasons for deleting this (not wanting to get in each others’ way, I guess?). But I thought it quite artful and I would advocate more experimentation with that.
    Otherwise, beautiful work, Sam and Neal.

  • Samantha Broun says:
    collecting tape, epilogues and black slides

    Thank you for all the feedback. When Neal and I set out to do this piece, we did so simply as a way to learn about multimedia. That the piece has found a home here on Transom and that we get to hear all of your feedback is more than I, anyway, had expected. So thank you.

    Ibby, you asked what it was like collecting tape. It was remarkably easy. In part, I think it was because I was able to spend three days in the store over about six weeks. The regulars got used to seeing me there. But even those who weren’t regulars seemed surprisingly comfortable with me standing there recording their conversations or transactions. And Winnie was a natural narrator. When I stood with him at the counter he would – without me requesting it – just lean over and tell me (and my mic) who was coming up the front steps – gold!

    Several people have asked about an epilogue. Neal and I talked about whether to add one – even just adding a slide with text about what’s happened to the store. I wonder if an epilogue would soften the punch of one point of the piece – which, as Jake pointed out, is the slow disappearance of places like Sherwin’s in America. There’s also the question of when do you stop telling the story? Thoughts?

    And about the black slides…after making several versions of the piece in SoundSlides, it still felt to me as if the images and sound were creating dissonance with each other. It felt like I couldn’t see or hear everything that was there. It made me hold my breath. That’s when we came up with the idea of using a black slide. For me, the black slides don’t so much mark new sections of the piece or new paragraphs as they encourage breath. They allow me to see and hear more. I realize that ultimately the black slides take away time and space from Neal’s photographs – how do you feel about that Neal?

    I do agree that there is a fine line. Too much blackness can make you squirm waiting for the next photo. Ben Shapiro, what insights do you have to share about black slides in multimedia? The fades to black in the opening sequence of San Soleil work so well. Why?

  • Lisa T. says:
    The Ending

    Sam and Neil,
    I heard the audio portion of Final Sale back in January, I think, and was a bit skeptical about the slide show, thinking the pictures would get in the way of the words and my mental images. Instead the audio and the images leave room for each other. The images define the space and let me see the characters while the audio sets the pace and reveals the plot. There’s room/time for my mind to take in the images and wrap around the words. Nice job.

    The Ending
    When the door squeaks shut and we see Winnie locking up it’s clear that this is the end of an era not just a store. And, like the intro says, I felt like I was remembering the event. The image fades to black and I have a moment to think about what I’ve heard/seen and feel a bit nostalgic but not really sad. Then the final image immerges and pulls me into the future and that future is bleak. If you added an epilogue saying everything turned out ok (the store has reopened looking better than before…) it would be a very different piece more hopeful but maybe too sweet.

  • Eldad says:

    Just wonderful and so moving, a master piece.
    Thank you very much.
    Eldad Benary
    Saugerties New York

  • Dave Isay says:
    Great Work!

    This is a beautiful piece, skillfully done. I loved it. Bravo!
    PS- One slight comment- would have ended it at "I’m bushed" –> door closing.

  • Viki Merrick says:
    Brain blinking

    I am constantly curious about the competition between eye and ear. Generally I find in myself that the eye dominates the ear with possible facts and verifying things I’ve imagined or conjured by the visual information, instead listening asks me to go to the picture place in my brain and quickly fashion something…I get to choose whether WInnie wears a boater or not ( and of course he does…) I’ve watched this several times as a sounding board and now listening without objective, I still am grateful to the "black slide" – like blinking it gives me a quick brain sorbet or sometimes the tease of anticipation- but most importantly it dilutes the competition of senses. I am amazed that I am still buoyed around in the sea of eye and ear – moved by the fragile flush in Winnie’s face to his tender "new-comah" quip.

    Sam I’m curious after the long labor, do you have any thoughts of how you’d do things differently? Neal? I know you two are planning to do another project, would you use the same "every man for himself" approach and then compare treasures?

  • Viki Merrick says:
    Everything will happen here

    David Isay…you wouldn’t REALLY leave that last sentence on the floor would you?

  • Nubar says:
    Black Slides

    Excellent piece you guys! Wonderul story.

    There is always the question of competing imagery between audio and visuals, especially when still images are involved. Sam, you ask about the effectiveness of black slides, which I think can be very effective. When the audio is creating an image for the listener/viewer, I think it’s very important for still imagery not to compete. This may mean going to black and allowing us to create our own image from the audio first, or going to extreme close ups of other things that help to fill out what we’re hearing.

    Generally speaking, when still images simply illustrate a story we’re listening to, form overwhelms content in the multimedia experience and is often weakened because of it.

    For example, I might have started with the last image, of the empty store, as the first image in the show and filled the store up, trying to create a kind of dream-like visual sequence working against the linear narrative of the audio portion of the piece. There’s no way to tell whether this would work without trying it. But the audience could be looking at that image (and possibly others from that same take) and wonder what went on in that space, while at the same time hearing what went on. How many times have we walked into empty rooms and wondered what went on there? This question could be one way to approach the audio/visual experience without one medium simply illustrating the other.

  • Neal Menschel says:
    "Every man for himself?"

    Because my home was two minutes from Winnie’s store, and Sam’s was two hours, I ended up hanging out there more often, and in situations where Sam was not at hand. I was also present and shooting when Sam was recording. Also, the store was closing in weeks, and time for closer collaboration was limited. Circumstances somewhat dictated the "panning for gold" style and the independent gathering of images and sound. This was not ideal, and contributed, in part, to the "long labor."

    I think audio is the foundation for a good multimedia show. Everything is built on that. And of course excellent documentary photography is needed to do the sound justice. Snapshot style photographs just won’t do. In the 1980′s,I worked on dozens of old school multimedia shows with multiple 35mm projectors and computer-synched audio tracks. We nearly always had a shot list, and rarely started shooting without a fairly hashed out, if not complete, script in hand.

    Our next project will be more extended, require actual research in the documentary tradition, and will be much more of a coordinated collaboration. Time in the field will, most likely, always be as a team.

  • Neal Menschel says:
    Black Slides

    Thank you. I like the idea of not simply "illustrating" a story. After all, besides content and/or data, the power of imagery is to give a sense of how "things feel."

    The literary journalist in me is concerned about the ability of the left side of the brain to do two things at once. Watching a multimedia piece seems to be a process of deciphering, sound and images. In six minutes, that unscrambling process has to happen quickly and seemingly simultaneously. Things can get "very busy," and it might be useful to keep the multiple messages simple, to the point, and allowing them to "breath," that is, easily decipherable. I’m not advocating a dumbing down style, I do feel that stories can be somewhat literal, and poetic at the same time.

    All this opens me up to more experimentation on the next project.

  • John Barclay says:
    Black Slides? Where to end?

    All subjective in my mind. In the end it is the editors choice and is neither right or wrong. I am fine with where it ended as it left me the choice of what happened. Though I did not watch the Sopranos I did hear the massive reaction to their ending and found just as many who LOVED it as HATED it. I think this illustrates my point that it is a choice. If you go with what your gut/heart is telling you I think you will always succeed.

    I would not mind seeing a companion piece to this that starts with the last empty store scene and then tells the story of the renovated store and it’s new owners… :)

    The Images… I am a photographer and stink at "documentary" style images especially of people! I so enjoyed these brilliant images and have been inspired to "stretch" my vision in an effort to be more successful in something other than "nature" photography. Thank you Neal for your wonderful work.


  • Jesse Dukes says:
    Ground Swell

    I loved this of course and am enjoying the discussion. In a recent post, Neal, you say that you used to work on these with analog slide projectors synched, using computers, to the audio. When was this? Was there an audience? Were there screenings?

    This is exciting to me as a possible answer to the question what’s next. As the internet becomes ascendant as the primary delivery system for audio and visual content (instead of newspapers, the radio, movie theaters), still images and audio appear to be a great way to embrace the change and take advantage of what the web has to offer. I’ve appreciated what the NY Times and Globe have done along the lines, but haven’t really been blown away by any of it yet.

    Final Sale is awfully good, and even still, it raises questions about even better ways of collaborating and telling the story. I look forward to more.

  • Melissa Allison says:

    I love this piece. It makes me long for something I’m not even sure I’ve ever had. Great work- Neal and Sam.

    I am a total neophyte in all matters multimedia…but with all the high-tech options available for merging, I sort of love the old-school feel of the slide show. It just seems like the right choice for some stories. It stays out of the way. Not to Flashy. (bad pun intended).

    Still…if you were doing another piece like this, would you try something new? What would that be?

  • Janet Shea says:
    Final Sale

    Great job Neal and Sam. Sure do miss the morning meetings with Win and the gang. The store reopening, new and revamped (with the old fashioned appeal) is nice and has brought lots more traffic into our village square. Thank you for saving the last day with the ‘Final Sale’ production. Yes, even after 40 years, this newbie appreciates your efforts and I look forward to sharing this with my daughter. Thanks, Janet, the witty knitter

  • Samantha Broun says:
    The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

    Nubar’s suggestion of putting the last slide first is an interesting one. It makes my head spin – in a good way. I would say one goal with multimedia is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and that you want the parts to be really good in their own right. I’d like to think that in a multimedia piece photos and sound don’t have to follow the same linear progression in order to work together. It’s a challenge worth considering. Thanks, Nubar.

    Melissa asked if we’d try something other than SoundSlides for future pieces. I think I would ultimately like to learn Flash – for all its possibilities. But rather than jump to that, as a next step I’d like to try the new SoundSlides Plus which does a bunch more stuff than the basic version of SoundSlides we used. Plus came out just as we finished this piece.

  • Amy O'Leary says:
    Your production process?

    Sam & Neal!

    Thank you so much for this wonderful story. A great example of layered audio, and strongly matched images in multimedia. Which is harder to do than it looks! I just started working in newspapers and am doing a lot more multimedia work, and have some basic process questions for you as I’m trying to wrap my brain around this new medium:

    1) How did the two of you negotiate recording sound and shooting photos at the same time? We often have the problem of hearing the "click" of a camera shutter in the tape. Can you just turn off that shutter sound on most digital cameras these days?

    2) How much pre-game planning did you do? Did you agree in advance on scenes you would document?

    3) How many photographs were shot, how many made it in the first cut, and how many made it in the final edit?

    4) How many hours of sound was gathered vs. used?

    5) Once you had some material, did either one of you have to go back and reshoot or rerecord to fill in narrative gaps… trying to collect enough material to match visual/audio elements?

    6) What, for you, determined the length of the piece? 6+ minutes seems right for a nice radio feature, but did you have any discussions about how long someone would view a piece on the web?

    Again, really nice work. I think it’s a great example of using sound richly in a multimedia piece.

    Thanks so much,
    Amy O’Leary

  • Samantha Broun says:
    From Neal

    Thank you for the positive comments.

    Here are some answers to some of the questions.

    Camera noise is always an issue when working with sound. There are a variety of ways to deal with this. Since there was a fair amount of activity going on in the store, Sam and I were often in different places. If Sam was getting good audio I would bide my time or work on something away from the recording. It takes understanding and sensitivity to each others craft, plus time, patience and some concessions. Use of a short shotgun mike helps lesson and often eliminate the click. Conversely, the recordist has to know when to move out of the way and pull the mike back so as not to interfere with the photographer’s framing. It’s sort of a dance. Turning the click off is an interesting concept as there are some excellent high-end point and shoot cameras that you can turn the click off and might be useful in certain situations.

    This whole project had a life of its own dictated by Sam’s availability and travel time, and the fact that the store was closing on a specific date. We talked about events, but we could have done more planning. Mostly we scrambled to get enough material so that in the end we could put something together that had a story line, and made sense. Not ideal, but we learned from it.

    I shot about 700 photos, that is the equivalent to about 20 rolls of 35mm film. This was edited to about 300 keepers. The first run through gave us a slide show with about 75 images. It was way too busy, much to difficult to watch while listening to the spoken words and making sense out of them. The final piece has around half the number of photos, plus some black slides that Sam put in to give it some breathing room and allow the viewer to keep up with the audio.

    Time was a factor limiting the possibility of going back to fill in holes. I think part it was also a sense of trust for the other person’s professionalism; confident that they had milked the situation for what was there.

    On a final note, I feel that you can have great photos, but a poor audio track will distract from them. I think you would be better off with a gallery and captions. In the same way, an excellent audio track can be substantially diminished with poor quality photos. They both have to be strong, and combined in such a way so as not for one to distract from the other.

  • Samantha Broun says:

    Yes, thanks for the questions, Amy. The previous responses are actually from Neal – who was having trouble posting – so I posted for him. Here’s what I’d add to what he’s already said:

    I agree with Neal. Collaborating with someone who works in a different medium requires a sort of telescoping of awareness. In this situation, for me – as the person collecting tape – that meant that I was attentive to the people I was interviewing; that I was aware of what else was happening in the room that I might want to capture and that I was also aware of Neal – where he was or wanted to be.

    We didn’t do much pre-game planning at all. In fact, I remember before we walked into the store together for the first time we agreed that we wouldn’t shadow each other. Rather, we’d each collect stuff and see what we ended up with. I don’t know that such a loose game plan would work in most situations. After our final day in the store, after we had collected all the tape and photos we were going to collect, Neal generously suggested that I make the audio piece first. That, in this case anyway, the audio would lead.

    I think I gathered about 6 or 7 hours of tape. Crazy, I know, but I’m glad I did. We didn’t agree on scenes. Once I listened to all the tape, it seemed most logical to structure the piece over the course of a day. Neither of us went back to re-shoot or re-record anything. Although because Neal was living up the street, he was able to take photos as the new owners emptied out the space to re-hab it. The last photograph in the slideshow comes from that time.

    Neal and I did talk about length. Our goal was for something under ten minutes because we figured that was about as long as anyone would spend watching a slideshow on this topic and because then the audio would be somewhere near a reasonable length to get aired on the radio.

    – San

  • Damian says:
    Wonderfully rich

    What a rich, layered piece. Beautiful photographs and the sounds do truly let you into the store. An important capturing of an obviously important place. Nice work.
    Damian Ewens

  • Diane Colchamiro says:
    Moving piece

    I was very moved my this story. The intimate nature of the piece brought me back to when I was a kid. I would stay with my grandmother on the North side of Chicago all sumer long and every candy shop in her neighborhood was like this, owned by the same people who started the shop and who lived in the neighborhood. I’m glad you did this piece about an event that is seemingly ordinary but so significant. Both the sound and photography was excellent. What kind of audio equipment did you use?

  • Kim Graham says:

    This was my Uncle Winnie and Aunt Helen. They have had several successful businesses in their lifetime, including Racing horses.

    This store was their child (per say) They raised it, until it had grown as much as it could under their thumb.

    Uncle Winnie and Aunt Helen are still active and my mom Barbara Carrington visits them every year. She is their little niece and she is 80 yrs old and still going strong.

    May God Bless them.

    Kim Graham

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