Everything is closing.
Twenty years ago, my aunt and uncle and their toddler moved to the town I live in now. When they did, there was hardly a town here, but there was or would soon be The Market. The Market sold specialty foods, locally baked goods, hard to find produce, and quality meat. It was an anomaly in a town primarily served by major chain grocery stores and coney-style restaurants.
Operative word = “was”
Two weeks ago, they rearranged the letters on their reader board from advertising the week’s special to announcing everything was on sale. They were closing.
I am sad, though I never personally shopped there. I meant to, but I never made it in there. I don’t even know why I never went there – I used to frequent the local bakery and butcher shop where we lived before the tot was born. Still, I don’t think it much matters. My three or four small purchases in a year, if that many, would not have kept them afloat. They needed more than that and the town did not deliver.
It’s not the town’s fault. The town is merely reacting to the inevitable truth that the state’s economy is slow. Slooooooooow. Dying, maybe. At least it seems to be in this area where so many people have been laid off. When a family has less money to spend on groceries and gas, shopping trips must get more frugal. Fewer stops closer to home, cheaper items in the basket. Less fresh produce and meat, sale coffee instead of gourmet, store brand cereal.
And it’s not just The Market. Not long ago, we had a lovely Italian restaurant open. It closed in about a year. Under a year, maybe. It was right in town, but on the edge where the parking is better. The building was original and beautiful and the inside was elegant yet casual enough not to scare off this town’s family set. But they’re closed. Two days ago on the other side of town, I noticed a sign in the window of what used to be the dollar store (it closed years ago and the store front has been vacant all this time) announcing it will be opening next year as a pasta and pizza kitchen.
I want to write the entrepreneurs to tell them I’m anticipating great things for this town, for that strip, but all I can think to say to them would be: “Don’t bother. If you like the money in your pocket, don’t bother. Come back in ten years and try again.”
I would tell them to look at the vacant storefronts through this town, look at the businesses that have closed lately, and ask them to notch that interminable optimism down. But I am sure they have looked. I’m sure they’ve studied the town, and if they haven’t, then it’s their bad move, not mine. If they can see through the losses, good for them. I can’t.
The children’s resale shop, a video store, the dollar store, the market, our favorite family restaurant, the consignment shop, the electronics shop, the plumbing supply company, the art and picture framing shop, a pizza place, a daycare, a real estate office, an exercise place, and others I’m sure I haven’t noticed. And these are just in my small town, but this pattern is the same as in our neighboring towns. It’s everywhere.
So, what’s next? Who will be the next business to lock their doors for the last time? The independently owned bookstore? Please no. The independently owned toy and doll shop? It’s been here as long as the town has, so I have to hope it can withstand another economic drought, but I’m nearing the end of my hope. The furniture store? The knitting supply shop? The independently owned restaurants, hair salons, hardware store, bike shop, and flooring store? If they can survive in the face of the all-chain, all-the-time influx the town is seeing, I’ll be surprised. Happy, but surprised.
I suppose I should apologize for the pessimism. It’s just that the daily onslaught of these failures has compounded recently with other, closer to home examples of our economy biting the big one. Our house, for instance, just appraised at 20% below what it was valued at 3 years ago. One of my students, a smart, likable, hardworking man in his 40s, just approached me with a conundrum. He was laid off this month, but he has already interviewed at a place that would like to hire him. This turnaround is nearly unheard of in his industry currently, but there is a conflict with school. They require him to attend an orientation that will take place during our last class of the semester. He came to me to ask me if his presence in class that night was necessary. If it was, he said, he’d skip the orientation – he’d pass on the job. He didn’t want to, he said, but he’d do it if I required him to be in class next week.
I told him not to come. We made arrangements to get me the work due that day through other means. Who am I to shut him down?
And so it goes. We are stuck in a house we’d rather not live in, but at least we have a house. We are stuck in a town that is turning ever more white-bread, but at least we have enough money for gas to drive to other towns where there is more than banks, drug stores, and coneys. We are stuck in a town in a state built on an industry (automobile) that is gangrenous, but at least we are not in that industry – we could move and get jobs and survive if we needed to.
At least we have jobs. At least we have our health. At least, at least, at least.