Monday, August 27, 2007

Everything Must Go

I walked by Thriftee tonight for one last look.

I've been going to this discount store on Fifth Avenue ever since I could walk, so I wanted to see it one more time before it disappeared.

For weeks I've been reading the handwritten sign in the window: "After 62 Years...goodbye!"

There's another sign up there tonight, this one in Arabic, reflecting the change in the neighborhood's population.

The number 62 appears in this sign as well, so maybe it's a variation on the original farewell message.

The windows were shuttered and there was one light on inside. I peered through the glass door and saw the owner, a rotound fellow whose shining bald pate was ringed with white hair, spoke with an earnest young man.

The younger man was holding something in his hand. I thought it might have been a tape recorder, perhaps this guy was reporter getting the Thriftee story for future generations.

But then again, it might have been a cell phone and this guy could have been the building's new owner.

Like a lot of small businesses in this city, Thriftee couldn't keep up with the spiraling rent. So the store that opened when FDR was in the White House and while my father and millions of others were fighting in World War II will close its doors forever.

Let's be honest, Thritee was always the place to go when you wanted to get stuff cheap. These wasn't well-crafted, high quality items. This was low rent--you should pardon the expression.

For years I'd go in there just before taking a long trip and buy new socks, underwear, razors and toothpaste. Even if I didn't need these things, I couldn't start a vacation unless I made a stop at Thriftee.

Around the holidays I always stopped in Thriftee to get light bulbs and tinsel, always more tinsel, for the Christmas tree.

I did my last shopping there on Saturday, picking up three t-shirts and a pair of notebooks. I always love buying new notebooks, convinced that these are the blank pages upon which I will write my great novel, or play, or screenplay, or one-man show, and begin a new life of wealth and fame.

I actually got only one notebook, but when the cashier told me it was buy one get one free I sprinted back to the stationery section and picked up my freebie. I may be slow cranking out that novel, but I respect a good sale.

Here's Your Change, What's Your Hurry?

For some reason I think there should be more to mark this occassion instead of just switching off the lights and pulling down the last metal shutter.

I'd like to see some kind of media coverage, beyond the local papers; the TV stations should be here and the city should issue a proclamation declaring that for more than six decades this store sold...a lot of inexpensive stuff.

Jesus, the satellite trucks were all over the place when the tornado hit a few weeks ago. We've got another tornado going on, only it's going so slowly you're liable to miss it--until it's too late.

On the way over to Thriftee I had to walk by a local men's store that's also shutting down. The place is just about empty now and some men were removing the last boxes of shirts while a young worker swept the floor.

This place had the "going out of business" sign, too, but I get a little cynical. I'm so used to seeing these signs at stores that never actually shut their doors, I've come to doubt their veracity.

It's kind of like a band's farewell tour that keeps on going. But these people aren't kidding. These stores are going, going, gone.

This place was nowhere near as old as Thriftee, but it's got at least 10 years to its name. I went in there a long time and got two new suits that I still wear for job interviews.

I recall trying one of them on and the young, very short Hispanic man waiting on me nodded his approval.

"You look like a million dollar man," he said in heavily accented English.

I took my father in there on the day of my mother's wake to get him some new clothes. The pants needed to be shortened so we went over to John's Tailoring, which is across the street from Thriftee and which also closed this summer.

I was getting nervous, certain we were going to be late for my mother's wake, nearly as bad as being late for your own funeral. But we managed to get there on time. I'm thinking now that maybe my dad was buried in that suit.

John's was in business for 34 years and the owner was this very nice Greek lady who decided to retire.

In no time at all the furniture store next to her business bought the property, knocked down the wall and expanded into John's space. If you're new to the neighborhood, you'd never know there was such a place.

Again, after all that time there, I'd like to see some kind of acknowledgement that the place actually existed. How many tailors do we have in this town anymore?

When I ask most dry cleaners if they do repair work they look at me like I'm insane. And perhaps I am to be thinking this way. Most of today's clothing is made to be thrown away, no repaired.

So now all three-John's, the men's store, and my father--are all gone.

I was talking with the people in Picardi, the butcher store a few doors down from Thriftee, about how the neighborhood is changing.

One of the women there told me that she was the first customer at John's Tailoring, back when there was a John, before he died and his wife took over the store.

"He asked me if I was Greek," the woman told me, "and I said yes. He said I would bring him luck."

The staff at Picardi seems nervous to me. There are rumors that Thriftee will be replaced by a supermarket, which would put a lot of pressure on this small business.

Picardi is hurting already with the change in the neighborhood and the increase in the number of halal butcher shops.

"They can't put a supermarket there," one of the owners said, "the parking around here is terrible."

That sounded more like wishful thinking to me. Since when did developers pay any attention to little details like traffic and overcrowding?

Just drive down Fourth Avenue and you'll see one massive apartment building after another going up and spreading out.

I can't begin to guess what kind of impact these places will have on the surrounding neighborhoods and I don't think the people building them know or care what happens once these places are rented or purchased.

One of the women at Picardi thought there might be a fast food "restaurant" going up on the space. Let us hope not. There are so many of these place up around 86th Street it looks like...everywhere else in America.

Maybe that's why I hate to see these local business go. Because they're local and in some way that makes them mine. When one of them shuts down, there goes another piece of my past.

Yes, nothing lasts forever and neighborhoods change, but it's just a little tougher when its your neigbhorhood that's changing.

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