In My Day

Rants from a 30 Something Curmudgeon

That Corner Store

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In my day, another lifetime, or perhaps someplace imagined, neighborhoods and towns were woven with the fabric of not just the residents, but the locally owned businesses that occupied the buildings.  I’m probably a part of the last generation that remembers a world without the de facto Wal-Marts in every town or the constant corner wars between the CVS’ and Walgreens.  Are neighborhood groceries still a thing?  The 20 somethings are probably the last generation that will vaguely remember a world where renting movies didn’t involve the constantly changing membership plans of Blockbuster, or the vastly greater ease of Red Box.

It’s easy to see, given the video store example, why so many embraced the march of retail progress.  Where we once wondered the racked isles like glazed eyed ghosts, we now hop online, reserve a movie at the local Red Box, and swipe our card.  That is unless we want to front the extra scratch for something On-Demand.  After all, we live in a society of instant gratification.

In no way am I a tech hater.  I love my Kindle.  It’s just that I also love physical books, and many of the stores that sold them.  The book thing is best left for a later post.  Back to point.  Local businesses.  I remember when I was an avid comic collector.  Every two weeks I would have my mom take me to Broadway Comics in Fort Wayne.  It was a den in the finest sense of the word. Cardboard boxes filed with precision.  Each one holding hundreds of awesome adventures.  It had a constant scent of newsprint and the midwest air that got trapped inside each time the door opened.  You could tell the people had a stake in the success of the business, if they did not directly own it.  They took the time to know their customers and if I forgot to check a specific comic on my order list that they knew I would want, they held it back.  They even did this for the Death of Superman when the price was inflated Thanksgiving Day Parade style.  It was the kind of store that added to the community.  Sadly, it burnt down and never pulled a phoenix.

Another such store was McVan’s Video Games.  For years I was an avid customer.  I would walk into the tacky orange painted store with my old games in hand, ready to trade them for another cartridge.   Then cartridges gave way to CDs.  It was there I bought my Japanese Dreamcast, Playstation, and so on.  By the time the PS2 came along, I was employed there.  I wore the fugly orange shirt with a certain level of pride as I sold video games to the citizens of Fort Wayne and surrounding areas.  I can’t say I was a model employee. Every Halloween, I made it a point to place the spooky games on demo.  Pure brilliance, really.  And I had the pleasure of working with some great people, many  who I would still gladly enjoy their company over a pint or two.  As things often go, other opportunities presented themselves and it was time to move on.

Even though I was free of the blinding orange shirt and walls, I never had a job I enjoyed more.  I remained a regular customer for years after my employment.  It was to me what a hardware store or barber shop is to less nerdy of men.  When we were looking for a house to raise my kid, one of the perks of my new neighborhood was that it was in walking distance to the McVan’s I held employment at some years prior.  Often I walk my still baby daughter down in her stroller to pick up a game or a Sesame Street DVD and visit with some old friends.

Some years ago, the owner sold the store to some entrepreneurial from out of town.  The original owner built up the store from nothing and a small loan.  And the dude knew marketing.  In less than a decade, he made McVan’s a household name.  Either through cheesy commercials or newly printed signs.  Whatever he did, it worked.  I can’t say the same dedication was displayed by the new owner.  Now, I don’t know any specifics, and if I did, it’s not my place to pass along hearsay.  Why add to the shaky info on the internet?  But I do know that some really smart and dedicated people still worked at the store.  And I find it impossible to believe the store would of failed, had they had the proper backing from an owner that actually was involved with the store.  After the last Gamestop is in ruins, people will still be looking for classic gaming.  Instead of selling the  high points of a business, retro gaming, offering something different, customers were greeted with sun bleached signs from a bygone era.

But that’s not venture capitalism.  That’s old school capitalism, where some one has a connection to a place they created, where the employees have a similar connection, and where the community has the strongest connections….  I need an edit

As I was going into some rant about venture capitalism, disconnection with the customers, and the death of neighborhood identity, I was informed that my old co-workers from Mcvan’s were having a bit of a get together in the room a few feet from me. No, seriously, just as I was writing this.  I walked in as saw familiar faces, faces that I missed for some years now, faces that I don’t see often enough.  Each face belonging to a person who now has to find a new job, or are seeing their friends in that position.  I saw a congregation of people I thought would never happen again.  Each one laughing, exchanging memories as if they were baseball cards.  So maybe my part in this isn’t to take a scalpel to the twitching frog, but to mark the passing of an era, at least the best I can.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a place you worked or frequent becomes a bit more than that.  It becomes a memory, a placeholder to a time where things just worked better.  And you realize how lucky you were to be a part of that.  And how much richer your community was to have it.  So, to close the bitter and end with the sweet; I feel Fort Wayne has lost something important, I feel that this isn’t new and at some point every town my be the same as every town.  Each experience the same, chain stores as far as the eye can see.  But I’m pretty damn lucky to have known the way things were.  And maybe, if enough of us remember, our children will know that as well.  If these places, and we all have them, made an impact then we have a road map for our future.  Personally, I am getting pretty goddamn sick of saying, “In my day.”

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Written by Jess Boldt

June 11, 2012 at 12:28 am

One Response

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  1. This is spot on. It was good seeing you Jess. Hopefully we will find something else that will allow us to cross paths.

    Jeff Cary

    June 11, 2012 at 3:24 am


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