There’s a little block of doomed buildings in my neighborhood of Lansing. It’s not doomed for the good reasons, like we’re facing a small meteor strike, or there’s a rampaging horde of attack jerboas headed this way, or they found it was actually a giant kid’s play set and she’s outgrown it and giving it away to a less fortunate giant, maybe in Big Rapids or somewhere. It’s for the usual reason. The local developer noticed this was a thing that wasn’t torn down already, and it is so much fun tearing stuff down. I understand. What would be the fun in tearing down the empty lot one block east for their new construction? All you get to do there is tear up a gravel lot, and when you tear up a gravel lot you just have a gravel lot at the end of it.
The local alternative-weekly included a piece describing some of the things that had been in the doomed buildings. Mostly they name things. Some of the buildings have been there since the 1910s, so there’s a lot of things to name, even if an awful lot of them seem to have just been barber shops. I’m not disparaging barber shops, it’s just there’s a limit to how much story any of them have. There’s the part of the shop where a guy is cutting hair, there’s the chair that doesn’t work right, there’s the signed sports jersey, and there’s a bunch of colorful slips of plastic that turn out to be the money of foreign lands.
But there’s wonder and mystery here. For example, between 1995 and 2008 one of the storefronts was the United Nations Association. My love remembers it. It sold all kinds of United Nations-themed merchandise. And why the United Nations? In Lansing, Michigan? A United Nations-themed store makes sense in a city more associated with international diplomacy. You know, Geneva or Paris or New York or the Frelinghuysen Estate in Raritan Township, New Jersey. And don’t go thinking I’m overlooking Portsmouth, New Hampshire, either. I know exactly where they are and I have my agents sending me reports.
Maybe it did start out the logical way. Someone sold the original proprietor a fake ticket for Vienna. Then he found himself in the mid-Michigan area and figured, why not? Still, they must have been on to something for a United Nations merchandise store to carry on for thirteen years. I would have thought a store for that market in that location would last about four hours. But then I also thought Home Improvement was a cute show that would last maybe eight weeks. Instead here we are decades later remembering that it’s not still being made, is it? It seems like it couldn’t still be on, right? Somebody check and tell them to stop if they haven’t already. But the point is, the wonder is that the store lasted only thirteen years. Maybe it moved to an even more promising United Nations-mad city, like Muskegon or Rochester, Minnesota.
Still, there’s other businesses that used to be there. One that delights me ran from 1951 to 1972 and began as Merry-Go-Round Toys, then became Quarmby’s Merry-Go-Round Toys, then Quarmby’s Art Supplies, and finally Quarmby’s Picture Frames. I was all set for them to cycle back around to Quarmby’s Picture Frame Toys, or maybe a Merry-Go-Round Quarmby, but they demolished the building instead. The spoilsports. And with blotches like that on the record people have the nerve to call capitalism efficient.
Another building spent 1914 through 1916 as Sanders & Fizzell Hardware. Sometime in 1916 I guess Sanders’s eye was turned by another merchant-proprietor. From 1917 to 1920 it was Sanders & Newsom Hardware, Tinshop, Furnace, & Heating. Perhaps Sanders and Fizzell broke up peacefully. It could be Fizzell was less sure about the market for tin-shoppery in Lansing. Maybe Fizzell just didn’t see the need to advertise their providing both furnace and heating services. “Goodness, Mister Sanders,” Mr Fizzell might say, because those were more formal days. “What sensible warmth-lover in this metropolis would not know to come here for furnace and heating work already? Why `puff’ oneself `up’ so?”
Or maybe I’m reading it all wrong. Possibly Fizzell wanted to encourage all hardware stores to emphasize their tinshop and furnace and heating sides. Once Fizzell found a decent partner in Newsom he could leave Sanders to his devices and move on to another hardware shop in need of his magic touch. I just don’t have the evidence to say. Sanders & Newsom things and other things wasn’t on the block after 1920 anyway, so you’ve missed that.
Then there’s the building that spent 1965 through 1975 as Dental Art Laboratories. I can’t imagine it was for, like, painting molars, yours or someone else’s. That seems too early for the paint-your-own-ceramic-stuff-while-drinking kind of store you get in malls these days. But then I wouldn’t have expected a United Nations store just a couple blocks from my house either, and see what happened? It’s all a wonder, that’s what it is.