Closing In Town


The hardware store that’s like two towns over is closing. This is a serious blow to our hardware-shopping needs. It’s a pretty good hardware store. By “pretty good” I mean I can imagine my father hanging out there talking for upwards of 150 minutes with people he just met about some obscure plumbing part that he needs while eight-year-old me sighs and presses his finger into the socket set attachments and wonders when we’re going to get to the Polish bakery and if so whether it’ll be before they run out of Poppy-Seed Thingies. I’m going to go ahead and assume the obscure plumbing part is a “flange”. Like all plumbing parts that aren’t toilet seats it’s a circular disc attached to a Y-shaped hinge on an axis, and mounted inside a cylinder.

Also whenever you select, like, the four washers and nuts-and-bolts that turn out not to quite fit the project you have, they put it in a cute tiny little brown paper bag and scribble on it some mystic scrawl, using one of those flat carpenter’s pencils that has to be sharpened by pocket knife, that somehow the cashier knows to ring up as $1.42 total. Or maybe a wax pencil. I’m not being too limiting in my categories here. The important thing is it’s a bundle of little metal shapes in a cute brown paper bag folded over and maybe stapled shut and it’s always $1.42.

But it’s also not too much a hardware store. By “too much” I mean “every aisle is occupied by grumpy men with scraggly beards complaining about how they can’t make good plumbing flanges anymore because of political correctness”. What they mean by “political correctness” is the flanges are made of PVC instead of the most rust-worthy iron in the history of rusting.

This is also a serious blow for the town. I mean, the town will still exist, but mostly as residential developments and medical clinics in strip malls. In terms of stuff people actually need there’s going to be little left except the Best Buy. The hardware store’s corner used to have a tolerable little crossroads’ worth of stuff. Like, there was a music-instruments store that got shooed off across the street so the fire department could use their old building for training. They lasted a couple months there before moving to climes where people weren’t visiting to ask about the check they weren’t supposed to deposit for another couple weeks.

Also at the intersection used to be the Travelers Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum, which billed itself as the only Tuba Museum Restaurant in the world, and I think was owned by the same people as the music-instruments store. At least it would make less not-sense if it were. It was a great spot to bring friends from out of town, because they had a lot of tubas, some of them extremely long, all along the walls. Also the menu was twenty pages even before you count the pages that were just the staff’s poetry. They closed right before the music-instruments shop vanished, possibly because both were turned directly into quirky indie dramas about, like, a slacker time-traveller from the 23rd century going back to work a small town diner and finding that kind of loving relationship where you never actually touch or necessarily even look directly at each other.

For the hardware store’s closing (remember that?) they’re holding a clearance sale, which is fair enough. It’d be sad to have a shuttered hardware store in town. But to have a shuttered hardware store filled with hardware-store merchandise would just be too creepy-video-game of them. Even if plastic clothes hangers are in the hardware store for some reason. I guess they’re kind of hardware but, yeah? I don’t know. I really expected them to be metal. Possibly galvanized.

They’re also raffling off hardware. According to their rules sheet, which is copyright 1999 to somebody named “Wingate Sales Solutions”, everyone who signs up gets 100,000 raffle points. And there’s a thousand more points for every dollar you spend during the clearance sale. And even more bonus points for stuff like `Sweetheart Thursday’, a thousand points times your ring size. Or 5,000 points on Mondays for “wearing something blue”, a condition I do not want to judge because telling Navy Blue apart from Black is hard in the best of circumstances. In Mid-Michigan, in November, at the height of Clouds Rolling In season? (We won’t have direct sunlight again until June of 2019.) It’s almost impossible.

Also, a hundred thousand raffle points just for signing up? A thousand points for every dollar spent? A thousand points times whatever just for having a ring finger? But I guess the shop is closing. They must figure they aren’t going to suffer the long-term consequences of a loose-money raffle-points system. It always opens doors when you don’t have to worry about the budget anymore.

On The Problems Of Credit In The 19th Century New England Economy


I don’t expect a letter of gratitude from Josh Lauer, author of Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America, for being the first person to take his new book of that identity out from the library, but I wouldn’t turn it down either. Anyway, what’s got me is this mention about early credit reports:

The Merchants’ Protective Union in Norwich, Connecticut employed an even more baroque scheme. In addition to eleven uppercase alphabetical ratings, from A (“considered honest but unable to pay”) to K (“is paying on bills formerly reported”), another eighteen lowercase letters were used to indicate the type of retailer to whom debts were owed, from bakers and butchers to furniture dealers and undertakers.

So, first thought. There were enough people burying folks on credit in 19th century Norwich, Connecticut, that undertakers needed to check on who was behind on their debts to other area undertakers? I suppose that’s fair. This was an era when childhood mortality was something like 1.8 children for every child born, with the average New England wife having something like 12 pregnancies every ten years and the family only propagating by kidnapping Canadians who stood a little too close to the edge of Maine. And that’s before you factor in lives lost to cholera, malaria, more cholera, yellow fever, malnutrition, extra-cholera, train derailments, factory accidents, more yellow fever, and striking factory workers being shot by Federal troops before being run over by a cholera-bearing yellow-fever train. There was a lot of undertaking to, uh, undertake.

Second. There were eighteen kinds of retailers back then? I’ve done some reading on 19th Century American commerce. Not enough to get my Masters or anything, you know, but enough to not panic if I wandered into an academic conference about the thing. But if you asked me to list what retail establishments existed in that era I would have come up with this:

  1. General store selling loose, stale crackers and/or soap or possibly grain scooped out of the same wooden barrels.
  2. Department store where women point out lengths of ribbons they wanted to buy, which were then wrapped up and delivered to their homes, without the customer ever being allowed within ten feet of an actual product.
  3. Dentist who does “painless” extractions by letting the patient suckle a while on a chilled glass pacifier soaked in whiskey and arsenic.
  4. Yes, undertaker.
  5. Shoe cobbler who’s angry at all these shenanigans.
  6. Other, less successful, general store selling tinned items, with the clerk played by Harold Lloyd.

Yes, I know Harold Lloyd is too young to have clerked at a 19th Century general store. I am talking about how the store was portrayed in the movie about how he went from humble general store clerk to becoming the love of Mildred Davis’s life. Anyway that still leaves me short of twelve different kinds of establishment that could be owed money by creditors. I know what you’re thinking: what about the drayage industry? Won’t do. Why would the Merchants’ Protective Union have anything of interest to say to them? They’re not merchants, they’re people who have the ability to haul things from one location to another. Something is clearly missing. Oh, I guess there’s “sweets vendor who sells a lick on a ring of `ice cream’ that’s a wad of cotton glued to a metal post kept in ice water so people think they tasted something for their three cents”, but that’s still eleven more kinds of merchant to go.

Anyway the book’s interesting and I hope to read it sometime.

The Regrandest Gift of All


There’s a Sears near us, which isn’t that surprising. There are Sears stores near literally millions of people, left over from the days when they were the anchor stores to malls and serving to this day as spots where the restrooms aren’t too busy and the electronics sections have a different wash of sadness from what Radio Shack offers. But the one by us is a little unusual in that it hasn’t got a mall attached; it’s just free-standing in the midst of a sea of parking lot. A couple weeks back the Sears had put up a sign, declaring their “Regrand Opening”, surprising me with the news that they had been closed, apparently? Also that “Regrand” is a word? I was so curious about this I almost went to the store but I guess I had other stuff to do instead, somehow, and kept on driving home, past the Fish and Chips place that just took off the “Arthur Treacher’s” from the name and otherwise made no alterations to their sign or decor whatsoever, far as I can tell. The Sears still seems to be there, but the sign has gone away.