Thursday, March 5, 2009

Seedy Bars, Tattoo Shops, and Carpet Stores

When they put in the shopping center, downtown suffered. Businessmen lost so much money they either had to pull out completely or build near the shopping center. All the choice spots were taken inside before they got there. But that left the buildings downtown as ripe pickings for what we might call Grade B or C businesses, even D or F.

These inferior businesses are the bane of civilization everywhere. Bail bondsmen, tattoo shops, skidrow bars, and carpet stores. There actually was a street just off the square that we called skidrow even before the shopping center came in. I knew better than to ever go there. It wasn't like the skidrow the traveling preachers talked about in the big cities but it was definitely a wanna-be. Guys standing on one leg, their other foot against the building, smoking a cigarette. Nothing you want to see.

Sure enough, the seedy bars were down that street, luring in the hopeless riff raff that every town is known for, or at least has a few of. Some crooked lawyer's going to be in the vicinity, probably running a legal scam on behalf of the troubled. A tattoo shop carves out a filthy living when their clientele gets roaring drunk. And there's a carpet store, always right there, foolishly thinking you're going to buy carpet.

But it happened just like I said it did: The shopping center was built, the exodus of remaining businesses of diminishing hopes followed, then the downtown area became known for this seedier stuff.

When I see a carpet store to this day it makes me feel sick. Have I ever been in one? Yes, actually, I have. So I know exactly what they're like. I'm in a position to judge.

There's several things you can say about a carpet store. It's as fly by night as any business can be. One day there's nothing, the next there's a carpet store. They didn't come from anywhere, they're not there for any obvious purpose. They sprout up like a poisonous mushroom. All they have is big pieces of carpet, so they can move in on a moment's notice. Usually what you have is this: Another carpet store in another town hears of a vacant building, they split their inventory, and they move in in the middle of the night.

I knew a guy named Sam who worked at a carpet store. He and I worked at the same place next door. Everything was going great, until one day we got up (this is true) and suddenly there was a carpet store next door. No one saw them move in, no one heard of it in advance. The place was vacant, as the pattern always seems to go, then BOOM, there's a full fledged carpet store. We didn't know the guy who ran it, but he looked seedy.

Next thing I knew Sam was working there, like within two weeks of the guy's opening it. I still saw him on breaks and at lunch, that sort of thing, and he acted happy. But I never really believed it. After all, what could be more boring, even more discouraging than looking at big rolls of carpet all day? In fact, I saw the whole thing, for this was the time I was in a carpet store. Sam thought it'd be a good idea if I came to work there too. But my path wasn't meant to go downhill.

Looking back at it now, of course it worked out exactly as I predicted. The business we both worked for is still there -- almost 40 years later -- but the carpet store is long gone. Long gone. I don't know what happened, but I suppose people got wise to the whole thing. Either that or they split off once too often with vacant buildings in other towns. Whatever happened, I haven't heard from Sam since, and that's the real story.

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