Monday, November 18, 2013

A dollar store and a town I once knew

You can find this article of mine on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter.
There’s been lots of talk lately in our small town about a dollar store that will soon be making its appearance. I’ve heard both sides of the story and from what I’ve gathered it’s split down the middle about 50/50 for approval. Sounds like a political divide, doesn’t it? That being said, the question people are asking is this: “Why does Berlin need a dollar store? It will make us look tacky!”

This is not my opinion. If you want my opinion, I love dollar stores and everything about them. Value, convenience, not walking 12 miles to get what I need in a giant store, and did I mention value? They have everything you need in a bigger store but packed into a tighter space. They also accept coupons -- what could be wrong with this scenario?

The argument is that our town will be tainted by the presence of a dollar store. That Berlin is too high end for one and that it will ruin what our town is. These feelings I have heard over and over in asking people in general what their thoughts are -- and believe me, I’ve asked a lot of people. That being said, I’m not sure what exactly this said dollar store will ruin about Berlin. Let’s go back to the Berlin I knew growing up.

I grew up in the third oldest house in Berlin. The alley behind our house had grass lining the center of it and we used to zoom our bikes up and down until we could go no more. This alley now holds many businesses like The Farmstead Restaurant, Killbuck Savings bank, and several big and fancy hotels. Needless to say I was sad to see my beloved alley become so big, but that’s progress. Uptown held many treasures like the Boyd & Wurthmann Store where I would bike to and purchase candy bars and a bottle of pop. It was a town a 10-year-old could ride through without fear of getting run over. About the only businesses uptown were the Quilt Shop, the restaurants, the bank, and the gas station at the corner of 39 and 62 where they would not only pump gas for you, but clean your windshield and check your oil all in one stop. The Berlin Sweet Shoppe still stood across from the school and I once got in trouble for biking down that far. The coneys, oh, the coney dogs they served there were out of this world and I can still taste them sometimes in my dreams. In my teenage years I worked there one summer and have fond memories. That building is now long gone.

I can still picture how it used to be coming down main street, and I’m sure many older than me can picture it with even less businesses. Stutzman’s car lot, the barber shop, Berlin square with the elevator still intact. That was the place to park and watch cars go by and see who was cruising through town. I remember when Kandel’s store stood where the coffee shop is now. I can see my 5-year-old self browsing the aisles and taking home a water gun without paying for it and mom taking me back in to give it back and apologize. Places where we grew up and learned lessons. All those places are now gone, only to be replayed in my memory.

So you ask me now, will a dollar store ruin our town? No, it won’t. It will simply be added to all the other businesses that line the streets of a town that only exists in my mind. It will be another place we can stop to pick up toilet paper, or poster board for a school project that our kid forgot about. What I mourn for will be the house that was torn down to make way for it -- I mourn for all the houses that have been torn down to make way for progress. I love Berlin, but the Berlin I knew has long since disappeared. It is now a town I drive through with blinders on. It is a town I avoid on a fall afternoon when I know the line of cars will snake past the Burger King. Even the back roads are full of tourists meandering their way around, driving with their tourist glasses on. We should be glad for the money they pump into our community, and we are. Yet I can see that place not so long ago when we could walk through town and still feel like we were a town full of life, full of our people, full of community. A town where we could gather at the old fire station uptown for a Halloween parade, all the of us kids dressed to the nines, and march down main street and end up at the school for our prizes and bobbing for apples. Those times are gone, along with what our town once was. Progress comes and expands us to the bursting. Progress comes and changes us. Progress comes along with dollar stores and big gas stations that pump our cars with gas. It comes and we keep moving along with it. We must preserve our memories though, of the houses that are now gone, the businesses that have moved along, and all the lost spaces in between. A dollar store will not ruin Berlin, because the Berlin I once knew is now gone.

“In those days, at least in my small town, parents didn't seem to worry so much about what their kids were doing as long as they made it home in time for dinner.”  ~K. Martin Beckner