Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Wondrous Cave of the Towne Grocery

Growing up, there's often a place we categorize in our minds as a special, maybe even magical place. A gateway or portal into some other world, a repository for new ideas, a place that stays with us and defines who we come to be later in large or small ways. All of this sounds a bit heavy, but the idea is there.

This place can be as simple as bookshelves in your parent's room, a barn where you find those temporary moments of quiet and introspection, the corner of a silent library, or, in my case, the Towne Grocery. A ten minute walk up my road, along Cambridge Street, we could cross the busy road to a little strip mall (an act made much safer when they finally put in a light). The second store in the chain was the Towne Grocery convenience store (the first being, among others, the Hobby Shoppe, a topic for another time). Shelves of candy, magazines and basic staples of Western life like soap and paper towels and tape and batteries....

Amazing how these little stores manage in such a small space to have at least one of whatever you need. They're the lifeblood of small towns. I live in one now, twenty minutes from the nearest supermarket, so having the Kwik Stop down the road makes running out of sugar less of a hassle, even if it costs a touch more.

In the seventies, growing up in the then-small(ish) town of Burlington (it's not small anymore), it was the Towne Grocery, even with the A&P (later Value King) supermarket just a thousand yards down the road. Now and then Mom or Dad would bring us into the small haven of necessary staples and let us pick out something... usually candy.  I'd wander there myself in later years with my allowance money and get a substantial bit more of said candy.

Here's the thing. The Kwik Stop in my current town is efficiently organized, with lots of open space for such a small building. The TG, as we called, was packed with shelves and supplies from floor to ceiling, dirty windows displaying signs and posters long curled from a sun which never quite made it beyond the heavy dinging bell above the door. When I was old enough to walk there on my own (we're talking eight years old, an age now that we'd never dare let kids wander off on their own, so sketchy has the world become), I'd be drawn further along the dusty rows of stuff towards the back where there was a chaotic jumble of old magazines and supplies-less-often-in-demand. There was some light back there, not much, but enough to browse.

Now, to be honest, I'd heard rumors there were dirty magazines hidden back there, and as a prepubescent boy, I had to explore, look for the mystical treasure. During my first such venture to this hidden world out back I learned this was a wild goose chase. Even so, in looking through the stacks of old magazines, mostly without covers, I discovered something unexpected amid the old hot rod and good housekeeping corpses: horror trade magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland and the like. I don't remember the actual titles, though pretty sure FMoF was one of them.

Now, being a preteen/teen who enjoyed the ritual of watching Creature Double Feature on channel 56 every Saturday afternoon, with such fare as Godzilla or The Wolfman, this was a revelation. Mom had a few magazine subscriptions at home, the usual domestic fare, but nothing like this. hee was proof that the movies I enjoyed were being written about and discussed by grown-ups!!!

Many times I'd wander back, grab a copy or two (I remember they were pretty cheap, a dime or quarter each). Eventually I moved on to comics, but the seeds of fascination with all things monstrous and scary had been watered in those days.

Now and then, in rare moments on the road, I walk into a small convenience store and rediscover the dusty, packed air of my old haunt (pun intended). I'll wander about, seeing what treasures I might find. As time went on, the old Towne Grocery was no more. The owner of the strip decided to do major renovations, and somehow conveniently the TG caught fire and was gutted. The strip of stores was knocked down and rebuilt. The Town Grocery (no longer sporting the old fashioned "e" at the end of "Town") returned, but as the last store on the strip and without the overcrowded wonderfulness of its predecessor. As a convenient place for a quick lottery ticket or soda, it still thrives (especially since the neighboring Value King supermarket is now a used bookstore), but for me, the TG of old remains in my memory as the place where I could lift the veil and peak into a dark - but not dangerous - corner of the adult world. As I said, it might have contributed in some way into my little fascination with the darker side of entertainment. 

Relish your little hometown havens, knowing some day they may be gone, but never in our memories.
The current Town Grocery (no e)