As soon as I saw the news alert in my inbox, I shut down the office and ran out the door….
On my way to 3rd street, I remembered a situation in 2010 when I got a phone call first thing in the morning from a very concerned chocolate shop owner asking me what was going on in the business across the street.
“How could they just leave the windows covered in black? Don’t they know that looks like a death knell?”
He was describing the way one of the installation artists left the windows completely covered in black paper. As an artist, he could understand the desire to keep art under wraps until the installation is ready for the big reveal. But to a group of independent businesses, even the impression of one store closing could mean economic trouble for the rest of them… this was NOT cool. (I wrote about this then, too.)
I quickly made signs to inform the public that the the store was hosting an art installation project along with other independent businesses along the South Bethlehem business district. What I learned from that little panic was a little bit more about the logistics of public art, and a whole lot about the people who run businesses on 3rd & 4th street. It’s not just about supporting the artists (and their cool visions for transforming space). One must give equal consideration to the hosting businesses who are willing to interrupt their regular operations to accommodate them.
These people work really hard to not only make a living, but to keep a community together through economic downturns, changes in local government, and through shared challenges of being the chief, the cook, and the bottle washer. This community supports a rich culture of art and creativity. Some of the businesses have galleries to showcase local artists.
A few years ago, First Friday’s were hopping! So many people wandered through the stores to see the new art exhibited at the Banana Factory, Shuze, Fox Optical, HomeBase, Cleo’s, Home & Planet, and Comfort & Joy. Local musicians added to the lively atmosphere. I would frequently stroll through the stores, sipping wine and buying items. Gossip and local political chatter was a way for me to get to know the community and the people. I learned each business owner by name – no name tags needed.
Every April, we gather our energy and put on the annual ChiliFest (Spring on 4th) to celebrate the spirit of South Bethlehem. I love these people. I consider them friends.
Today, one of our friends decided to close his business. He’s moving on to a new chapter in his life. I felt a familiar sadness when Randi and Inger left, and then Jennifer, and then Jon.
… on my way to Tallarico’s I passed Jenny from Jenny’s Kuali. She had a familiar paper bag in her hand. I knew she had run to the store to pay her last respects, as I was about to do.
The smell was still there, but the shelves were nearly empty.
Brian graciously filled a box of whatever he wanted to give me. I paid, but I couldn’t just leave. We chatted about this and that. He said it was a hard day. I fought my own sadness when I noticed the cigar box guitars no longer hung on the wall above the white leather couch where my kids would hang out while I chatted for “just one more minute.”
I had great talks with Brian and his dad and mom. Such a great family. Such a wonderful spirit. Brian was so generous with my students and my girl scouts. I understand why he needed to close. My sadness is selfish. I’m going to miss him more than his chocolates.
I’ll be thinking of him and Jon every time I see the Van Gogh painted fiberglass mule in Fair-Mart library. Between the three of us, we rescued that mule. Brian took it in first, then passed it along to Jon, then I took it to campus to wait for a creative opportunity to present itself. See – pieces of their spirit stay around, even if they leave.
I’m hoping the next chapter in Brian’s life includes more opportunities for him to return to his metal sculpting. He’s a great teacher, too. Such a warm and generous heart. I hope he stays true to his promise and comes back enough to drive Saraceno nuts.
On my way to the car, I bumped into Christine who owns Couture Salon and Spa on East 3rd street. We shared our sadness for Brian. She walked with me to my next business visit; the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society. I had to pick up papers for a Lehigh event in a couple of weeks. I remembered last April, when I presented the prize to them for winning the chili competition, they invited me to become a member of the club.
“But I’m not Puerto Rican.”
“That doesn’t matter. Join us. Be our friend.”
So I did.