By Kevin Williams
My Rust Belt hometown was throttled by the Great Recession and the decline of American manufacturing. Today, there are pockets of rebirth showing up around the city (and I'll share those soon), but there are also plenty of reminders of what once was. It's only four miles from the post office to my parents, a drive I make often. And I pass a graveyard of buildings that once boasted a cheerier past that now sit ghostly empty. Or almost empty.
PONDEROSA: There are no chain restaurants in the downtown core anymore, but there used to be....this is an old Ponderosa which once had a lively buffet line, thick steaks, and full tables. I used to go here on occasion with my grandma who would go here with her weight-loss club. SIGH, they'd do a weigh-in each week and then celebrate by....going out to dinner...at an all you can eat buffet (you know, though, the more I look at her...at age 91 and going strong, maybe grandma knew what she was doing all along) UPDATE - Well, I thought it was empty...until a guy came out of the building glaring at me as I took a photo. I guess Family Services moved in there. Oh well, lesson learned.
BUTTERNUT BREAD THRIFT SHOP: This store was open as recently as the mid-1990s. Occasionally, the first Amish Cook, Elizabeth Coblentz, would need large quantities of bread for a wedding, funeral, etc. This is not terribly uncommon among the Amish. For huge gatherings it simply isn't practical to make all homemade bread. So she'd give me a shopping list of say, 200 loaves of bread, and I'd head to this thrift shop and stock up (and get some very quizzical looks from customers and clerks). I think back in the day they'd sometimes sell loaves for 39 cents.
RAYMOND BAG: I don't know a lot about this sprawling empty factory, but I think they used to make paper lunch sacks...one of my aunts used to work there and I can imagine a full assembly, belching smokestack, shift workers coming and going and now....nothing....this place has sat empty as long as I can remember.
McGEE'S IGA: Oh, how I miss this place...regulars here know what a fan I am of IGA store and how they are slowly dwindling. My town used to have not one but three or four of these independently owned groceries. Meat would be cut on the premises, they had fresh bakery items, attentive customer service....and now...there are none...gone.....a handful of independently owned neighborhood mini-marts that mainly survive off selling smokes, lottery, and beer hang on......
My city has been buffeted by macroeconomic forces largely beyond its control and, my guess, is there are many cities out there like that. Still, it's just amazing how places that once thrived can be brought to their knees in a generation or two. But my town isn't all hopeless blight. There are bright spots as the city attempts to mount a comeback and I guess I should share those in the near future.