Our lake is located in the hamlet of a larger town. “Hamlet” is a quaint word to use to distinguish our district from the rest of the town. As to whether it is quaint or not is in the eye of the beholder. The hamlet itself has five businesses: a post office, funeral home, florist, landscaper, an auto repair shop that doesn’t sell gas and a deli. To get anything else you have to drive into the main town’s business district which is a mile down the road. The town itself is an expansive area spreading from one end of the county border to the other, occupying a sixth of the total county. But as I mentioned in the last post, there isn’t very much there and what we have is shrinking. The highway department spends a lot of time before every holiday driving around the county and putting up signs that say Shop Putnam First. They have signs decorated with George Washington’s silhouette, Christmas images, Labor Day icons, veteran’s day icons, Fourth of July fireworks, a Thanksgiving turkey and American flags for any occasion.
“Where?” Rob asks each time we pass a sign. “Where do they want us to shop first?”
When new businesses do open in our town we generally take bets on how long they will last. Mema’s Bakery took over ten years to open (you can’t make this stuff up) but they didn’t bake anything on the premises. They ordered baked goods and had them delivered. They also served terrible coffee and French fries. They shuttered less than a year later. We had a plant store that was terribly cute; they opened in October and closed just after the New Year. A beading store started to pack their boxes last week after opening on Valentine’s Day last year. I guess everyone who wanted to string beads had strung enough.
We had a liquor store that was run so poorly that it was inevitable it would close. You would think that if one thing could survive in a small town it would be a liquor store with no competition. Actually it was a wine store but the owner didn’t know anything about wine and the distributer panned a lot of reject vintages off on him. He rarely carried anything anyone had ever heard of.
“I drink orange-flavored vodka myself,” he boasted in a voice reminiscent of Yogi Bear. “But they say that’s pretty good stuff.” He would point at a vertical case of high priced bottles with maybe one missing.
The wine was never any good. After a few recommendations we stopped going there and preferred to do without if it was close to dinner time and we had a fleeting thought of buying wine.
“Uh, water’s fine,” one of us would say. We went out of our way to avoid Yogi, which is what we called him. Apparently everyone else in town avoided him too. Before long there wasn’t much on the shelves and he blamed the state of the town on his bad business.
“The town’s dead,” he said to anyone who bothered to walk in. He had a point.
A pet grooming salon has now opened in the old liquor store but they’re only open by appointment.
Next to the liquor store was a mom and pop hardware store which was a hard business to like.It was a long running family business that carried loose screws and replaced rake handles on request, but it came with the price of a cranky staff that shouted at you when you came inside. Like a lot of old time hardware stores it was probably run out of business because of Home Depot a little over four miles away.
But the all-time winner for new occupants was A Few Good Men. They were a motorcycle club that rented one of the abandoned shops on the main street-if you can even call it that. They placed a large grill on the front steps leading into the shop and then roped off the entryway with caution tape so nobody would look in the windows. Club members entered from the back door. A few members gathered everyday to drink a beer or take apart someone’s motorcycle engine and put it back together, but they chose Wednesday nights as their official meeting night and all the “good men” would gather. They lined their motorcycles up in neat rows around the building. The barbeque was stoked and hamburger and hot dog smells wafted across the parking lot towards the hardware store. ZZ Top music blared out from the second floor windows. In warmer weather the men got restless inside the small store and spilled out onto the street. They sat on their motorcycles and revved the engines while drinking beer and leered at the townspeople who leered back at them as we passed. I think the sheriff was afraid of them or he had a brother-in-law in the club because they could do pretty much what they wanted.
During our annual Fourth of July celebration we had a parade that mostly included Fire and EMS trucks. The local Girl and Boy Scouts marched along with a tilted banner followed by the chamber of commerce sitting in a typical parade convertible. We stood on the sidelines and clapped waiting for the Town Supervisor who was wielding a bullhorn from the top of a flat bed truck decorated in red, white and blue bunting.
But before he could speak A Few Good Men roared into the parade. Their presence in the parade was a public relations attempt on their part to cull favor with the town. It was their misplaced effort to ingratiate themselves because of the townspeople’s grumbling. Somehow they felt they could be seen in a better light if they rode behind the Boy Scouts.
The Supervisor’s voice was no match for their endless roaring engines as they hooted at the crowd shouting, “We’re one of you! We’re one of you!” A line of unfamiliar woman lined the street in front of their clubhouse cheering loudly as the bearded men rolled by on their Harleys.
“Who are they?” I asked.
“A few good women?” Rob answered.
Later that year apparently two of them died and they posted a large sign in the window that read “Reefer and Boomer RIP”. It was decorated with a skull and cross bones. From the car window Jackson studied it each time we were waiting at the traffic light.
“That sign is a t-shirt,” he reported.
This prompted Rob to say, “Oh I want one!”
“Me too!” Jackson agreed. But they never had the nerve to ask or else it was just a ruse so they could joke about the missing men Reefer and Boomer. We suspected all of the Good Men had nicknames. It reminded me of Quinn’s experience in Girl Scout camp. Their tradition is to give every girl a camp name for the duration of the session like Squeaky or Chipmunk.
The complaints against the motorcycle club mounted as the Town Supervisor struggled to rid the community of the main attraction. He left office and we voted in a new Supervisor who set about to clean things up. The only way he could get rid of them was to close every business surrounding the main intersection on the premise that the town was going to build some new infrastructure and make a real main street. The recession hit and all we had was a lot of empty buildings. He also drove out the town mechanic where the flat bed truck sat for the parade and where we held the annual tree lighting. A grubby mechanic’s lot seemed an odd place to hold a tree lighting but the mechanic was footing the bill. However, the mechanic had failed to pay his taxes for the last ten years and the county seized the property. The Supervisor felt the shop would make a great brew pub.I suppose it could have if you had a lot of money and wanted to run a business in a town with high taxes and no other businesses. But on the plus side, A Few Good Men had to move somewhere else.
As for the people who live here we’re still waiting to Shop Putnam First.