This news has been in process for some time, but I’m thrilled to share an essay I wrote about the loss of retail business, featuring my hometown Kalamazoo, Michigan. I am so thankful to editor Wesley R. Bishop and the journal North Meridian Review for publishing this essay. NMR is a super cool journal hosted by academics from several Indiana Universities and specializing in interdisciplinary scholarship, culture, and art. In other words, NMR is a hybrid entity, straddling the creative and academic worlds.
“A Long Time from Burdick Street” is named thus because Burdick Street was an important artery for retail in days past–and still is the heart of the downtown. In fact, Kalamazoo was known for building the nation’s first outdoor pedestrian mall. Time changed, and eventually the downtown section of Burdick had to be reopened to traffic, but I grew up with the mall. Further south on Burdick Street my grandfather grew up–his family home and parents’ businesses were on Burdick–and he stayed there and raised his own family, running a Sunoco gas station at the corner of Burdick and Balch.
Disclosure: I used a fake name for the gardener because he’s such a private person. I keep changing his identity in my writing. Maybe he won’t be able to find himself that way. 😉
Here is a link to the issue–you can find my essay starting on page 104:
My MIL painted the mall when the gardener and I were first going out. It had been commissioned by Irving Gilmore, of the department store family. She used to sit in her burnt orange Opel hatchback, painting. When she picked me up from work her car smelled like oil paints.
I’ve written in the past on this blog about the loss of retail: RIP Dreamland. At that time, I was focused on the loss of Marshall Field (“Field’s”) and shared a photo of the location of my family’s 19th century retail business in the Netherlands.
Hope you enjoy this new piece!
56 responses to “My Essay Published by North Meridian Review”
Congratulations, Luanne. Beautifully written family and social history
Thank you so much, Derrick. I’m so pleased that you like it!
Very telling. A wonderful essay, Luanne!
Joy, thank you so much for reading it!
I was very moved by your essay, Luanne. We seem to be experiencing so many losses in this country.
Oh, I am so glad it resonated with you, Liz. So many losses. Even when we gain, we of course lose. And I think the death of retail is without any redeeming results. 🙁
I immediately thought of that blog post you wrote about Marshall Field, Luanne. Your essay was wonderful and quite moving. People say change is good, but in some instances, it’s very sad. Congratulations!
Thank you so much for reading, Jill. Yes, much change is good, but in the case of retail, I just don’t see what good comes out of it. It’s like the heart of a community dims with the loss of retail.
Luanne~ your magazine article, with its rich description and flowing narrative, brought back so many of my own memories about retail of the past. Thanks for sharing!
The young’uns are never going to have those wonderful memories. With the malls closing up, the children today won’t remember any retail community experiences. 🙁
I like how you put so much history and a timeline into a story that drew me in. Here is one part that I found very interesting: “corner service station. That’s what we called it—
not a gas station because the emphasis was on the service.”
I remember a time when they were service stations, and I remember one of the first times when I really needed service (help) with something at the “service” station and it wasn’t to be had. They were becoming gas stations.
I had forgotten about that, but it was one of many things in your essay that brought back memories of how it used to be.
Anyway, congrats on the publication. Well done!
Thank you so much, Anneli. I really appreciate it. So true about gas stations. When they went completely self-serve in my state I couldn’t even believe it. Anybody going by Grandpa’s station had a car problem, they could pull right in over the pit, and he would check out their car and fix it up. And my grandfather never overcharged anybody. He was very frugal himself so he couldn’t comprehend overcharging anyone else haha!
I do miss that service, but I hadn’t thought about it in so long. Your essay brought that memory to the surface. The world is changing and not always for the better.
It’s a wonderful and heartfelt essay. Although my family never was in the retail business, I miss the lovely boutique shops lined up next to each other on the main street of town. There were little soda shops which served light lunches to brighten the day too. Change is necessary but you don’t make memories sitting in front of a computer ordering stuff from China.
This is so well put: “you don’t make memories sitting in front of a computer ordering stuff from China.” So true. I have so many lovely memories of those beautiful boutiques and time spent with friends or even alone and happy.
I do too! Especially when I was young with my mother and aunt. It was always a special day to go into town shopping with them.
Oh, how fun!
Congratulations, Luanne! This is a wonderful essay/memoir.
My mother’s parents had a candy store, then small grocery store (or the other way around) in Philadelphia.
I would put my money on the grocery store first, then the candy store. That is usually the way (of course, not always). Those little groceries were so important. I didn’t mention it, but Grandpa’s Uncle Lou had one and Grandpa worked in it. Thank you, Merril.
Oh, that’s interesting. My mom said the only reason why they had a phone was because of the store–but they lived behind the store, so she could use it.
Congratulations! It’s a wonderful essay—a peak back at a time that no longer exists in so many ways. Candy stores are gone, service stations don’t even pump your gas for you any more, and everything else we can get online anyway. I loved your descriptions of both old and current Kalamazoo. I drive past empty shopping malls now and remember how exciting it was when malls first were opening—shopping inside with 100s of stores. Now you couldn’t drag me to a mall. Have we gained more than we’ve lost? I don’t know.
You couldn’t drag me to a mall either. But it’s such a shame because it used to be so exciting. Especially BEFORE actual malls. That was the best. But then the malls were a special period, too, and especially for our kids’ age, I think. We just lost another of our malls here and people have been writing locally of their memories and how sad they are. They petitioned to keep the big marquis sign as a landmark.Thank you, Amy!
I do have some painful memories of dragging my daughters from store to store in a huge mall near here, looking for the perfect dress for some dance. But I also remember when malls first opened and how we thought they were so cool. There were outside pedestrian malls built in the 70s in the downtown areas of both of the towns where Harvey and I happened to go to college. I wonder if they still exist…
Interesting that those were college towns. Kalamazoo is a college town. Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, community college, and in those days, we had Nazareth College, as well. The search for the perfect dress, so that’s a sore spot for lots of people! But guess what? My dress for daughter’s wedding is the first one I tried. I never even looked at a 2nd. Woot! I’m done.
LOL! The first dress I tried on for MY wedding is the one I chose. My mother and aunt were so disappointed because they had planned a whole day of shopping. But even then I hated shopping!!
I picked the dress for my daughter’s wedding online and then went to a local bridal shop to try it on.
But….shopping for MY daughter’s dress turned into an all day affair…of course!
Hah. I guess it depends on how you feel about shopping! I went to try the dress on locally, but they told me that they stopped carrying formal dresses with the pandemic so I had to buy it online. 3 sizes later, I was able to keep it.
Great! I hate shopping for clothes. Throw me into a bookstore, on the other hand, and I can browse for hours. Not that I’ve been able to do that in almost two years…
I know 🙁
I loved your story, Luanne. Well told.
Thank you so much, John! And thank you for reading!
Very touching….intensely Kalamazoo.
Thank you. Yes, very Kalamazoo 🙂
Congrats, Luanne. Sad but well written. My parents owned their own store later in life and I used to work there. A bygone era in more ways than one.
Definitely a bygone era. It used to be annoying to be “trapped” by the store, but on the other hand, it felt like being part of the local community. Thank you, Jennifer!
Congratulations, Luanne! This is a wonderful and powerful essay and you manage to perfectly weave in the details of your family in retail life along with the wider picture of retail stores almost disappearing from our lives. A thought-provoking and fascinating article – well done!
Annika, thank you! That’s exactly what I was going for. I’m so glad it worked for you!
Luanne, I loved this story of your family – actually, it’s probably my most favorite of all your writing! A first hand perspective of the decline of retail as you and I remember it. Your dad reminds me of the stories of my mother’s father who also must have had “ants in his pants.” Going from one hopeless venture to another one. Leaving a wife and four children destitute when he died from a car accident while delivering ice cream he sold from a retail business in a very small town.
I am curious about your olive burger – what in the world is that?
I like Ira for the gardener – always been a favorite name.
Congratulations on the inclusion of a very worthy essay in this collection!
You became what you wanted to be. Not everyone can say that. I define that as success.
Wow! Really?! That’s very cool. One hopeless venture to another. That’s for sure. With my dad, at some point it kicked in just enough for him to feel moderately successful. I think the store inventory went down because his heart wasn’t in it and he started to buy old rundown buildings downtown, probably robbing the store to pay for the down payments. He would fix them up just enough (on that shoestring again) and then rent to people who had dreams of small business but very very little funds. it was a perfect match, and some of those people loved him for what he was doing because he helped them achieve their dreams.
Ira is the gardener’s middle name, so it seemed like a good one to try!
Olive burgers are a Michigan food!!! In fact, they might be THE Michigan food. An olive burger is a hamburger topped with chopped olives or a chopped olive sauce–can include mayo, the olive juice, whatever. Little restaurants had their own secret recipes. I haven’t eaten beef in decades, but those were SO GOOD. “Ira” still asks for chopped green olives on his burgers.
Tell Ira I am going to give them a try! I’ve always loved the green olives…but burgers? Definitely Michigan!
Hah, ok, let me know what you think! Has to be green olives BTW.
My favorite! Pimiento in or out?
I was fascinated reading this story. Partly because I always wondered exactly what was an “essay”, and now I realise such a thing is within my writing scope. But most of all I liked it for the memories and the pacing, as you took us through one generation after another. I felt with you as you faced the economic uncertainty of running your own business. Not that I have done so (except for those terrible party plan pyramid things where all your money goes on buying the kit), but it brought back such vivid memories of going to bed one night thinking we were accumulating for a house deposit and waking up the next morning to discover that the October 1987 stock market crash had wiped us out. What a betrayal. Since then, of course, I’ve learned to roll with the the ups and down of economics and to steel my nerve to ride it out. But oh my – that very first time, sheesh!
Sorry it took me so long to respond. So interesting how reading memoir stirs one’s own memories, isn’t it?!
Congrats on the published essay. That’s quite the painting and I just can’t imagine doing any painting in an Opel. We had one too. A tin can if I ever heard one. I’m sure the gardener wouldn’t mind losing himself on occasion. 🙂 Everything changes. We’ve had whole street in Portland lose businesses now due to Covid. Seems something always forces the change.
Hah, that’s why the smell of the paint was so bad inside that car! Hope your travels are all you could hope for! XO
This was such a beautifully written essay and one that tugs at the heart. Just yesterday, my husband and I shopped in a family-owned boutique store for Christmas presents. It was wonderful…the charm of the past something I cannot let go of. If we continue to shop in these stores, we can keep our main streets the way we love them best…brimming with one of a kind items we can’t always find somewhere else. The world has changed so much, but we must do our best to support local businesses.
Thank you, Linda. I love the thoughtful way you respond. XO
Congratulations, Luanne! Wonderful memoire. I love the painting.
Wonderful essay, Luanne!! No surprise that they published it. (Did you send it in yourself, or did your agent? Just curious – I forget if you even have one!) You are such a talented writer; your prose is almost like poetry… I was fully engaged in your Kalamazoo memories, and shared your wistfulness at the slow loss of the mom-and-pop retail era. Sighh.
BTW I love your MIL’s painting!
Congratulations, Luanne. Such a lovely piece. One good thing about the pandemic is that it has made me more conscious of supporting local businesses, when possible.
Very good point! We need to do that before they are all gone! Thank you so much, Carol Merry Christmas to you. Here’s a to a wonderful 2022. It’s about time!