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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Too Young to be Old

I am officially old. Physically I am 42 years young, but I am old in the sense that I remember and mourn the loss of local businesses that used to get me through my life. It took me a while to build up these relationships because I am from North Jersey originally. When I first moved down here, I used to run home every weekend, sure that I was stuck in a shopping wasteland.

After a few years of hitting the parkway every Friday, I adjusted and learned how to live my life without driving 2 ½ hours to get a bagel. I assimilated and put down roots in the muck and sand of South Jersey. Driving around on the weekends, learning my way, I established relationships with stores and service centers in the Brigantine and Atlantic City area. I was finally living here. Then, about ten years ago, my favorite mechanic sold out and moved. This was quite a blow. Who else would I trust? Al had been sending me away for years saying, “You don’t need brakes yet, Michelle. See me next year. They are just squealing because they are dusty.” By the time I needed brakes, he and his son Ronny were gone.

A few years later, one of my favorite supermarkets closed. I used to drive 40 minutes to the Zagara’s in Marlton, NJ, just to get my favorite granola, cheese, organic vegetables and the bagels I was missing from New York. I loved this store, they had beautiful white shopping bags with sturdy handles and red strawberries on them and I always felt thoroughly spoiled walking out of there with my purchases. Every “specialty” market felt second rate to me after they closed. Whole Foods and Trader Joes are just down the road apiece, but they don’t have the same sunny atmosphere.

I feel betrayed when a local store I shop in closes. I have invested in them, why aren’t they here for me? Should I have shopped more? When I married and moved to the town of Hammonton 15 years ago I had to relearn my shopping habits again because I had moved from the shore area. New butchers were needed, gift shops, mechanics, body shops and hairdressers. I loved the shopping in this town though, I could pretty much get everything I needed, the people were friendly and the stores and businesses were family-owned. Now I am not moving again anytime soon, but the businesses around me are moving on and changing hands. In the last few years we have lost our beloved body shop, trust me, I needed Petetti’s right around the corner from me.

We have also lost my husband’s favorite pizza parlour, the owners sold out and retired. They supposedly still make the pizza the same way, but it does not taste exactly the same. Our amazing Toni’s Custard Stand where we used to get fried chicken and ice cream sandwiches is now a Mexican food stand. Baskets by Inferrera’s, my favorite gift store, is no longer on the avenue, but lives on in a back room not open to leisurely gift browsing. There is not the same cache of buying a beautiful gift basket when they sit next to the frying chickens in their butcher shop.

I am not complaining, because we all get older and have to readjust our priorities and business plans, but it still hurts a bit when I realize that my radiator will be fixed by a stranger, and not by our trusty mechanic on Broadway. He left no forwarding address, which is probably best, because we have been trying to track him down and he probably just wants a rest after years of serving his community. People die, retire, or need a change of pace, and if they own a business, their changes affect us all. I myself hear from people that they miss our family donut shop and deli. I do feel guilty that it closed; I do miss our customers and the amazing subs we used to make. Christmastime is not the same without banging out 2,000 cookie trays with my family and co-workers. But Christmastime cannot sustain a year-round business and I understand first-hand how hard it is to staff a store with trustworthy people.

So what to do? I just sit here in my forties just like an advanced senior citizen. I remember all the good times, all the lost businesses and friends, and I make sure I shop locally. I want to make sure that the stores I still love and frequent are here for me in the future.

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