Monday, September 06, 2021

A Tale of Two Cities

In 2017 a new used bookstore opened up on the Charleston square. The owner, who owned the largest used bookstore in Chicago, moved to Charleston (by way of Arkansas) to raise his family in a more rural place. He had also gone to college in Charleston, and had fond memories of the friendly and intellectually offbeat community he encountered here.

I stopped into the bookstore shortly after it opened. Joe, the owner, told me how much he loved the college radio station when he was a student, and that he was having difficulty finding it. All he could get was a "top 40" station.

The radio station he remembered was the one that I worked at during the 1980s and 1990s. It turned into a "hit mix" station right after I left. Sometimes we think that the fixtures in a place will remain there after we leave. But places change, and too many of the fixtures live only in our memory of a place.

Joe's bookstore (called Bob's Books, after his father) made a huge impact on the community. Before it got filled with books, there was space large enough for our Collegium to play a concert there. We even gained a new member that evening because a recorder player from Germany, who had just moved to the area, stopped into the bookstore that evening, and heard our concert. It was such a moment of serendipity.

Joe had to move from the square because of safety issues, but he found a great new location accross the street from the university. After a couple of years the owner of the new building suddenly forced him to move, and he found a new location just off the square in a shaded building adjacent to a coffee shop. It was a perfect location. He moved during the first several months of the pandemic, and was eventually able to open up the store to people who wore masks.

I just learned that Joe has suddenly moved his family to Chicago, and is in the process of moving his bookstore there. I imagine it is because of the people who live around here who refuse to wear masks. I imagine that with all Joe's best intentions to try to give something of value to a city that existed, in part, in his nostalgic memory, it became a full-time job for him to have to deal with people who thought they had a right to go into his store without wearing masks.

It is astounding to me that despite a state mandate for masks, and signs on doors of businesses requiring masks, so few businesses are willing to enforce mask-wearing.

We will miss Joe and his bookstore, and I trust that he will be successful and will be safer and happier in Chicago.

After our first visit to Charleston in 1985 (we came here from Boston in order to look for a place to live), we made a list of a hundred things to like about Charleston. Michael was welcomed by a lively English department, and I was welcomed by a musical community that was happy to have me. Michael put in a good thirty years of teaching before the governor-assisted decline of the university and its enrollment (to put things politely), and I was able to create a baroque ensemble (back in my flute-playing days), work at a radio station, help form a string quartet, go to graduate school, help form a Renaissance consort, and help form a summer string orchestra. Together we live in a house that we really like (after doing a lot to improve it), and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

We have raised two children, developed some strong friendships, and have participated in many community activities. But it seems to me that most of what we have done for the community is of our own making. We have given more than we have taken, which in most circumstances seems like a good formula for happiness. But so much of what was here has gone away, leaving some shared memories (some good, and some not so good).

And after thirty odd years (some odder than others) this is still home. And I still hope that things can change for the better, even if there is nowhere to buy books in town.

1 comment:

Joseph Judd said...

That was beautiful. Thank you. It is hard to accept that when people refuse to wear a mask, even after asking them to do so because your child can not be vaccinated, they refuse and the first words out of their mouth are "I don't care" and they are telling the truth. Yesterday we were leaving the store when a unmasked person walking their dog announced that they didn't want anyone to pet the dog. Walking right past seated customers and stopping to say they had tested positive for covid. We had masks on but the person coming from the apartment upstairs didn't. Not all the people seated outside were wearing one. Why she had no mask or why she decided to walk on the side of the street with people on it I'll never know. But enough is enough. The odds anyone was infected are low but that type of behavior is what has gotten us to this point in the resurgence of the pandemic. We were up in Chicago and even the people begging for change wore masks. How can I be expected to care about someone's imagined "rights" to come in our store when they don't care about the life of my children?