On the south end of uptown Grand Rapids the aura of the Public Museum and Marriot on the River dimmed gradually as we drove along South Division Avenue. In this neighborhood, the construction cranes and tool-belted carpenters were doing their work of manifest destiny, bringing the uptown aura farther into this proudly ungentrified section of the city. Our sense was that the locals were feeling squeezed. “What are you doing here?” the fellow going against us on the sidewalk said. He actually didn’t say that, rather he turned over his shoulder as we passed and leered: “Is it a good morning uptown too?”
The thrift store was worn with nicks in the door casings, but it looked good like the leather driver’s seat of a decade old BMW. “Are any of the color tags on sale today?” I asked the fellow at the stock door. “We don’t do Sunday sales no more. Our business is so good after church!”
And the art! A few original canvasses were hung from long wires in the windows, facing the street to give the church crowd a taste of what was inside. In this neighborhood art was as necessary as the lord, bus stops, and decent jobs. But it was along the back wall, just on the floor, leaning six or eight deep, where we were introduced to the aesthetic denseness of this neighborhood. Of the sixty or so pieces locally merchandized there, at least ten of them caught our rescuer’s eye. In other neighborhoods, we usually get caught by one out of two hundred.
Our favorite was this oversized print by Claude Schneider who is a well-known painter of rural life, born in farm country of Wisconsin and now residing in cabin in the Appalachian Mountains. The image is beautiful and grandly executed. The boys on the rough-hewn seesaw wore simple straw hats and farm jeans or knickers. The girls had worn leather shoes under their straw hats. Boys and girls were segregated each unto their own seesaw. Their smiles are genuine. They proudly exude joy during recess from a school day in poor farm country.
By the time we made it to the cash register with the Schneider print, we knew this had become one of our favorite thrift stores. The lady at the register sang her “Good morning.” She was glistening in hot pink; the customer lady ahead of us was in clean white with emerald jewels on her flip flops. They made me feel like I should get out of my black tee shirt and wear one of those 50-cent red camp shirts from the men’s rack. Now that we came to like this worn store in this worn neighborhood, the store and its people began to like us back.