At the start of this month, a mini-mart closed in my hometown.
I can’t give a proper eulogy for this particular mini-mart. The earliest I can remember, it was a 7-Eleven, but it became a generic mini-mart as there was pressure for this sleepy suburb to stop allowing businesses to be open 24 hours. It sits in an outdated shopping center, one of those 1970’s suburban retail establishments that seemed to thrive on the idea that humans actually enjoy labyrinths, and that they aren’t so lazy that if they can’t see it from their car while weaving through a parking lot that they would search out the hidden stores. The 1970’s were wrong. Luckily, this mini-mart occupies a prime corner of the center, easily seen and found.
I learned karate (or at least imitated karate) at a studio buried inside the labyrinth, and would go to 7-Eleven to grab a soda before biking home, without mom knowing. That martial arts studio has now moved, its old space now empty. The mini-mart was a couple of doors down from one of my earliest jobs, at Kentucky Fried Chicken. That moved out nearly a decade ago, and the restaurant that replaced it has since closed, and its building sits empty. The mini-mart was next to a place that let you make your own t-shirts during the 80’s; that building was so empty, the owners flattened it to make room for an awkwardly obvious cement slab in the middle of the thing. It was a regular stop for me as a kid after visiting my favorite trading card shop at the other end of the shopping center. That space is not empty…it’s now an insurance agent’s office, which isn’t much better.
Oh, and it’s the Mini-Mart I refer to in the title of my first novel, To Hell With Fate; or, Why The Best Valentine’s Gifts Come From Mini-Marts.
Now, that novel is fiction, purely and completely and absolutely…but a couple of inspirations came from real life. That one chapter that talks about getting a brainstorm in a mini-mart? Yeah, that one happened. I admit that.
So, that place has some memories for me. It really does.
I suppose there’s a prompt here for how American culture has moved on from the mini-mart. There used to be two in my hometown, with the other out in a retail oasis among the low-slung houses along the levee. That shopping center, with its small clients and no “big” anchor, also has floundered in modern days. The mini-mart there was an occasional haven after class at the middle school just a couple of blocks away. I would go there to get something while going out and sitting with a certain someone along the bay. I never noticed when it closed; I didn’t mourn it; I haven’t bothered to really see what has taken its place.
Now, with the former 7-Eleven closing, there are no more quick stops to get a drink or a snack. Sure, there is pretty much nothing of any health-oriented redeeming value in a mini-mart like that. But now, short of going to a restaurant (of which there are too few), we are forced to the ever-crowded aisles of one of the two big supermarkets in town, with their parking lots of slanted, one-way parking lanes that dare an alarming number of locals to go the wrong way among them far too often.
I suppose losing a small-store national chain like 7-Eleven to a medium-sized-store regional chain like Safeway or Lucky is hardly relatable to Main Street U.S.A. losing tiny stores thanks to a new Walmart, but it’s the burden I’ve got. Upper-class Suburb Problems, all the way.
But it was clear it was going to happen. For better or worse, old shopping centers disappear. And this one was really a sucky, inefficient space that has so many open storefronts than it’d make a Detroit suburb proud. It was always going away. I don’t know if anything will replace it; all the sign at the mini-mart said was that their lease wasn’t renewed. But I’m sure the building will stay empty until they finally push through a plan to cut the center in half, add apartments and make the rest high-end, underused retail like all the other small shopping centers have become.
But instead of postulating wild socio-political mournings, I’ll just say this: I’m going to miss it. I’m going to miss learning to play Street Fighter in the corner there. I’m going to miss sitting on the splintery wooden bench/planter in front of it with some of the guys from karate class. I’ll miss stopping there after closing the KFC to get some non-fried snack food. I’ll miss the little concrete stands in front to prop up the wheels of your bike in which had nowhere to lock the bike to, because in the time it was built no one thought you’d need that, so the grooves for the tires would just get filled with the slackers’ cigarette butts.
And I’ll miss those tiny, insignificant moments of inspiration that I hope weren’t insignificant to those that inspired me.
But mostly I’ll miss what it meant, and what it represented. Maybe the mini-mart was the province of the ’90’s kid. Maybe I’m overestimating its significance; maybe I’m underestimating its prominence in today’s society outside of the suburbs.
Or maybe I just need to buy one more Sunkist and roll of Bottlecaps there. For the road.
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