The downturn or recession or worse that is our lot these days might be a flu that already is taking the lives of some of the older of our town's businesses. Foster's Jewelers is closing after half a century, and the paper reports this morning that the Ryan's Steakhouse on our side of town already is closed after a 29-year run.
As strangers can become acquaintances and then friends and then dear friends, so it can be, for me at least, with businesses. When a business I've come to know well over many years closes, it's not unlike a dear friend leaving town. When I pass the place that was Barnett's when I arrived in Athens forty years ago as a freshman, and was Barnett's still until earlier this year, I can see the Banner-Herald and the Daily News and the Journal and the Constitution and the Times stacked below the storefront window, and smell the newsprint and the tobacco and the oldness of the place, and I feel a bit of guilty nostalgia for the forbidden magazines, sirens calling to freshmen from the back corner on the right.
Charmar, the mini-nursery and flower shop and gift shop and neighborhood post office on Gaines School Road, was as dear to Pat as Barnett's was to me, and it closed this year, too, a victim not of the economy, but of the drought and the attendant watering ban.
Foster's Jewelers was never a close friend of mine, as it must have been for some of you. Occasionally, I made my way past the antiseptic glitter of the jewelry cases, feeling almost that I had entered a foreign country without a visa, to reach the watch repairer at the back. It never occurred to me -- although it should have, being the way of the capitalist world -- that the granite-solid "Foster's corner" downtown ever would be anything other than Foster's.
The destruction inherent in capitalism is, in Schumpeter's apt phrase, a "creative destruction." When I was a freshman, the business on the corner across the street from the Arch was the downtown Varsity. Then it was a game arcade where I played Ms. Pacman with some of my students. More recently, and for many years, it was a Chinese buffet. And now it's a Five Guys hamburger place. I haven't eaten there yet, but friends tell me it's great. I'm looking forward to my first Five Guys burger. But as I bite into it, my thoughts might be elsewhere. -- Bob Brussack