There's a bakery near where I live; it is very small, open at odd hours, and is perhaps a little shabby.
It makes, hands down, the best bread I've ever tasted. The husband and wife that run it—transplants from West Seattle who moved out here to the middle of nowhere to be near what I assume are elderly family members—are intelligent, kind people, and they excel at their job.
Furthermore, it is clear that they love what they do.
The bakery -- wi-fi equipped! -- makes a damn good cup of coffee, outstanding pizza and sandwiches, and it is always warm and welcoming, with the scent of fresh rosemary baking into lovingly hand-crafted rustic artisan bread.
Catch them at the right moment, when the bread is just coming out of the oven, you are afforded almost indescribable pleasure: steaming hot rosemary bread, with just a touch of butter that melts deep into the slice.
There's a movie theater in the town where I live. An old building, dating back to the 1920s. The screen is kind of small, but the sound system is amazing. A digital projector system was added a couple years ago.
They make fresh popcorn, and have reasonably priced concessions; the theater shows reasonably first-run pictures, for not a lot of money.
The woman that runs it does so as a labor of love; it was her first job as a teenager, and a few years ago, when the theater was run nearly into the ground by the manager hired by the town (the town owns the theater, it turns out), she and her husband convinced them to let her fix the place up.
Despite flooding and occasional break-ins, the theater has been gradually improved. There's a long way to go -- there's some weathering and wear on the ceilings, the seats are old and a little threadbare.
But it's a lovely venue to watch a film. Dark, filled with the aroma of popcorn, with good sound and decent picture. The building bleeds history, from the handpainted decorations on the ceiling, to the gorgeous chandeliers. The doors at the entrance are solid, good wood, with polished brass pushbars that literally gleam.
Often they host concerts; last year, my wife and I saw Pearl Django perform Hot Club jazz for a measly ten bucks per ticket, a show that lasted almost two hours.
There's a coffee shop in town. It caters to the local agricultural community, with unusual hours (7 am to 3 pm). It's not fancy, but its warm and the waitresses know everyone.
The food isn't fancy either: standard diner fare, a touch overpriced.
But the portions are huge (there's one burger that I swear is almost as big as the plate) and they make astonishingly good hash browns.
Coffee is rich and dark and delicious, and it comes in plentiful supply, for a dollar. (I write a lot here; almost every issue of The Shield was written at the Corner Café.) There are regulars there, mostly senior citizens arguing politics and local current events; a retired science teacher-turned-local musician drinks his coffee and balances his checkbook, or argues arrangements of classic rock tunes with his bandmates.
Until last year, an elderly woman -- clearly in the throes of dementia -- would wander in, argue with the waitresses or the former owner, or say inappropriate things to other patrons.
But every day, the owner (who sold the Café a few months back, with the proviso that the current staff be kept on) would make sure she got breakfast and lunch and a large glass of orange juice.
Never once did I see money change hands; he just took care of her, because it was obvious her people weren't.
There are treasures all around. even in places like where I live: rural, desperately poor, geographically isolated, yet there are these small, unassuming gems, pockets of kindness and warmth and welcome; there are special places.
Find some of your own, and enjoy them deeply.
Such treasures rarely last; the economic downturn of the last year has taken a toll here, as — I suspect — it has everywhere.
There's an edge of sadness to the bakers, who are trying to make a living in a community that is suffering from record unemployment.
The movie theater is only open a few nights a week, and often I've been turned away because there aren't enough tickets sold to pay for running a film.
The coffee shop is under new management, who are gamely trying to keep the place afloat, but I'm in here every day, and I don't see a lot of new faces. Everyone is putting on a brave face, but there's a grim undertone to it all--expanded hours tried and failed, some minor physical improvements to the building have been made, but the menu has been somewhat truncated and portions have gradually crept down in size a bit, with a modest bump in price.
These gems don't last, which is tragic, because they define a community. They delineate the contours, the heart and soul of a place.
Find your own and enjoy them before they're gone.
JJ Manley (Monday, 11 January 2010 11:32)
A great article and an excellent look into small town life. Moving to Brookings the first thing I noticed was the Main Street complete with numerous pizza places that were not related to any chain and the best surprise a locally owned and operated bookstore that also sold comic books.
The first time I went in there I got lost for hours...a really nice place.
Some say that small towns are hit the hardest by these rough economic times, but I think they are the places best suited for weathering this storm. Mostly because in these small towns people seem to genuinely care about one another and look out and help each other. I know since I have moved here I have been in situations where I have needed some help (with no family around to turn to) these people didn't hesitate to help me even though they barely know me.
Small towns are great places to raise a family as well and I am glad to be doing that.
Probably also why I am so fond of Malone...I think it was a great place to grow up.
Dwight Williams (Friday, 15 January 2010 08:14)
For me, it was Selkirk, Manitoba. Not where I live nowadays, and Ottawa has its own charms scattered across the city worth saving in spite of all the Crazy we deal with here, being a National Capital. Those charms are part of what's got me writing for spacingottawa.ca these days.
But Selkirk? That's the small town I'd like to get back to if I ever get the chance. There's that childhood charm and the scale of the place, however poorly remembered.