The Belleville Uni-Mart will close Monday, thirty some years after the convenience mart opened.
In the end, hard times brought it down. The bank foreclosed, and the Uni-Mart will pass into bank hands, taking with it a handful of jobs and a certain sense of place.
I was a teen-ager when Belleville got its first convenience store, sometime in the late 1970s. It was more than a quick stop, then. It was called the Majic Mart, and it was a sign that Belleville was on the move, busting out of the same old with a brand new store! Sure, it just sold chips and soda and cigarettes and gasoline, nothing too terribly exciting. But it was a convenience store in a town without…convenience. Now, if you ran out of milk or wanted ice cream after the IGA market closed, you had an option. For a duly inflated convenience store price, you had the convenience of not waiting till morning.
For the town’s teen-agers, the new store was far more than a place to pick up a soda. It was a hang out. We lapped all two miles of town in the days gas was under $1 a gallon and stopped at the Majic Mart to catch up with friends. There, we girls might finally get to talk to that boy, and vice versa. Matches were made—marriages begun!–in the asphalt parking lot under the lighted sign’s glow.
Kids still hang out there. This summer, Uni-Mart employees tried to chase them off by posting no loitering signs. Out back, in an abandoned rear shell perfect for skateboarding, they put up black and orange No Trespassing signs atop the growing graffiti. (Read one: “To fall in love is to fall in debt, of alcohol and cigarettes.”)
So now, the kids can rule. There will be no one left to shoo them away. Norman, the plastic bag toting Amish man, will find it lonely with no one stopping by. And what will Solly do?
When I lived next door to the Uni-Mart, I saw Solly toddling downtown nearly every morning for a Pepsi. He’d take up a plastic milk crate and sit around the side, loudly exhorting the air with gibberish, although it’s said he can talk when he wants. His favorite line on nice days of spring or fall or winter: “Warm like summer!” Once, I caught him on my back porch, with his pants askew, “Ackkk!” he squawked at me, and took off, shooting disapproval at my intrusion.
The former home of the OIP pizza shop is attached to the Uni-Mart. It’s been vacant for years. No one bothers to adjust the sagging For Lease sign.
On Monday, will they back up the big trucks and pack up all the chips, the soda, the cigarettes? Will they pump out the gas? Will they take down the signs and leave the place empty and forlorn? Waiting for its next incarnation as….another vacant spot in our once thriving small town, next to the former milk plant and the former farm equipment maker. The IGA closed up long ago too.
Who would think to mourn a Uni-Mart? But I do.
It was a place of eager innocence in a town so small people could get excited by the introduction of a convenience store. Thirty years later, they are a dime a dozen. But not in Belleville. Now, we’ll just have one, at the other end of town, next to the Dollar General that went in where the IGA used to be. That’ll leave us with just one gas place in a town that had three just a few years ago.
Some of the coffee regulars say they won’t go out there to the Minit Mart. Too crowded around the gas pumps and the in and out of dollar shoppers. Just not the same. The Uni-Mart has a wide lot where you can coast in and out without much trouble, even if your pickup is loaded to the hilt with a scrap delivery. It has a nice hitching post for the Amish horses, next to a kerosene dispenser, and far enough from the cars.
It’s one thing to lose the biggest employer in town, and then another. Losing the Uni-Mart is just another tiny blip in the big big blip that tells a middle-aged person like me that our folks’ cushy retirement is part of the past. Part of that time when we knew and just expected that things would always improve, that we would always be adding to our lives and our town. Somehow, we have gotten tangled up in a whole lot of subtraction.
(Photo above: the view from our deck, when a stray guinea hen landed.)
I smell a Springsteen song.