Okay, last time, I had just finished a doubtlessly charming story of how I woo’ed, and after much effort, won the lovely Ms. Martha, later Dr. Martha. I’m sure it tugged at your heart strings, brought a tear to your eye, and warmed your soul to the very depths of its romantic being.
Well...all right. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe, at best, it evoked a yawn. Or even a snore. But, heck, that’s better than nothing. Ah, the power of writing.
Where was I? Oh, yes. We drove to Amherst from Providence. We arrived after an hour and fifteen minute’s drive, and found ourselves back in the lands of our youth. We parked in one of the main lots near the Town Commons. And then, eager to relive the days of yore, we headed out.
We started walking. Everything looked pretty much the same...at first blush. There was still the Town Common. There was the Lord Jeffery Inn--albeit with a new, less politically explosive name. It’s the “Inn on Boltwood,” now. (By the way, we have a soft spot in our hearts for the Inn, whatever name you use. It was where Martha and the bridal party stayed the night before the wedding. But that’s a story for another day.)
But, as we strolled, we began to notice the changes. First, the town seemed...well, not exactly empty...but certainly there was less foot traffic than there had been. We realized, then, that it was summer, and while summer session was over, the Fall term had yet to begin. And, also, Covid was still an issue. I’m not sure which, if any, of the Colleges were having in-person summer sessions, but I’m guessing many classes had gone online or were canceled entirely.
Then, we began to notice the shops and stores that were gone. For instance, there used to be both a terrific used book store and also a stationary shop (with cool magazines!) on South Pleasant Street, just across from the Town Common and the Boltwood. These were long gone...victims of online retail.
Next it was the restaurants. There used to be a wonderful place called Judie’s on North Pleasant. It was one of our favorites. We have a lovely memory of going to the place one year when we were living in Winchester, MA. We had driven out for a vacation-qua-celebration of our anniversary. David, our son, had come with us. I’ve forgotten his exact age at the time. He was, though, quite young...maybe sixth grade? Or early Middle School.
Either way, he asked to go adventuring by himself and we’d given our permission on the grounds that he meet us at a specific time at Judie’s. We had gone, and gotten seated, and begun a glass of wine, when all of a sudden he was there. With surprising sophistication, he made his way past the maitre d’, and appeared at our table bearing anniversary gifts for us--cards, balloons, and so on.
It was sweet beyond description.
About the picture: As per norm, nothing to do with the story at hand. I just like the photo. It is of Martha at one of our favorite restaurants in Albuquerque, El Pinto. You can see the webpage here: http://www.elpinto.com/
Alas, though, we found that Judie’s was gone. Apparently, it was a victim of Covid. On its Facebook page (which still exists here: https://www.facebook.com/JudiesRestaurant/), the restaurant’s management noted on March 14, 2020, that “Out of an abundance of caution” because of Covid, it would be closing for two weeks. As near as I could tell, it never re-opened.
Then there was Delano’s. This was a bar and cafe, again on North Pleasant, that we also visited a great deal as students. It was a remarkable place. The owner -- or so I was told -- was actually a relation of the Delanos of Franklin Delano Roosevelt fame. The food was excellent (they had great sandwiches) and the beer was good.
It, too, is gone. In fact, I gather it has been gone for quite a while. I found a reference to it in a 2009 article, which said only that it had been closed for a long time. I wonder how we missed its absence.
And then there was Faces Of Earth. This wasn’t a restaurant. It was a gift shop, sort of. Maybe a Hippie Store would be more precise. Anyway, it was full of funky cards and gifts and incense and what-have-you...all at student prices. I bought Martha many things there while we were first courting. And I think David got some of our presents there, on that lovely day of our anniversary.
It’s gone, too. It closed down some time ago--around 1991. I gather that it moved to a nearby town, Northampton, and thrived for a time. But, eventually, it closed there as well.
Where now do graduate students and little boys go for cheap presents? Where do undergrads find their cool Middle Eastern rugs and blacklight posters? Sadly, I cannot say.
Martha and I walked on Pleasant Street, startled by the changes, and by how many things had closed their doors forever. Some, of course, had vanished because of economic or other issues--the way that Faces and Delano’s had gone. But, many...maybe most...seemed to have been victims of Covid.
It was Martha that explained it. “A town like Amherst lives on students,” she said. Its economy depends on thousands of young people, buying everything from necessities to luxuries at its shops, restaurants, cafes, head shops, and bars. But when Covid appeared, the Universities had to shut down their classes.
And that meant death for many a retailer.
Slowly, we made our way down Pleasant street. We weren’t comfortable. It was hot, for one thing. Once more, the heat had revived, and our trip to escape the fevered humidity of Texas had only landed us here, in conditions that weren’t much different.
And, for another, we had to admit, the Amherst we knew...was gone. Parts of it had been gone even before we moved to New Mexico, much less Texas.
And, bluntly, we didn’t know it at the time, but...well...things were about to get even worse.
More to come.
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