Enduring Places: The Corner Store

It was the first place you went to without your parents. It may be the only store you shop at minutes before closing in your bedroom slippers. It is the ultimate multipurpose center offering a range of goods and services—everything from a carton of milk to a roll of toilet paper to baby-sitting referrals to apartment sublets. In its purest incarnation it is family-owned, local, neighbors serving neighbors. Due to its corner location, it attracts that classic urban archetype: the Benign Loiterer. Think of gossiping retirees handicapping horses and chronic illness; restless preteens scoping out new territory; dominoes players battling it out on cardboard boxes (supplied by the owner inside). A similar but somehow totally different store stands on a nearby corner, but it’s out of your immediate area and therefore not yours. Though it is only five or ten years old, there is something almost prehistoric about your store (and the one down the block too). Its purpose predates the franchise, the supermarket, radio and television, even horse-drawn deliveries. It is a place where closing time is fudged for regulars, where a familiar rap on the locked door—at twelve-o-five—gains entry for one final sale. And regardless of how the neighborhood changes, gentrifies, renews, the corner store exerts a pull based on location (across from your apartment) and emotion (the owner knows the names of your children and dog). But it is conditional. Move just six blocks away, and a fresh batch of associations—and a new store—emerges. Fortunately the cycle is as infinite as the city.

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