Doors close, but not Hensley’s memories

My kids and I were at Hensley’s a couple of Saturdays ago. There was nothing unusual about that. We’ve stopped many a Saturday at Hensley’s. Only that day was the last Hensley’s was to be open.

Everyone knew it was coming. From the time shopping malls appeared on the urban horizon, Wal-Marts began landscaping suburbia, and the dollar stores dinosaured the dime stores. Conversion to an antique mall bought an additional 16 months of life support for Hensley’s, but items from the past couldn’t save it from present generation buying habits.

The fact that I thoroughly enjoyed shopping at Hensley’s meant the store was destined to close. Every department and dime store I’ve patronized eventually met a similar fate: G.C. Murphy’s, Carr’s, Spurgeon’s and Big Wheel in Coldwater; Darling & Daughters in Marshall; Jacobson’s, Robinson’s/Herp’s, Shopper’s Fair and Ben Franklin in Battle Creek; Zayre’s, Steketee’s and Gilmore’s in Kalamazoo; Field’s in Jackson; and Bissell’s in Three Rivers.

My patronage can also be credited with putting out of business the entire Kresge, Woolworth and Montgomery Ward national chains. Out of courtesy, I have in recent years stayed out of Macy’s and Carson Pirie Scott (in Illinois), to give them a fighting chance at survival. Kohl’s, much to its relief, has fallen out of favor with me since it began specializing in poorly made, heavily cleavage revealing clothing.

I’ve come to believe that my liking a store is the single strongest determinant to whether it will close. It’s a wonder the Department Store Association of America doesn’t post wanted posters with my picture on them, stating “Don’t Let This Woman Enter Your Store. She’s Bad For Business.” I seem to function as an economic Typhoid Mary. Just call me Retail Ruth, bankruptcy bug carrier.

But it also might mean I’m a throwback to another era, a time when people knew their neighbors and still used the roller shades John Soncrant would custom cut, a time when women still needed yarn because they had the time to crochet items their daughters would actually clothe their babies in and feel grateful to receive.

I’m talking back when the menfolk wore shoes that had to be polished and would tip their non-baseball-style hats to the folks they met on the street because there were still plenty of folks on the street. It was a time when families looked forward to going to town because they needed provisions and were equally hungry for local news and gossip.

It was a time when the locals purchased Hensley’s plastic flower arrangements to place on the graves of the previous generation that had once enjoyed the same. While you were at it, you could pick up a doily or two to protect the arms of your furniture, check out the replacement spatulas and discount spices or make a trip to the toy-lined basement where they also stocked Nancy Drew books. Candy and wax whistles upstairs.

As it neared summer, you could invest in lawn ornaments, a fresh flag to wave from the porch and a length of vinyl cloth to protect your picnic table. The kids might be due for another bright blue splashing pool or some duct tape to patch the holes on the bottom of the old one from the dog claw accident. Don’t bother to ask how it happened. Better stock up on canning supplies, too. Harvest rolls around before you know it.

All that bounty could at one time be found at Hensley’s, situated in the heart of Union City’s downtown loop.

But Saturday, May 1, 2010 was a time of farewells. The kids and I ate cake, took photos and reminisced with the Soncrant family, past Hensley’s employees and other friends. Kate had her hair flipped by John one official last time and Connor bought his final firearm, a Nerf Tommy gun.

“You should buy something to help you remember the store,” Kate told me. Ignoring her suggestion of candy, I got an eyeglass repair kit, greeting cards, and an envelope of delphinium seeds. Perennials. To provide ongoing color in my yard the same way the community flower we had once known as Hensley’s will continue to bloom in my heart.

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