Follow the White Rabbit
If you don’t know the white rabbit watch Alice in Wonderland then The Matrix. Take a blue pill. Or, better yet, take a red one.
From: Kristin-on-the-corner (via text)
Peebles is closing. 20-40% off. You should check it out.
Indecision. I hate shopping but prize frugality. Also, I need a story for Friday. Humorous angle on discount shopping adventure - title, Cheap Thrills? Personal roast about thriftiness - sounds something like a ‘yo’ mama’ joke? Yo’ mama SO cheap, she rips select-a-size paper towels in half? Maybe. Never been to Peebles. What the hell.
From: Me (via text)
Peebles is closing. 20-40% off. We should go.
We’re in line at the register, eavesdropping - half my stories are discovered this way - the store will close for a week in June, reopen as Gordmans, Stage Stores owns both, employees stay. This is the abbreviated version. The actual telling lasted fifteen minutes.
Laura: I remember when this used to be Carlisle’s. There was a ball pit. Over there. (she points)
Ball pit, department store. Odd. My kind of odd.
Wake up, Shannon…
The Matrix has you…
Follow the white rabbit.
I go home, Google ‘Carlisle’s Department Store, Ohio’. It still exists, now reimagined - a home goods and gifts shop in Ashtabula owned and run by the Carlisle family.
Thursday, Beans, 10am, LOFA (Ladies of Ferris Avenue ‘meeting’)
Laura and I are at the counter giving Dobie our order. Perfect, there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask him.
Me: Dobie, I’m thinking of writing a short fiction love story for the blog that would take place in Beans. Can I write you in it?
Dobie: Ok. So I would be featured in it?
Me: You would be the star of it.
Dobie: Ok. Sure.
Full disclosure, this isn’t related to Peebles in any way. It’s a teaser.
Laura, Jules and I are seated - coffee, tea, bagels. Jules has been away for a week. Much to discuss.
Me: While you were gone I learned that Cemetary Karl passed away, back in November. I’m kind of avoiding the cemetary. It makes me sad now. I wish he was buried there so I could still see him.
Jules: If I die anytime soon I want to be buried there.
Me: So you can stay in the neighborhood?
She must really like Ferris Avenue.
Jules: Well, we spend a lot of evenings there taking walks with the kids.
When I die I’m gonna be cremated. I don’t want to be tied down.
Jules: What are you guys doing the rest of the day?
Me: I’m going to Ashtabula. I’ve never been but I think that’s where my story is.
Laura: She’s gonna write about Peebles. And Carlisle’s.
Ashtabula, Bridge Street, 12:45pm
I park and walk down Bridge Street toward the waterfront in search of Carlisle’s. I don’t know what I’ll do when I get there. I don’t really know why I came. When you’re following the white rabbit a certain amount of trust is required. My eyes sweep the storefronts. I drove past a barbeque restaurant when I crossed the bridge. Sean’s dying for barbeque in Chardon. I love my husband so I’m planning on pitching this idea to the owner of Square Bistro. Maybe someone will give him this post, warm him up. I pass an Irish Pub. This, too, Sean feels we’re lacking. How many open storefronts do we have on the square again? Things are starting to get a little crowded. Good crowded.
The rabbit stops, motions left to a pair of bay windows. One displays a large meat slicer. The other, stacked cans of tomatoes. Stacked! That’s when I realize - it’s VoLo. It’s real. Only it’s called Market Provisions. Feeling unhinged I enter. I’m greeted by the proprietor Alex, also by wine, snacks, olive oils, cheeses, meats. The only thing missing, apart from books, are leather aprons. Easy additions. Alex is wonderful. He humors me as I describe VoLo, grill him about the business, ask if he’s been to Chardon, has he thought of opening a second shop? We have spaces available. He should come to Maple Festival. Chardon, we can pull out all the stops! He asks what rents are like. Rats! I have no idea. I write ’Chardon Tomorrow’ and ‘Chardon Square Association’ on a scrap of receipt paper. And in a last ditch effort, ’thesemoments.net’. Maybe “The Vocal Local” will inspire.
We pass Fitzgerald’s Wine Bar - I’ll stop in on the way back. The rabbit’s hot-footing it to Carlisle’s. There I’m greeted by Cassie and Toni - Carlisle. The shop is lovely, flanked with red brick walls 25’ tall, flooded with natural light, dressed with beautiful objects. Things here aren’t stacked, they’re edited. In most cases there’s only one of each item because it’s unique, because you are. No you. No you. Shopper’s romance. Kismet. On a display table I see a copy of the Cottage Living magazine that inspired VoLo. Signs, signs. But what do they all mean??? I wear Chardon on my sleeve (figuratively), ask them how they managed to transform the street. Vision, they say. Care, energy.
White rabbits enjoy red wine, me too. Soon we return to Fitzgerald’s and become engrossed in conversation with Debra, the wine bar and restaurant’s owner. She tells us of the history of Ashtabula and the buildings on Bridge Street, of how much the Carlisle family means to the community. Gambling rings, shipyard brawls, alcohol. I begin to imagine Ashtabula as a Melville character - male, European, handsome, dark hair, dark eyes, rough around the edges with a mysterious, disarming grin. Up close you notice his front tooth is slightly chipped. There’s a scar buried in his eyebrow either since age ten or last week. His breath smells faintly of beer. He knows adventure. Debra and I are cut short. My alarm blares. School pick-up time.
I float all the way home.
Head over Ashtabula. See for yourself. Visit Market Provisions, order brie and speck - they’ll melt in your mouth. Enjoy a glass of wine overlooking Bridge Street from Fitzgerald’s moody second floor. Imagine what it looked like a century ago. Stop in and see what Carlisle’s is up to these days - how a legacy can carry on, help carry a town into the next century. Tell them Chardon sent you.
Hey Chardon, (yeah you) with your backyard smoker and dry rub recipe you haven’t even shared with your spouse - what are you waiting for???
PS. Yes, I rip my paper towels in half. Millenials don’t use napkins.