The corner store makes a comeback

[Because the older version of this blog has become unreachable, I am retrieving at least occasional posts from it that I see people trying to click on. This is one from January 2007.]

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First a little history.

When Penny and I came to live at this end of Annandale Street about thirty years ago there was a fully-functioning mixed-goods business on the corner owned and run by the genial Pavan brothers, former sugarcane cutters originally from Veneto, or maybe Friule. (I don’t know who P & T Caneiro were whose name appear above the door in the photo: they appeared when the Pavans’ name was recently scraped off.) There was a butcher shop next door, which closed down maybe fifteen years ago and made the apparently irreversible transformation into someone’s home. Not long after that, the Pavans retired and sold the business, though not the building, to Zorin and Margaret, a couple who live five or six doors down from us. The unremitting work proved too much for them after some years, and they were succeeded by a man we didn’t know, who installed an espresso machine and had the mermaid and a flash “Providore and Coffee” sign painted. Alas, he became addicted to online games, the stock ran down severely and he never achieved his goal of having a genteel, lucrative haven under his dominion. He was succeeded by a family from the next block – led by Lynn, the materfamilias who had been the mainstay of the school tuckshop for years. They did well and were much loved.

As Mollie’s dementia intensified Lynn kept an eye out for her, not only extending her credit but regularly reminding her, for example, that she had already bought a loaf of bread that morning. They instituted a book exchange – no money involved, just a community service. There were often a couple of people sitting at the little table out the front with coffee and cake. But sickness in the family took its toll, and in September when the Pavans decided to sell there was no way Lynn’s family could buy. Amid much lamenting, the fittings were auctioned and the doors were shut. Penny and I came home from our European trip to a shopless neighbourhood.

The building was sold and no more was heard for some months. Given how the last three proprietors had struggled, I don’t think I was the only one who assumed our block would remain a shop orphan.

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Then today as we walked past we noticed signs of destruction, signs of life.

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So we popped in to see what was happening, and lo, a young man who introduced himself as Rod was pulling the place apart, ripping down walls, generally exposing the filthy, smelly nooks and crannies to the harsh light of day. It turns out he has run six cafes before. He’s shying away from calling this a cafe – he wants it to be a community hanging out place where people can sit and eat good cheap food as well as buy basics and some deli stuff: armchairs and sofas and nice old tables, a separate room opening out to the eastern light, home made jams, locally grown produce. He gave us the guided tour and when I went down again to take some photos he was chatting with another couple who were as enthusiastic as we had been. The crumpled mass on the counter near Rod’s left hand is a 1943 newspaper from behind the wall lining. He plans to frame a page of it.

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Rod told me he had been doing a bit of work there in the first week of the year and had found three Christmas card shoved under the door when he arrived one morning. Assuming they were mail for the previous occupants he had been about to throw them out when he noticed that one of the envelopes was addressed, ‘Rodney.’ It turned out that all three cards were for him and his girlfriend-partner. The neighbourhood is happy he’s here.

I’ll keep you posted.

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