For years, several times a week, I’ve walked by a really crappy store. I’ve never been inside, but I’ve glanced in, and can see that it sells cheap-o stuff like three-dollar umbrellas, Harvard tee-shirts that I’m guessing aren’t blessed by Harvard, gloves that provide no warmth, hats that fall apart in a high wind. You can wire money from this store. Buy lottery tickets. And cigarettes.
It’s part of Boston’s Downtown Crossing, which has long been an amalgam of solid retail middle-class (Filene’s used to be here, Macy’s – formerly Jordan Marsh – still is; there’s a TJ’s and a Marshall’s), lower end stores with youth appeal, military surplus, jewelry stores, CVS and Walgreen’s, and some of these odd little mom-and-pop shops that, frankly, one might expect to find in poorer neighborhoods. But clearly they have an audience, and I’d hate to see Boston become the sort of place where there was no place where someone can get a three-dollar umbrella or wire some money.
For a few years there – after they tore down Filene’s and left a big old hole surrounded by a chain link fence – Downtown Crossing was colossally depressing. Empty store fronts, crappy store fronts…Not a place you’d think of as a shopping destination, unless you needed undies or an omelet pan from Macy’s.
And then they filled in that big old hole with the swankiest condo building in Boston, and the neighborhood started to spiff up. Yuppie coffee shops. Nicer retail. Gourmet food stores. A few new restaurants. And the fabulous Roche Brothers grocery store, which saves the neighborhood from designation as a food desert.
The swankiest condo is not the only swanky condo or apartment building that’s opened in the last few years. Downtown Crossing has almost become an “it” neighborhood. Yet it’s still the hangout destination for after school high school students, largely people of color, which of course scares the bejesus out of the empty nesters fleeing the suburbs for the swanky condos. (The kids are mostly – like high schoolers everywhere – loud and boisterous. Occasionally there’s a violent incident of some sort, but these are rare.) And a few places like the really crappy store have managed to stay put.
What intrigues me about this really crappy store is not the lottery tickets and three-dollar umbrellas. It’s the display out front, a display that’s been there for years. This display has never been attractive. Even in its prime, these were not exactly nice suitcases. But over the years, this luggage has become patchily sun-faded. And cracked in places. There are holes in each of these bags. Sun-faded you can live with. But cracks and holes in luggage? I wouldn’t be surprised to find that these suitcases have become rats nests. (I will not be exploring this theory, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rat sticking its twitchy nose out when I’m passing by after dark.)
And, oh, yes, you may not be able to see it clearly, but these bags are roped together with heavy duty metal rope. So that someone won’t steal them?
There’s no price on them, so the question is, are they for sale? And is this unmatched set of luggage a package deal?
Am I missing something here?
Who puts such dumpy merchandise outside their store? Is this supposed to attract buyers? Hey, these bags are terrible, I think I’ll go in and see what else they have on offer.
Seriously, folks. What’s the message behind damaged goods?
This is just so weird, and the mystery of this luggage display has intrigued me for years.
Oh, I suppose if I had more curiosity I’d go in and ask about it. But I just can’t bring myself to do so. Inquiring minds do want to know, but that badly. Maybe next time I’m caught in a downpour and am okay with a one-use three-dollar umbrella I’ll venture in. We’ll see.