Monday, December 29, 2008

Adios Alvey's

It's hard to believe- Alvey's Grocery Store in Catharpin, Virginia has gone out of business. I know it ranks low in the list of recent economic failures, but Alvey's was a mainstay in the small community for 'as long as anybody could remember', literal truth in this case since the store opened in 1875. They survived the Great Depression and two World Wars; but they couldn't survive this economy.

When I return home, I get a sense of how bad things are getting in parts of the US- there are at least four foreclosures on my mother's block right now and more than I can count in her county. Places like Haymarket, Virginia, became enclaves for huge houses that their owners could hardly afford after the tech programmers got sick of trying to squeeze into the Dulles Corridor, and the foreclosures have been growing in number for at least the past two or three years now. People who are hanging on to their homes by their fingernails are not likely to go to the small mom and pop grocery store when the big chain store down the street is cheaper. And a population on the move doesn't make for loyal customers anyway.

Places like Alvey's just can't compete with the box stores- their costs run higher because they can't buy in the same sort of bulk or monopolize suppliers like the chains. This is what ultimately killed them, although the downturn hasn't helped. But, they were struggling for some time. The general area has become a mecca of huge stores and oceanic parking lots- it's almost unbelievably ugly outside of the protected Bull Run battlefield. Increasingly, I think that nobody in their right mind would live there- having closed the store, the Alvey's are likely moving out of the town that an Alvey named.

It's a shame too because they are one of the nicest families I know. The joy of shopping at Alvey's was that their family was often in the store and they always had a kind word for you. When my grandmother passed away, the family sent an enormous floral display to the funeral because she was a friend. I worked there off and on for years. They always treated me well, and when I stopped working at the store to go off to Canada, they gave me an enormous ''care package''. I could go on and on, but the point is that it's hard to see good people going through tough times.

And I get the feeling that we're going to be seeing more of that in the future. This economic difficulty isn't going to sink the Wal-Marts of the world, but it's going to raise hell with the small business people who have already been struggling to keep afloat. It's already nearly impossible to explain to the sort of fat, stupid suburbanites that live in my mother's neighborhood why anyone would be willing to pay a few cents more to shop at a store where you could spend an hour having a conversation with the guy in the meat department or the kid in produce. And it's just going to get worse when everyone's squeezing their pennies.

But, let's dream a little- here's hoping that the Alvey's start a new business wherever they land.


The Pagan Temple said...

I just wonder how long it will be before Bull Run becomes "The Ronald MacDonald Bull Run Memorial Park".

Rufus said...

Well, it almost became 'Disney's America' back when I was in high school. But the locals raised hell about that- afraid that the area would become another strip of poorly-designed, massive, ugly strip malls. Oh the irony.

Don't get me wrong- the battlefield is beautiful. But everything else around it is godawful. Claire and I took a friend from Berlin to eat out there when he was in town and he said something like 'This is what we all fear Germany will look like someday'.

Holly said...

This is far and away the most depressing obituary you've written here.

There are already swaths of Austrian countryside falling to this blight. One of the problems is that some people look at a field, or a bit of forest, and think, "There is nothing here, I could put something here." There IS something there, and paving it to put a warehouse store isn't an uncontested improvement.

I wish people could get the hang of urban infill.

rufus said...

Yeah, I know- I've got to stop posting so much depressing stuff here. It's sort of killing the entertainment value of this thing.

It's funny- I recently realized that I associate 'wilderness' with forests- so I tend to see fields and think that they must have once been developed in some way. It suddenly struck me that, of course there are naturally-occuring fields. So, I need to spend more time in undeveloped places.

I should also note that southern Ontario, where we live, is also hellishly ugly in many parts. So Canada has the same problem- it's just that Canada has 1/10th as many people as the states, so most of it is still wide open spaces.