Looking for something else entirely, I went down the rabbit hole of my external hard drive, which had been a labyrinthine dumping ground of folders and files and enough potential writing and design projects to keep me busy for years if I had the time to organize it all into something manageable and accessible.
While fishing around, I came across this Photoshop sketch that I’d worked up off a photo or Google maps shot three or four years ago in a similar onslaught of nostalgia.
I’d wanted to put together maybe a dozen or so sketches like this to breakup a story I was trying to figure out. I had a short story that I was working off of and wanted to make it into something else, something longer.
I had come up with this idea after reading Edouard Levé’s novel, “Suicide”. It was his last book, as shortly after turning in the completed manuscript to his editor, Levé took his own life. The novel is interesting as it’s narrated to the main character, essentially turning the reader into the victim of the title suicide. It’s haunting and puzzling, infectious and entirely successful in calling into question what it means to exist.
I didn’t suddenly want to write every book I had in my head in this style forever now, but there are two ideas that have followed me around for several years that lend themselves to the style. Oddly enough, both deal with death, just as Levé’s work did, although in my case, one is a violent death at another’s hand, and the other is a tragic accidental one.
I wonder what about this writing style, this voice, that lends itself to tragic subject material? The ability to so easily accuse and question within the unfolding of the narrative? The way in which it immediately makes the reader a character, and can borrow their own prejudices and experiences, their fears and doubts, without needing to put those words on the page? Both ideas are a collection of photographs and written scenes, but are barely more then bones and bullet points, and a few odd fragments. I’m not sure how the stories will work out yet, or whether they will at all. For now, at least for this story, this is all I have.
Village Green Bookstore opened in 1972 in a 600-square-foot basement store at 766 Monroe Avenue in Rochester, New York, before its reputation among the community’s book lovers spread and it expanded into the larger storefront upstairs.
The store had a coffee bar before they became common in bookstores and despite starting out by selling only the local Sunday edition, would offer more than 100 newspapers and 2,400 magazines. Eventually, while books were still a staple of the business, they became lost behind their rapidly expanding merchandise line.
By 1992, Village Green had added as many as eight new stores throughout Central and Western New York, including locations at 1089 Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst and 765 Elmwood Avenue in the Elmwood Village. But the growth for the company had become troublesome. Hoping to solve their financial problems, the chain continued to expand locations and product offerings. In doing so, as tends to happen when a company forces growth in order to dominate the market, Village Green forgot their purpose and mission. The company had forgotten what one of the founders, John Borek, had said not long after opening; their intention was to cater to “people who were hungry for books.” Instead, they were selling ice cream and inflatable bagels.
Within a few years they had added stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but with a series of catastrophic financial decisions that involved lawsuits, criminal charges and SEC investigations, the company began closing “underperforming” stores, including a third location in Western New York, in the McKinley Plaza in Blasdell. The closures and merchandise sell offs could not keep the company afloat however and in 1998 they had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The following year, the flagship store on Monroe closed it doors for good, eventually becoming a Pizza Hut.
I came across this old ad for Buffalo Plumbing Discount while digging around in a basement crawl space in my other life. There were several old newspapers, Buffalo Evening News and Courier Express from the 1960s and 70s.
Most were in pretty rough shape, but they were still better to work around then the pile of broken windows on the other side of the crawlspace. The few Metro pages that didn’t disintegrate had some cool old ads in them. Most were pretty much what you’d expect; Sattlers, Kleinhans, Sears. One smalll ad that caught my eye was for Buffalo Plumbing Discount Center.
When I saw it, I thought it was actually for a different plumbing place we’ve passed over on Fillmore on our way to B&L. For some reason, that place had stuck with me, so when I saw the ad I took a few pictures of it. It wasn’t until later I double-checked the addresses and it looks like they’re different bison plumbing companies. There seems to be (or at least have been) a lot of “Bison Plumbing” companies.
Apparently naming every business in Buffalo with some variation of Buffalo, Bison, Queen City or Nickel City in the name wasn’t limited to the city’s renaissance and was just as prevalent back in the day when Broadway and Fillmore were lined with successful businesses.
The Bison Plumbing City on Fillmore is now a boarded up building, and Bison Discount Plumbing Center on Broadway is just an empty lot. It isn’t the only empty lot along Broadway or throughout the city’s East Side and the Broadway-Fillmore District. Those empty lots, sadly, represent the sum total of redevelopment that the city had invested in for those areas while Canalside and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus swell and absorb millions of dollars.
The newspaper wasn’t in the best shape, but that was cool, it gave the logo a distressed look. The problem was keeping that distressed, worn look without there being a lot of white scratchiness in the letters when I added a background color. There are probably actual ways of fixing that, but I don’t know what they are; I layered a couple copies each of the logo and background color of varying opacity, merged them, and then tweaked the lighting. It’s worked for the past when I’ve wanted to layer in a texture or old paper look, like on my Whistle Pig logo, and it did the trick here, too.