This was the main street in Turners Falls, MA yesterday around 12 noon. Turners Falls is a crummy, old red-brick factory town which is trying to reproduce itself as a weekend destination, particularly during leaf-peeping times.
The town, which sits alongside where the Connecticut River makes a hard left and then a hard right before it flows down past Springfield and on into Connecticut, had several factories which used the water to provide steam power to run the machines which produced cheap table settings and was known in the olden days as the ‘cutlery town.’
Then along came World War II, and the factories switched from forks, knives and spoons to some kind of military supplies. Then after the war along came the Japanese and now the Chinese who produce the table settings sold in Wal Mart and that was the end of Turners Falls.
So, the town sat there slowly collapsing for fifty or so years, and in that respect, was typical of every other red-brick factory town in New England and throughout the United States. Until a few years ago, the only retail establishment that did any business in Turners Falls was the Salvation Army consignment store which occupies the space that used to be occupied by a supermarket until it went bust.
Want to buy food for the dinner table? You can always get some Spam and potato chips at the corner convenience store and hope you have enough dough left over for your lottery ticket, your six-pak, and your cigarettes.
That was Turners Falls.
Somehow, don’t ask me how, one day about five years ago the town decided to try arresting its slide into oblivion and hired a city manager who had an idea for how to change things around. The first thing he did was to create this weekend which now has become a very, big deal.
I walked the four blocks on Main Street which are used for what they call the ‘town fair,’ and I counted nearly 200 booths selling food, clothing, jewelry, tools and small appliances, and all kinds of other crap. And this isn’t a tag sale — the stuff being sold was new and wasn’t cheap!
Want a small cup of coffee which costs 95 cents at the local Dunk? Try three bucks. Want a ‘gourmet’ muffin which goes for $2.50 at the local convenience store? My chocolate and banana muffin yesterday cost me five bucks.
Want a souvenir to show all your friends where you spent Saturday afternoon? You can buy a cutesy t-shirt and ‘only’ pay twenty dollars for the same shirt that would cost eight bucks if you picked it up at the town’s Dollar Store. But the Dollar Store was closed yesterday because everyone who works there wanted to spend a day at the town fair.
Now wait just a goddamn minute! I thought that inflation had gotten so bad that never mind the cost of gasoline, the average American family can’t come up with the money to put food on the table in order to eat. And this Winter the cost of heating oil will be so high that if we don’t all starve, we’ll all freeze to death!
Last weekend we went over to Route 22 in New York State and walked around Millerton, another old factory town which reinvented itself a few years ago. What used to be the town’s railroad station is now a place where you can rent a bike. Next door is the requisite gourmet bakery and coffee shop, the bookstore carrying all the ‘Trump’s a Fascist’ books is across the street.
Want to park your car and take a walk on Millerton’s main street? Try finding a parking space that’s anywhere near the main street. You can always park a half-mile up Route 22 next to the town park named for Eddie Collins, the town’s native son who played Major League baseball in the decades around World War I.
Thank God there are some new Omicron variants of Covid-19 floating around. At least this gives NBC’s Lester Holt something to talk about every night.