Local businesses offer charming quirks, lasting memories

Take a trip with me down Memory Lane and you’ll end up on Main Street, Greenfield, making a difference in your community’s success.

The Italian meat market in my childhood neighborhood was much like Dave’s Meat Market on State Road 9. It was a legend, the only place Italians would think of getting sausage.

My childhood pizza parlor, abuzz with children running wild and parents not noticing, had a player piano. I watched the piano more than listened to it, mesmerized by the piano keys moving as if by magic and watching the music sheet, with its Byzantine punch-holes, scroll. The restaurant was similar in feel to Hometown Classic Pizza.

Another family joint where kids can have lots of fun is the Wooden Bear, where they play on foosball tables while their parents taste fine hops.

In my childhood, a pizza supper was always followed by a couple of trips down the Giant Slide on a piece of burlap. Though different from That Fun Place near I-70, it shared the goal of bringing kids sheer joy.

My girlfriends and I used to ride bikes or walk to the local strip mall. We loved sitting in the booths at Ray’s B-B-Q, legs swinging under the table as we ate French fries smothered in ketchup. The waiters were notable in their white paper hats folded to look like an upside-down canoe.

The Frosty Mug was a favorite in Greenfield, sharing the same appeal of Ray’s B-B-Q. It has been upgraded to The Mug and is still a local favorite with a different kind of charm.

On Saturdays, my sisters and I would pay to see the morning movie with our six bottle tops, the ones from the coke bottles we would return to the Piggly Wiggly for our 5-cent deposit. The movie theater wasn’t authentic Art Deco like the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, but we didn’t know what we were missing.

If we’d had a cool place to shop for gifts, jewelry or cards, we would’ve been regulars at Greenfield’s Red Banana. Alas, the age of the chain stores and mega-malls was under way in my youth. We proudly boasted of The Eastwood Mall because it made the intersection of Oporto and Crestwood Blvd. the most active in the whole state of Alabama. But then, what do kids know?

Did you know when you support local business, for every $100 spent $68 remains in the community? Compare that to $43 staying in the community with chain stores’ Those figures come from a 2004 study by American Express and shared with me by Denna Gundrum of Penny’s Florist. She is on a mission to get more people buying local.

Did you know that buying local reduces your carbon footprint? According to Dictionary.com, a carbon footprint is “the amount of carbon dioxide or other carbon compounds emitted into the atmosphere by the activities of an individual, company, [or] country.” Following is an example using the purchase of goat cheese:

From the Caprini Creamery in Spiceland, Indiana, to Greenfield: 18.7 miles — .01 metric tons CO2e

From Elkmont, Alabama, famous for its excellent goat cheese, to Greenfield: 485 miles — 0.17 metric tons of CO2e

From France to Greenfield, because you like to spend more money for something to believe its better: 4,157 miles — 2.47 metric tons of CO2e

There is a big difference in environmental and economic impact purchasing locally produced goat cheese, among other things. And it’s a difference for the better. I calculated this while sipping excellent coffee at Lincoln Square Pancake House, a local favorite for breakfast and lunch. And locally owned Carol’s Cornerstone Café’s great service and biscuits make it a Saturday morning must. And who doesn’t love a Sweet Shop doughnut, especially hot right out of the fryer?

The next best thing to a local grocer in Greenfield is the Hoosier Harvest Market, where you order online but pick up locally grown produce, meat, honey and jellies from the nice ladies who make sure your order is correct. We always have a chat, usually about gardening or recipes.

When I was a child, hot summer days required a visit to the “little store” for frozen treats. We walked the long way because the short way involved German shepherds. We all took for granted the ill-fitting screen door, wooden floors and old man behind the counter. The clean, well-lit chain store that replaced such a place years later was like any other: fluorescent bulbs, shelves stocked with surgical precision and no special quality at all.

There is no substitute for the immeasurable satisfaction of shopping where you know the owner, feel his personality in the shop’s dusty ambiance, and remember years later the sunlight streaming into the ill-lit cornucopia of Goo-Goo Clusters and Red-Hots.

This Christmas, and always, shop local.

Donna Steele, an Alabama native, moved to Hancock County in 2011. She lives in Greenfield.