A "Sense" of My Old Neighborhood

I grew up in Poletown, Detroit. Most of the attenuated remnants of which are buried under a GM Cadillac Plant. The history of the razing of that neighborhood is quite a story in itself.

Part of this exercise in recollecting that place is to put in words the vivid images I still have in my mind's eye. And, nose. And, ears. Maybe, also, to put it in a way that shares the richness of it with the reader.

In previous articles I reminisced about that mecca of sweet treats, the Candy Kitchen. The parish of my baptism, Immaculate Conception and the stern Father Alexander Cendrowski, pastor during my time.

I've also mentioned such places as the Chene and Trombly Lanes, where I learned to bowl; and schoolboys worked as pin spotters. 

The Barber shop nearby on Chene where I could not for the life of me get a proper "Flat Top". But, it did have those racy magazines and tabloids. I got my first glimpse of Terry Moore, the original (to me) "sweater girl". One of those rags even had an issue tauting LSD embedded in the type on the front cover. Just soak in methyl alcohol and drink for a mind altering experience. Turns out the problem was the suggestion to use methyl alcohol; it's poisonous. No problemo with the LSD though.

The Cunningham Drug Store on the opposite corner where in my time you could still buy live leeches. And, the Rexall across the street where I often went after school to fantasize over the 8mm and 16mm movie cameras on display.

The bank on the other corner where I had a savings account and they would give me old silver dollar coins just for the asking. And, of course, for a dollar bill or equivalent. And, all nickels were Buffalo Nickels.

The shoe shine shop was down a bit from there, with several seats in a long row. And, opposite was a complete setup for hat cleaning and blocking. Men wore hats, you know.

And, further down, the magazine shop where this young lad would peruse the car magazines, and sneak a peek at the covers of the naughty ones too. 

And, props to that dry goods store where I bought my requisite khaki slacks, and the old Jewish owner would at no extra charge take them apart and resew them in the then current "pegged" style (legs tapered to the bottom). 

But, now I am recalling another small, but memorable piece of my growing up experience. Perhaps the most mundane.

On Milwaukee, just in from the intersection with Chene Street was the neighborhood shoe repair shop.

Photo: Michael Roper / I Lived in Detroit 

Over time I made several trips to that funky old place. What I so vividly recall was the sights and smells and sounds. The entire interior of the place looked a dark black/brown, like it had been smeared over the years with waxy shoe polish. It smelled of leather, rubber, and an exotic blend of heady aromatics evaporating from glue pots and shoe polish tins. 

As you entered, there was a customer counter on the left. Beyond, was a long, continuously running lathe-like spindle on which rotated several types of wheels; each with a dedicated purpose (and, sound): buffing, smoothing, shaping, sanding, grinding. The whole contraption was run by a large wide leather belt running off an electric motor noisily asserting its presence somewhere out of sight on the floor.

And, oh yes, all the customers' shoes were stuffed into brown bags and filed carefully on shelves high up on the wall.

That's pretty much it. How have you liked travelling for a while in my shoes?  

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