2018-08-16 / Viewpoint

The VIEW from here

Things’ll be great…

Alex Petrie Staff Writer Alex Petrie Staff Writer It probably started when I was a little boy, looking up at all of the framed black and white pictures that had begun to yellow and crack and curl at the edges. In the photos, my grandfather or my great grandfathers or my great-great uncles would be standing proudly, hands on hips, smiling big in front of their businesses, all of which happened to be in downtown Lapeer. My dad showed off his bike in front of Zemmer’s Drug Store, my mom and my aunts and uncles mugged for the camera in their Sunday best in front of Gage’s and Stephens & Weston. The passersby smiled or waved or both.

It looked so charming and quaint, like a postcard or a Frank Capra movie. Their entire lives seemed to be captured by those singular photos, sheathed in a glossy finish. I began to formulate all these ideas about downtown Lapeer, deciding subconsciously what I would associate with the area, determining much of my young adult life without even knowing it. Nothing was wrong or difficult downtown. You smile when you’re downtown. You put your hands on your hips and take pictures. You’re not allowed to worry. Everything is pleasant.

I’d get the same feeling whenever I’d visit, going with my mom to the dime store or, if I was lucky, The PIX, which was a neon beacon of otherworldliness. But, as I entered high school, things started to change gradually, and then all at once, when it seemed there wasn’t a business left to speak of. It wasn’t that my feelings had changed. They hadn’t. I still saw the charm. But there was no glimmer or sheen. It was as if the town were covered in dust, a matte finish.

I moved into an apartment downtown in 2012, when it was still pretty desolate. It felt like we had the entire place to ourselves. It belonged to us. But it was a ghost town. The only time that feeling would change was Lapeer Days. The place was overrun with people, clambering over one another with street meat and strollers, country music wafting overhead. But even if I complained about the parking or the music, I still loved it. It felt like I got to share that charm with everyone, tell them about the virtues of my postcard home, point up to my windows and say, “I live right there.”

Then, things started to change again. Gradually, then all at once. It seems like it started with the arrival of Woodchips. People were downtown again, walking around, sitting outside, looking in the empty windows, noticing that same charm I saw. Then another business popped up, then another. Jim Alt took office at the DDA and made it his personal mission to refurbish Nepessing Street. I see him prowling the sidewalks nearly every day. It’s a welcome sight. I honk and wave every time I see him. I fight for a parking spot every Friday night. I love it. Even when I hate it.

This weekend marks another Lapeer Days, another weekend with a literal sea of people below my windows. Country music. Strollers. A neon meat magnet, drawing in tens of thousands of people. And even though I’ll probably complain all weekend, I’ll stand in my window, hands on my hips, and smile big. Because I don’t think of it in terms of today, I think about what it’ll look like in pictures that my kids look at. It’ll be glossy and pleasant, like a postcard.

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