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    A Notion

    If I hadn't snagged a job in 1994 working on an oral history project with the then EDIC in Turners Falls I wouldn't have heard about the tiny space I now rent on Avenue A. I was transcribing interviews of elderly Turners Falls residents and someone mentioned a little place that sold roasted peanuts next to Equi's candy store. So I looked for it. There was a little doorway and what remained of a lighted sign post sticking out over it. So something was definitely there once. I liked the notion and tucked it in the back of my mind about that. Whenever I walked by with the kids I would point it out.

    But that was years ago, 17 years ago. In all that time I don't think anything went on in there. At least I don't remember. But there were times when I wouldn't bother with that section of the avenue at all. I was busy with the kids and going to school.

    Last March I was going around town with donation cans for the Feast for the Arts fundraiser in Turners. I put one in Equi's and asked about the little space just out of curiousity.  Immediately in my mind I thought "Nina's Nook" which has been a little name I have saved up in my mind for a little store of my own someday. Walt, the building owner, let me in a few days later and we struck a deal for rent that I could easily front even if I made no money down there. 


    It was being used as a bottle depository for the candy store--which in its present configuration is more like a package store with candy--and stank like old beer. THere hadn't been electricity on in there for a long time so I had to get an inspection done before they would turn on the power. It has it's own fusebox and meter right by the door. When I went to register at Town Hall we had to decide on an address. I chose "125a" because Equi's is 125, but I could have chosen 123 1/2 because it is in between 123 and 125. 123 is Tognarelli heating co. 

    THe picture above is after Walt got rid of the empties about mid April-early May. The concrete floor was pretty slimed with old beer and soda. I planned to paint the floor, but ran into trouble. That comes later though.

    First, when I came back downtown in the spring to start fixing it up, Walt showed me where the roof had been leaking. Shit! I went in back of the place (the roof slopes to the rear) through the alleyway, and climbed up to poke at it a bit. It was pretty rotten! In fact the whole back end of the store was a patchwork of old rotten plywood over what used to be a back door leading on to the alleyway. I pulled some away from the rest and saw a face!

    There was a very strange painting on the plywood that was nailed over the doorway! I can't figure out if it is supposed to be a pirate, a Minuteman, or what! Maybe for a bicentennial beerfest or something? Here's the rest of it

    The Montague Reporter ran a photo of it in the paper but noone stepped forward with a memory.

    Memory! That's the other thing, the back burner inspiration for this space: story collecting. Me, an old black Underwood, a chair, a snug comfy safe little Nook to record and transcribe the oratory of passerby. This inspiration came from the Northangle Nocturne comic book created by my friend Wednesday's then-husband Russell. A guy in a storefront in North Adams --er--Northangle--typing up whatever spews forth from the characters that wander in. I had the idea people would just love to have a passive audience to soak it all up--so much so that I invested in a 5 minute sand timer to keep it managaeble and cut off the wandering ones. It really bears no relationship to what actually happens on a day to day basis though. Another big idea like the day glo bracelets and necklaces I thought I'd do a killing selling at the town events. Hah! I don't have the hustle, that's what I've found out! 

    Back to the building. I had to find someone to repair the roof and back wall. I decided I would put a door back there for cross ventilation as long as it was being torn apart. And I had half an idea to fix up that long, narrow alley in back that ran another 40 feet to the rear, even though it had two huge old heat exchangers blocking the end and trees growing up in it through the usual trash. I wish I had taken a picture of the alley before I fixed it up!

    I called some contractors and home depot and some roofer spam that came over the company fax machine. The home depot guy showed up in his orange apron much to the delight of the street drunks who pointed and howled. It was obvious from the start when he saw the job that it wasn't something that home depot would touch but he just wanted to go on and on being "knowledgeable" or whatever. The contractors came in really high and the spam roofer set up an appointment and never showed up. I ended up using Terry Estes, the contractor recommended to me by Uncle Greg Sudak. A nicer guy could not be had for any amount of money though he cost less than the other officious and obnoxious contractor dudes. 



    Work Begins

    The roof at 125a wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. Terry and his helper, Zak, were able to "sister" some new beams onto the old ones in the back of the shop. I had them extend them past the roof line to create a little overhang for the back door stoop. I chose a solid, windowless metal door with a deadbolt for the rear. Looking at the state of the alley back there, I didn't want any break-ins by the folks who obviously drank and drugged in the secluded passageway back there. 

    It was also a relief to think of having an exit to the back. Customers coming in the front effectively "pinned" me to the rear of the shop. It just didn't feel right without the door!

    The roof was done, the door in, some insulation stuffed into the ceiling, and various rotten boards around the door in front replaced. Terry put a nice new roof over the front door, and strung new chain supports for the sign pole. He put in a dead bolt on the front door as well. 

    I started painting.

    To the left of the store coming in from the street was the white wall for paintings and such. The right wall with the swooping stenciled band of color and leaves would be the craft wall, for jewelry and sculpture and handbags and accessories. I thought the contrast between walls would help open up the space and give it some movement and sense of excitement.

    I replaced the flourescent fixtures with a track system, and hung the chandelier I got in Venice in 1972 at the front. (I was the kind of romantic, materialistic twelve year old who begged for chandeliers for her bedroom. When we got back from Italy after that trip I was determined to build a miniature cathedral in my bedroom--doll sized--I don't think I got very far though. I loved creating environments. THe transformation of raw material to functional, meaning-laden object is exciting. Particularly of you are also creating the whole context for the object as well....Perhaps the Nook appeals to the doll house builder in me? Except finally a dollhouse I can enter and interact with the world in? )

    As I mentioned before, I had a devil of a time with the floor. I bought some of that muriatic acid stuff for cleaning concrete. It was a problem not having water inside the nook, too. I went to my landlord at Equi's candy store for a bucket and Edie, Walt's mom, said the faucet in the sink was broken. Hmm. So I begged water off the rather grumpy office people at the heating company next door who said  that Edie was a liar and not to trust her. More about the neighbors later..

    But the acid wash foamed up with a thick, snot like froth that the mop was helpless to lift off the floor. I didn't have a drain to wash it down either. The only hole in the floor was by the front door and filled with dirt--I hoped to grow something there. In desperation I went to Aubuchon and bought a squeegee and some cedar kitty litter to soak it up. Actually worked pretty well with the cedar scrubbing the floor as I moved it around. But not nearly clean enough to paint! 

    I finally went to Home Depot and got some rolls of floor insulation and put that down, followed by a layer of hallway/stair carpet with a rubber backing in neutral grey/beige. I had found this lovely runner, black with ornate flowers in golds and greens and with a soft, cut wool pile. I put this down the middle, covering the overlapping grey runners and defintely adding a touch of class to match the chandelier! 

    Make do, make do, make do, I am the fucking Queen of make do. I was proud of this solution and the way things were shaping up. But ...not so happy about the neighbors upstairs at the Equi's building. Drunk and raging by noon, they were so loud in a braying, booming, bad-baby-boy way that I had to keep my ears stopped up with my ipod to maintain my sanity. Well--it brought me back to certain years living with the rages of the alcoholism of Jimi Edwards back in Ptown. Could I possibly suck it up and listen to this stuff all day? Where would it lead my writing (I thought I would be writing, too, in the back of the nook when I wasn't busy collecting stories from the residents of TFMA)--probably back to those dark days living int he twilight zone of alcohol with Jimi. I'd already purged so much of that self-confessional writing therapy stuff when I was a student. Alcoholism makes for some pretty "good material" when it is as advanced as Jim and I took it. 

    I talked to Walt. It was his own brother up there making all the noise with another brother and their girlfriends and others. Ok, so they are 40-50 yrs old and still drinking so ... pretty far advanced all right but like I mentioned I had collected all my own material on that subject already so I wasn't too interested in what they were all about. I knew. I could hear them up there. It was tortuous. And on the other hand, I had invaded their setup unexpectedly. Noone could hear them on that side except for me, since the heating company didn't have a second floor. I told Walt I;d let them have my old air conditioner so that the windows could remain closed. A while later there was one in the front window, but the back windows were still open all the time, primarily so they could empty the ashtray and the vacuum cleaner cup. I suspect he vacuumed solely for the purpose of emptying the cup into the alley. 

    I talked to my friend Peter who had been dealing with this similar living situation at his house for years now. The same drunken family lived right next to him, doing the same fight the same jokes etc for seven years or more. And they stayed there because their brother owned the building and carried them when they couldn't pay the rent. Family! Bless it, right? Should I "fight back" with the neighbors or ignore it? Should I bother even trying to fix up the alley, or give in to the terrorist alkies and let it be a crack pipe karaoke hot spot? There were still things lying around back there that I'd only seen on TV cop shows. 

    Peter's advice was to keep it cool. Take the "high road" as it were and don't do anything that meant compromising my own best behavior. So, clean up whatever they drop out the window without comment and eventually they will stop from shame. They will be ashamed? I wasn't so sure about that. I didn't feel very ashamed of the good material I'd collected back in Ptown. Had I been a tad worse then they were? Maybe wore because I didn't have a valid excuse like the Williams boys--eight kids getting beat up by their drunken dad all the time. I just had a minor waa-waa compared to that story. 

    I wasn't quite ready to clean up the alley yet anyway so I just let the junk accumulate while I worked inside. My ipod shuffle flooded my brain with smart feeling podcasts that I would forget all about the next day. 

    I loved my project! I had that happy, fizzy, super adrenaline high going on. My hands shook on Home Depot runs. I was hoping to open in May, right after we got back from our trip to Chicago for my niece's wedding. I was thinking it was just going to be all Nina, all the time. It evolved from there, but that's how it started. I strung up my paintings on one side, and all my crafts on the other. I planted some thyme in the dirt patch in the floor, and made some wristwatch flowers to grow in it. I put up a wall mounted marble run on the other side of the door as an anti-stuffy gallery statement and to create an invitation for kids to play there if they wanted, and absorb subliminally that "art was fun". The troughs and tubes worked for a while then the sticky stuff gave out...and the thyme died. On the first week in the Nook, some kids came by and played for hours with the marble run. I was pretty ecstatic about that. But I am getting too far ahead here.

    I needed storage areas, and hanging devices and shelves and lots of mirrors. My vision was lots of funky old mirrors on the craft wall to break the space up and make it seem bigger. Everything I wanted to do, every step, seemed to always involve dragging yet another tool downtown from the house. At night, I worked on painting my sign for the sign pole out front. Would the spotlights work? I wasn't sure. I wasn't even sure the baseboard heating unit would work. Visions of things shorting out and fizzling and sparking came and went through my fever.

    Things were shaping up behind the newspaper covered windows. 

    Caleb had the brilliant inspiration to put "Curios" on the transom. Or maybe he just thought of the word and it immediately fell into gold letters up there because it was so Of Course. I put little plate glass shelves in the front window to display some intriguing items. I hung hooks all over the craft wall to hang necklaces from, and used the wall socket conduit that ran down the wall at waist height to hang pocket books and such from aluminum hooks I bent at Eddie's Wheels from scrap. I had planned to have a curtained area to the rear to make the story recording space a little more womb like and comfy, but when I put it up it looked like crap and obliterated the obvious benefits, breeze wise, to having the rear door open (despite the noise). 

    Shortly before I opened, Walt switched his bro to the other side of the building so there wasn't any noise back there anymore. Another couple rented it out and I could here the sounds of people taking care of themselves, washing dishes and things. I couldn't believe it! The enabling thing had a limit! It was a big relief. I didn't have to talk myself into going through more therapeutic revisioning of Jimi and I and our half gallon a day habits. Or drench my brain in podcast after podcast only to be frustrated by my absolute blank recall. (hmm, could there be a connection there?)

    I was very worried about hanging the sign. I was actually very scared to do it. It was a declaration, a sticking out the neck, an announcement, a beginning, a possible guillotine.  I mean I didn't want to be out in the middle of the sidewalk on a ladder doing it while the world watched. My project had thus far been very private, concealed in the 5 foot wide shed between two buildings. It was a coming out! Of course the solution was to get Caleb up there which he gladly did because he doesn't suffer quite the same sort of performance anxiety that I do. He's got his own, believe me, quirks, shall we say, but my crawling shame is my own.

    I borrowed a ladder from my boss, who dropped it off without even taking a peek at the store. That felt a bit weird, I would have expected a bit of curiousity, though actually I had been careful not to talk too too much about my project at work and keep it low key. In fact, only at the very last did I start talking it up in general. I found the secrecy surrounding my creative process  somehow very necessary. I didn't want suggestions except from Caleb and my close family. Ones who had a sense of my "vision" and how obsessively I would pursue it. And, there was the feeling of "coming out" as a shop keeper, and my twinges at baring my venture.

    (And Hey, the spotlights worked, too! )

    In the end, the newspaper featured the store and after a few days I fell into the role without much further problem. (Yet oddly, not one person that I work with has ever stopped by the store to check it out, to this day!) 

    Except for the problem with the sign. Somehow I had a brain fart about materials when it came to making the thing. I used some nice birch plywood, and the expensive sign painters "one shot" enamel from Couture Bros. Unfortunately I did not use exterior ply! Don't know what the hell I was thinking, since I've done other signs here and there before.  It should have been marine grade MDF board. After a few good rains I noticed buckling and separation at the edges. The glue wasn't water proof and it was coming apart, possibly on a pedestrian. Despite the temptation of some very strong material to run through the old Underwood if something so dramatic should happen, I was mostly mortified. All the anxiety I had gone through about the sign raising, and my over active imagination hadn't been able to predict this disaster! My name--my public face--unveiled and then destroying itself, revealing the shoddy workmanship of the rank amateur I truly am.  All I could do was pace around muttering, Fuck! Fuck! while waiting for the real sign maker, Hale Custom Signs, to complete my rush order polypropylsomething indestructible new Nina's Nook sign.

    At either side of the door, Denise DiPaolo had placed some pots of flowers one night as a welcoming surprise. I stopped downtown to water them on days that I wasn't at the store. There was always some cigarette butts around there, right in front of the door. I would see the brother sitting on the stoop at front or side of the building, usually looking pretty red and rough. Loud. Scrapes and bruises. I would try to look him in the eye but he wouldn't meet my eyes. I never avoided him although I felt great revulsion and some fear of him, but sought to show I was not afraid or stuck up by coming close by him and seeking to say hi. COme to find out the man was such a coward one on one at the same level as the street. Only leaning out above me from his window where he felt safe was different and he acted tough then. A coward and a bully. I pretty much lost my fear of him after that, just from having to be aroudn watering my flowers and running into him.

    The mother, Edie, always smokes outside about every 45 minutes when she works at the store, which is every day until Walt comes in the afternoon. She is 70 something. She tries to be nice to folks she isnt' grumpy or anything. You can tell it has been hard life for her though, there is a dead still center in her where some monster sat on her heart. The husband no doubt. Maybe something before then.

    So she opens at 7, first palce in town where you can buy beer. O did I mention that this vintage candy store (same place since 1878 or something) is mostly a packy, too? All summer long the lights are off and there is no candy in the case because Walt pays a fortune to run the coolers keeping the beer cold and doesn't want to pay for the lights or airconditioning to keep the candy from melting. There are all these glass cases, empty, on the one side, and cigs and lottery and penny candy on the other. The beer coolers are in the back.  Some dusty coffee cups in the window advertise New England Coffee, but I never smell it brewing in there. After 4pm Walt comes in and blusters about in a big and loud way behind the counter, shooting the breeze with all kinds of folks who come in and/or hang out front. I think he works at an autoparts place up in Brattleboro. I can hear his voice inside the Nook, through the brick wall and everything.



    Selling My Stuff

    Inventory, inventory, inventory, how does anyone ever get ahead of the game when you manufacture and sell your own stuff? Everything I sell goes into restocking, expanding, adding new items, tooling for new items...I guess I need to reach a critical mass of  sales to "get ahead" on this game. Meanwhile, I am always in my "sweatshop" making new items.

    My original idea was just to stock my own pieces but as time went on I saw the benefit to filling in the gaps with other people's work. Not everyone likes my style or choice of materials so it's nice to have a variety. I put in Liz Smith's glittery glass earrings and sold 7 pair...then added some costume jewelry from Wednesday's mom's estate and people continue to buy those necklaces, too.  I put Flo Rosenstock's miniature vases  in too since their dear wee scale fit so well there on my little shelves.

    When I pulled a bunch of work to hang my show in Beckett this summer, I invited Ariel Jones to put her photo paintings up instead. When I got my work back from Becket (where, mysteriously, they were wild about my cloth bead necklaces and I sold 10 of them) I didn't want to get rid of hers because it added such quality and color and life to the Nook. We edited them down to mostly local scenes and released it again as a new exhibit, "Scenes of Turners Falls", and were lucky enough to catch a reporter on the hunt for an arts feature for the Greenfield paper. 

    More than anything else, that story has brought people through my door. I couldn't possibly have paid for more effective advertising than that. The little business opening announcement that ran in June hadn't nearly the same effect as this feature did. Then following it with the "Wonderful Wonderful Night in Turners Falls" event on Dec 9 was perfect timing in getting people over to shop in Turners before the holiday.( At least from my perspective, I know there are some who thought it was a dismal event and disappointing. Perhaps their expectations were out of line with Turners Falls. Who knows!) I credit Ariel for the idea for the shopping event.

    I can move from idea to action quickly if there is support and encouragement. Otherwise i am prone to second guessing myself and seeking support in the wrong places. It is surprising that the store idea survived my process of doubt. I kept asking Caleb if it was a crazy insane idea or not, and he kept rooting for it to happen, so I never fell off my horse after all. When I saw that the ceiling was leaking I knew that was the moment I could can the idea or go forth fully committed with a larger investment than I had anticipated. 

    I would like my work to appeal to strangers, but a fair amount of sales are to people I already know. My best new item for the GP has been stuffie slugs in polar fleece. "Slimy Sam and Slippery Sally". Kids love them immediately. Their form is simple and direct and their eye stalks are cute.  At 7 bucks the parent doesn't have to debate it too much. Seven dollars is a great price for stuff. My buddy Ed L always prices his used chairs at 7 bucks. Terrific number! I did four craft fairs and these stuffies outsold everything else. 

    There is something rather humiliating to me about doing a craft fair.  I can't help thinking like this. Perhaps because I am not creating the environment, but sitting out in the marketplace with my wares, like a beggar, not a shop keeper.  I just don't care for vending this way, but accept it as sort of a necessary evil. Maybe being "passed over" is sort of like a speed dating snub of some sort. There's the attempted engagement, the feint at upbeat sales pitching, outside of my element. I love it when people come into the store and "get" that a special, happy place has been created out of nothing. Whether or not they buy anything, I have gotten something from them. 

     I really do enjoy free-forming the Sams and Sally's. I came up with "Stepped on Steve and Stunted Stella" slugs as well, just as a joke but people seem to like them too.  I am trusting the nature inside me which is the same as it ever was from as far back as I can remember, the grade school cartoons and the crafts I made as a kid. Slug maker. Last night my bother reminded me of a cat I had made when I was a kid, a cartoon like stuffie I made to look like our big fat black and white cat, Julius. I sewed a handle on the back of the stuffie so we could make it "walk" around and scare Julius with it, since he was a fearful type of cat. I had forgotton about that project.

    I also used to make "July-baby" cartoons featuring Julius and Jemand our two cats. I was about 10 or 12, something like that. These were created to amuse my sister. Some of the content was surprisingly, uh, mature. Like the episode where July-baby wants to have sex with this other cat and the other cat uses a diaphragm and steals his wallet, presumably thwarting his scheme to impregnate and imprison her (I think that's how it goes). Basically a you-use-me, I'll-use-you scenario. Interesting how I saw the situation as a power play. Perhaps from listening to dinner conversation from my feminist mother? THeres no good side to it though, both male and female are behaving badly. 

    I liked to have a bold, no bullshit point of view. That's what I strove for. At the same age, I created cloth dolls with embroidered vaginas that were acceptedin a shop at Cross Keys called Uniquities.( It was my favorite shop that sold new items. There was a used clothing and oddities shop on Falls Rd that I frequented more often. It was there that I purchased bits and pieces of victorian furniture, wrought iron fence sections, indian wall hangings and other cool things.I was a very materialistic girl. ) Sometimes I would fake my boldness and pose as a hippie with Moa's little red book and a big straw sombrero, refusing to do the pledge of alliegiance in school and having to stand in the hall instead. Making giant dildoes out of paper and hanging them inside the door of my locker.

    Perhaps I was just a "wack job"..that could be. It sure started early though. Way before the stitched vaginal cleft and the dildo cutouts, I created a fuck room attached to my dollhouse where a priest doll had sex with his wife. The dolls were anatomically modified with a hot wire to have a prick and a hole. (Actually, the priest started life as woman, because this little plastic party favor doll didn't have a male version. The molded beehive hairdo and the tits could be filed down though.) I've often thought about how this would occur to me as a second or third grader.

    I had the whole sex thing pretty mixed up though. THe fuck room was covered in gauze and sanitary napkins like a hospital room or something. A bit of confusion about menstruation and -maybe, because of dinner table conversation--abortion, and doing it. The priest had to be influenced byt he presence of Father Greeley doming to our house because he was a student of my fathers at the time. And very handsome and mysterious in his special garb. I know there was something sexual about his garment because it meant something about sex. I am not sure if I understood that priests didn't have sex--correction, took vows of celibacy. Interesting to note that Father Greeley later went on to write a lot of novels that featured some very realistic sex scenes.  Also a cue on how seriously I considered context=environment as part of my expression of ideas. Should I have been an interior designer perhaps? 

    The dollhouses progressed from the early fuck room bookcase style dollhouse to a sprawling ranch house of cardboard rooms. I occupied about a yard and a half in front of the steam radiator on the floor of my room in Baltimore. I made much of the furniture in the house as well as the house. I made books and paintings and chairs and a full wardrobe for each doll. Anya and Phoebe I think were the names. I never "played" with the dolls, just built stuff and made fashions for them. This gave me intense, piercing joy. THere weren't as many dollhouse accessories available then so the attempts involved both creating a desire and fulfilling it. 

    At one point in junior high before we left Baltimore I became very depressed. Part of my recovery from this was to build another dollhouse, this one out of plywood, which involved using some hand tools like a jig saw and a drill. THis was a very empowering project for me and an important discovery that the road out of hell for me was in making things. That i could keep myself company in the realm of the workshop/studio. 

    The dollhouse was three floors, so I built a staircase which I was quite proud of! I cut the stringers out of plywood and used cut up paint stirrers for the stairs. I painted all the wallpaper, and used black emery sand paper for the shingles. The floors were stained. THe lid of the roof was hinged to open up on the attic. 

    The only kind of bad thing was that I was not really into the doll thing anymore after I made it. When I got to high school the following year, it looked pretty retarded to be interested in that anymore. Within two years I was to have my own real life dollhouse apartment to live in but by that point my life was in the grip of alcohol addiction and out of control. I no longer made things and reveled in the hell I found with other people bent on self destruction. Talk about a 180 degree turn. 




    Changing all the Time

    I have discovered that things have to "happen" in order to get people to come in to the space. My impulse to have other people show at the Nook, and to have the fabulous Triple S erotic art show, was a good one. Now that the show is over in March, people are not coming in to the shop! It is a nice hiatus however, and I can indulge in some restocking and other projects while I am down there. With another show opening on the 5th of April I haven't long to wait around. 

    Is it at all about selling stuff? Who would ever do this with the intention of making a living at it. I feel like I am creating culture and participation, but not sales, but not really all that unhappy about it. The attention to the work is rewarding, and as long as I can afford to I can do this for fun, for a contribution to the community, for my own mental health. I quickly got over some of my public cringing and took a liking to this shop keeper role. Sort of what I missed about running The Lunch Line, was my business role. The feedback is much greater than being an employee!! 

    It's hard to go into the candy store and get a big honking dose of negativity. Especially when what's passed off as opinion has its origin in hearsay rather than direct experience. It is like a poison. I turn the radio up in the store so as to not hear the booming beats of that voice from the other side of the wall. It does seem like he would sell to the right offer, but knowing how he is, noone will ever give him the right price and he won't let go, just strangle the place to death bit by bit. Already there's just dribs and drabs of candy in the case left over from V-day. 

    Here I am being negative myself. It seeps through the bricks! sorry.

    On a brighter note, the fence will be installed soon and I can work on the Cranny and be assured that it won't get wrecked--unless it is sabotaged from the windows above.



    Article published in the Globe featuring Lance Rice and Nina Rossi

    Click on Lance Rice  to read this story about Heroin Abuse on the rise in Western well as the story of our unlikely meeting, etc etc by Karen Brown.