By Steve Siciliano
I grew up on the lower west side of Grand Rapids where a house on Hovey between Lane and Marion was the center of my childhood universe. When I was very young I wasn’t allowed to venture past those two north-south avenues and so a block-long length of sidewalk served as my playground. I got to know that sidewalk intimately. Even in the dark, with sparks flying off the steel wheels of my clamped on roller-skates, I instinctively knew each section where tree roots created dangerous uplifts that could send a speeding skater tumbling.
When I was old enough to ride a bike my universe expanded. Two blocks west were the ponds, ball fields and wooded hills of John Ball Park. To the east was the Grand River where we fished for carp and sucker off the bridges or for catfish and the occasional bass and crappies from the banks. To the south beyond Butterworth we hunted birds and squirrels with slingshots and BB guns in the expanse of woods that lined the west-flowing river. We thought of Fulton Street, with its collection of shops and stores, as our neighborhood’s northern boundary.
Maybe it’s because I've spent over thirty years in retail that I often think nostalgically about those Fulton Street businesses—the Dairy Queen on the corner of Fulton and Lane where a dime would get you an ice-cream cone, an ice-cold slush or a Dilly Bar; Nawara’s Hardware where the owner would always give deals on the fishing lures displayed in a glass case; the orange and brown A&W root beer stand where they kept the mugs in ice water, where you could get a frothy drought for a nickel and you could take a gallon jug of root beer home for a dollar (a precursor to the growler system employed by breweries today).
On the northwest corner of Lane and Fulton was a little shop called The Krazy House where you could by a bag of butter-soaked popcorn for a dime or Colored Korn or Caramel Korn for a quarter. Up towards the park was Ball Park Shop Rite, a grocery store, and right next to it was Ball Park Pharmacy with its candy and comic books and a soda fountain where you could sit in air-conditioned comfort with a bag of New Era potato chips and a glass of cherry cola. The Dairy Queen and hardware store have somehow survived, but the popcorn shop closed long ago and the Shop Rite just this past year. The pharmacy is now a party store and there's a McDonalds where the root beer stand used to be. Change is inevitable but it's not always good. Especially when change leaves nothing but empty space, and memories.