(1) The Book Barn, Bethany, CT - It doesn't get much better than having 80 cents in your pocket, and then discovering a store where you can shop for hours on that budget. I used to spend entire afternoons flipping through the maps, prints, and postcards section of the book barn. At ten cents a piece, I would take home miniaturized etchings by Duhrer, prints of Hokusai, and Ansel Adams photographs in 5"x7" postcard form. Once, I splurged on a 100-year old, 30-volume copy of Honore de Balzac's "Human Comedy"-- for $30 (A few years after that, when I needed cash, I sold it on ebay for $350-- "a 1000% profit!" I thought briefly, though these days I respect the book barn much more for making it affordable than my 21-year-old self for selling it at such a high margin of profit).
Taking a hard look at the book barn, it's not difficult to see why they went out of business; they were out in the middle of the nowhere, in a hard-to-find location that, from the outside, you couldn't even tell was a business. They kept emus, for chrissakes. Plus, their most loyal customer (yours truly) could spend all day there for less than a dollar, and leave completely fulfilled. How dare they sell pleasure so cheaply!
(2) The Cloud Watcher, Providence, RI - On the green between Main St. and the canal, a couple blocks up from the Cable Car and a stone's throw from the Korean War Veterans Memorial, there used to be a rather simple sculpture: a figure in painted bronze, a striped tee and jeans, laying down with his fingers laced together behind his head, eyes towards the sky. Resting exactly between college hill and the business district, his creator seemed at first to be taunting passersby immersed in the bustle of industry with a reminder of a leisure they themselves could not enjoy. But the pacific expression on the face of the cloud watcher himself was not taunting at all, but blissfully indifferent.
I can't say whether or not the cloud watcher sculpture meets the threshold of fine art-- especially if we are using complexity as a gauge for its artistic achievement-- but I always felt something when I passed by it, whether it was envy or kinship or, at night, strangely unsettled. Anyway, it was several orders better than what inherited that public space after it was gone: a sculpture of a giant pair of trousers.
(3) The Bollywood Theater, East Windsor, NJ - There were about twenty different businesses in this Jersey strip mall, any of which we could have been referring to when we said, "I'm going to Jamesway," but we rarely if ever were referring to Jamesway itself. Then, when Jamesway had been replaced by another department store, among strangers we might have appeared to be speaking in some kind of cant when we insisted we were "going to Jamesway." During my last year of high school, "going to Jamesway" somehow referred to hanging out at the Bollywood Theater. There were no subtitles, mind you, just a guy with a puffy white shirt unbuttoned at the top, wooing a girl with impossibly long hair on a bicycle wearing a sari. We'd have to come up with our own explanations of how they got to the desert from the city, and why they are suddenly dancing with umbrellas.
How did I not realize how great it was to have our own Bollywood Theater in my home town? And why doesn't every town now have one?