Monday, June 28, 2010

Porters of Racine

We were spending a lovely summer evening driving home after checking out Frank Lloyd Wright's Wingspread House just north of Racine, Wisconsin. I like Racine very much, it's a small industrial city that reminds me of some of the old mill towns of New England. It has a relatively thriving downtown, older establishments existing side by side with newer attractions that lure visitors driving the scenic route between Chicago and Milwaukee. We've taken this route many times over the years and one of the landmarks is an establishment that has been around for a very long time, a furniture store called Porters of Racine.

I can remember the company's advertisements on Chicago TV all the way back to my childhood. The commercials featured still photographs of their wares with the voice-over of a male announcer accompanied by background music that varied with the commercials. The particular music that sticks in my mind was a soft orchestral version of the Beatles' Norwegian Wood. There was a touch of genteel formality to these low key ads that stood in marked contrast to the typical brash, in-your-face ads that were the rule of local advertising in those days with their jingles and screaming pitch-men.

I always looked forward to seeing the store housed in its 1920s era Art Moderne building. It was a welcoming beacon, even 30 years ago it seemed a wonderful anachronism in a time of big chain stores on the outskirts of town that sold mass produced furniture at low prices. It was the kind of store that was a destination unto itself, not just a place to go and buy stuff. Seeing it gave me a sense of stability and a bit of a connection with my childhood even though I never set foot in the place. Every time we passed by I'd have the sinking feeling that Porters would be shuttered, and every time I'd breathe a sigh of relief to find it still open.

Until this past weekend.

My heart sank a bit when I saw curtains covering up the show windows. The thought went through my head, "maybe they're just re-modeling the interior". Then in the entrance I saw the sign. I couldn't read the entire text, only the "Thank You" at the top. I knew this was the end.

From their website this is text of the message, low key and elegant as ever: "Thank you. Porters of Racine is now closed. After 150 years, we're grateful to all our customers. It has been our pleasure to serve you."

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