No matter where I live, nearly every day, it’s been a habit of mine to walk the streets and neighborhoods surrounding my home. I’ve always just thought of myself as someone who likes to walk about. But, one day, I heard the word flâneur and liked all it connoted: “A person who walks the city in order to experience it,” according to French essayist Charles Baudelaire.
Others describe the flâneur as an urban observer, one who keenly notices his or her surroundings—or, more unkindly, a gadabout or loafer who has nothing better to do than stroll about.
One thing that can fill me with low-grade distress, though, is change. Which, on the Main Line, seems to happen with increasing regularity. Places that we’re used to—and even fond of—are suddenly torn down or replaced with something inferior to the original.
I recently tried to go to the new Walgreens in Bryn Mawr, and it was gone. Not that I was that attached to this Walgreens, but I’d been attached to the Barnes & Noble that preceded it. When that closed, I felt the seismic shift predicted by business experts. It was true: Bookstores were closing.
When I first moved to the area, there was a French bistro in Suburban Square that my husband and I could walk to. We were addicted to their steak frites. Then, one day, Plate moved in. It was never the same.
In fact, restaurants come and go with alarming efficiency. The space next to Bryn Mawr Film Institute seems to house a new eatery every few years. Every time I eat at Gladwyne’s Old Guard House Inn, I’m happy just being there, knowing they’ve been around all these years.
There are a couple of local women’s clothing stores that seem to drift from location to location, though they keep the same name. This makes me feel as though I have early-onset dementia. When the salon and nail spa I’d been frequenting for years moved to Media, this also caused me minor anxiety. I suppose I could drive to Media, but I never have. I found a new place close by and started over.
My biggest fear right now—and I am bracing for it—is that the last remaining hardware store on Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr will go the way of the others in the area. I loiter there, treading the worn, wooden floors, buying things I could get cheaper at Target.
Centuries ago, Heraclitus penned the words, “Nothing endures but change.” One reason I became a writer is that books and stories have the ability to hold perfectly, on the page, a life that has ceased to exist—people, towns and landmarks that would otherwise be forgotten.
Haverford-based freelance writer Kathy Stevenson wasn’t surprised to see Blockbuster go. TLA Video was always better anyway.