Sunday, August 4, 2013

Ode to a cafe pharmacy (or, love letter to central Appalachia)

That is, in a sense, what Amy D. Clark has written, published in the form of an op-ed in the NYT:  "Appalachian Hope and Heartbreak."  Clark writes of CVS's purchase of her hometown pharmacy--which is also a cafeteria--in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.   It's a powerful essay that starts this way:
A person just passing through Big Stone Gap may not notice the corner drugstore on Wood Avenue with the fading sign, its windows dark and hollow like so many others in these rural coal towns. But for people who live here in the heart of central Appalachia, the Mutual Drug Cafeteria was a community hub, an extension of the family kitchen. It’s where residents could fill a prescription, pick up an oil lamp or a strawberry huller, find a plastic pirate sword for the school play and get a good cup of coffee with a plate of pork chops, soup beans, pickled beets and blackberry cobbler.
* * * 
I found comfort in the store’s dark paneling, the creak in the floor, the aroma of kraut and franks, the first names of everybody from the pharmacist to the cooks. 
Clark's essay goes on to talk about the role of the pharmacy/cafeteria in the community, but also as part of revitalization efforts, as community development, as a tourist attraction.  Here's more:
There is potential in our rural community and those nearby for landmarks to be renovated and reopened, and crumbling buildings replaced with gardens, spaces for farmers’ markets and theaters. If towns want to thrive again, they have to focus on preserving and promoting their signature attractions. Small businesses like the Mutual must be part of that plan to draw people back.
Poignant and lovely as Clark's depiction of the Mutual is--and so worth a read in its entirety--the part of the essay that resonated most with me was this quote from Big Stone Gap native and author, Adriana Trigiani:  
It seems like such a small thing, a corner pharmacy with a cafe in a small town. But the Mutual was everything to me when I was a girl. The greater world lived in our corner pharmacy.
The greater world indeed, and a very special world for kids lucky enough to grow up in places like Big Stone Gap.

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