On the older work page of this site, I talk about occupying ghost-towns as a metaphor for the places we’ve been mentally, emotionally, vocationally, digitally.   In some cases, the journals where I first published flash fiction, prose poetry, and other work no longer exist.  The pages don’t load.  The links are broken.

In other cases, older posts on this blog have become ghost-towns.  Things I no longer wish to say are now Files Not Found. 

I write a great deal about where I’m from.  The story of the Rust Belt, and how my particular environment rusted out, has been (and continues to be) of primary concern for me.  Growing up in the shadows of what had once been glamorous, even famous, will do that to you; the actual color of rust on old blast furnaces and train engines fires certain creative paths that no amount of serotonin can counter.

Folks find their way here, to these posts, in all sorts of ways.  One of the more popular pieces has to do with Hess’s Department Store and what it symbolizes in the history of the Lehigh Valley.  Someone came here today with a simple query:  “where are the toy soldiers that used to be at Hess’s at Christmas during Christmas?”

They were big.  I want to say 15 feet high, maybe more. Until recently, they were on display every Christmas season at Zion’s Liberty Bell Church (the church that saved the Liberty Bell from being melted into British munition during the Revolution.  Also, my home church).  My understanding is that the logistics of storing and installing them are considerable.  I believe the City of Allentown owns them, but I’m not sure. 

These massive toy soldiers guard someone’s ghost-town.  Interesting to think about.

Just In Case You Thought I Was Kidding About Stripmalls and Greenspace in the Suburbs

You didn’t, did you?  My good friend Joe just sent this along from the New York Times: 101 Uses for a Deserted Mall.

I didn’t use the word “retrofitting” in my discussion, but that’s what we’re really talking about, here, isn’t it?  Retrofitting in the present and redesigning the future?

See also: DeadMalls.Com

Here’s the beginning of a press release from 1984 I found via DeadMalls:

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Hess’s Department Stores, Inc., has agreed to purchase the Rices Nachmans Department Stores, an eight-unit chain in the Virginia Tidewater area owned by the Phillips-Van Heusen Corp.

Irwin Greenberg, president of Hess’s, said the price would be determined Feb. 4, following completion of the transaction. He said he expected the price to be in the $10 million range.

Earlier this year, Greenberg announced that Virginia would be a major growth area for Hess’s, either through acquisition or new store openings. Negotiations with Phillips-Van Heusen started last March, he said.

Rices Nachman units, averaging 60,000 square feet each, …


Chris Cocca Is Wrong About Everything + Novels + Hess’s Department Store + Paul Ceglia and Facebook: Search Term/SEO Answer Bag #57

I’ll start this edition of the Search Term Answer Bag by admitting two things:

  • It’s not really, sequentially, #57.  That’s just its name.  Probably because I like ketchup.
  • I stole the whole idea from David Letterman’s old “CBS Mail Bag” routine.  “Letters, we get letters, we get lots and lots of letters! LETTERS!”

and a suspicion:

  • I am approximately one half of this blog’s audience who gets a kick out of this bit.  Good enough for me.

Now, on to the search terms!

First, my favorite:

chriscocca is wrong about everything?

Even here, I was only wrong half the time.

Classic.  There are a few other Chris Coccas out there in the world, so I won’t be big-headed enough to claim that this was a query about me as a matter of fact.  But for the sake of this post, we’ll go with it.

I appreciate that this was searched with a question mark and not a exclamation point or, even worse, a period. As far as an answer goes, I’m willing to say that I’m probably not wrong about every single thing, but we can’t really be sure.  I also think chriscoccaiswrongabouteverything would be a great name for a website not called The Daily Cocca, and it would be an excellent follow-up album to the still-on-hiatus uppityupalexvanderpoolera.

Searching for verbs and/or prepositions:

what to when you are almost finished a novel?

It’s unclear here whether the asker is almost finished reading or writing said novel. If reading, I’d say get ready to pick your next book. If writing, I’d say get ready to revise. That’s when the real writing happens.  If you’ve done that, and have met with good writers groups and gotten feedback you trust and then revised again and then again and are sure you manuscript is exactly what it should be, then I guess you start sending query letters to agents and try to start publishing excerpts.

A get a lot of hits from people looking for information about Hess’s Department Store.

Behind the South Mall in 2011. Image by Frank Tienstra.

And rightly so. It was an amazing place.  Today’s proper question:

when did hess’s dept store allentown pa remodel the front of the store

Sadly, I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m guessing it was before I was born (1980).  Can any Allentonians/Lehigh Vallians help me out here?  I’ve been getting a lot of hits from people looking for the famous rainbow-colored sugar from the Hess’s Patio Restaurant.  I know you used to be able to buy it at MusikFest, and I’m willing to bet you can find it on ebay if not at places like the Moravian Bookstore or the Lehigh County Heritage Center.  Sadly, I can’t be much help with those seeking strawberry pie recipes.  But I can share this post, with 30+ commentators sharing their favorite Hess’s memories. Really a special place. I can also share this bittersweet, recent image sent to me by Frank Tienstra. It’s one of the old Hess’s trucks still sitting behind the South Mall as of January.  Sad for anyone who knows what Hess’s was all about.

Lastly, a question about Facebook:

is facebook layout changing again for the summer 2011

I really don’t think so, but this could be one of the things I’m wrong about.  Mashable has some of the best coverage of social media developments: here’s the Facebook news aggregator-inator.   Soon, you may have better luck asking this guy:

Not Mark Zuckerberg

Never heard of Paul Ceglia?  He’s the chap that might (ooops) own half of Facebook.  So who knows?  Maybe Paul has a few design ideas stashed with all those old emails he keeps finding.  When I first heard about this case last year, I thought it was a long shot.  But the plot keeps thickening. When I try to imagine what might be the next big thing to come along and knock Facebook off the block, I have a pretty hard time.  But you know what?  It might just end up being Mark Zuckerberg.

You’ll Find the Best of Everything at Hess’s, Allentown, PA

Insert a Boss lyric here.

My wife and I were watching the Hess’s documentary on PBS 39 last night.  Even though I wasn’t alive for Hess’s (and Allentown’s) mid-century glory, I visited the original store on 9th and Hamilton quite a few times in my youth (the 80s and early 90s).  My memories of Hess’s aren’t as robust as my parents’:  I never saw Pip’s show in the window, the Flower Show, or Adam West and Burt Ward.  I do remember 1984 Olympic apparel and following the Swatch counter workers around the store because my cousins and I were convinced they had top-secret new designs on their persons (I remember them in white lab coats. please tell me this is not confabulation).  I remember standing in line for a seat at the Patio (a formerly world-famous restaurant on the basement level for you out-of-towners) not very infrequently, and having my meal (usually chicken croquets) brought in a miniature oven and desserts (chocolate mousse) in tiny freezers.  I remember the models, the French room, the spiraling drive of the parking deck.  Other memories are more spotty.  At some point, a store is a store is a store to a kid.

What do you remember?