• Team Willard


A store as a time capsule from 1964


Picture: Geert De Vleesschauwer and Tom Struyf bij Seneca Lake

(© Fien Leysen)

A few of our interviews were canceled. A couple of people would have been in the area, around the time of our stay in Trumansburg, but they have canceled all their plans because of the snow storm.

On the news we hear how the temperature is breaking some records.

It's been a while since it was this cold here. Even though the winters are always strict. This year is exceptional. Just our luck.

On camera, however, it looks gorgeous.

J. J. Martin's General Merchandise

Our meeting with Tom Martin, luckily, isn't canceled. We meet in front of an empty house on Main Street in Willard. The former store owned by Tom's parents. In 1964, the store closed, they shut the door behind them and never opened it again. Today, Tom is taking us for a look inside.

We wear the masks that Tom brought for us. The house is full of asbestos, he's not taking any risks. We follow him inside, walk through the part of the house where they used to live. There's nothing there anymore.

The carpet shows lumps and bumps in the corners.

The cold has found its way inside.

Long ago.

We reach the store, find ourselves in a time capsule.

On the shelves are still products. A box of Niagara Instant Laundry Starch. Next to the register is a log book, carefully detailing the amounts and which customer still owes the shopkeeper. We jokingly ask if Tom would still like to collect on those debts.

We get the grand tour. Tom tells us he's been back a few times, to get little things every now and then. But most things have remained untouched. His brother owns it now, refuses to sell.

They don't maintain it, don't really want it. And yet, they can't say goodbye to it.

After we leave, we realize how unique that was, to be allowed inside. When asked who we're talking to, we tell the people in the neighborhood about Tom Martin, and our visit to the store. Everyone is curious when we mention it. They only remember the store the way it was, back in 1964. They haven't set foot inside since then.

We think of how Willard has become a giant time capsule. How the Martins' grocery store is, in a way, a metaphor. Everyone here remembers the town as it was, from before. They can still see the year 1964. They can see it in the streets, the buildings, in each other. The three of us, outsiders, bring with us the year 2019. We disrupt the landscape, notice the disruption. We point out the differences, see the changes, the laundry powder that has gone bad, and we try to capture a forgotten time with our camera, try to look back. Little by little, we're catching a glimpse.

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