Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Emporium: A Really Rough Draft

Here's the rough draft for my piece on Emporium, an antique store downtown.  It's intended for publication in the Kalamazoo Gazette.  It's really rough, guys.  Advanced warning.  My big questions for anyone who might be workshopping with me: 

1. As it stands, the ending cuts off really abruptly.  Any thoughts on how I should end?
2. Are my descriptions vivid enough?  Does this give a visual picture of the place?
3. I didn't write myself into the piece.  Was that a good decision or a bad decision?

“There’s a whole lot of people that wouldn’t set foot in this place,” says Bob Medema, “People who are wantin’ modern things.  They don’t come here.”  Medema owns Emporium, an antique store in downtown Kalamazoo.  The store’s large parking lot is almost empty on a Friday evening.  Out front, a large sign on a truck bed gestures to the store, which is open for customers. 
This is somewhat of a rare occurrence: Emporium only does business between 7 and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2 to 6 p.m. on weekends.  “Love to be open nights and weekends because, you see, anybody that’s got any wherewithal has work all day,” Medema says.

            His customers have ranged in age over the years.  When he first began the business forty-four years ago, younger people came in to look for original furniture.  Soon after that, an older crowd started frequenting the store.  In the past year or so, however, Medema’s seen an increase in younger people again.  “I’ve had a few musical instruments, I’ve put up some young posters, and let ‘em know that we’re adapting to young people,” he says.

Emporium occupies three former farm buildings.  Medema says people used to hatch chickens in the upstairs of the main building and used the rest of the complex to store fertilizer and feed, and to make molasses.  The property now houses an endless and overflowing supply of furniture: chairs sit on top of tables, tables rest on sideboards and various trinkets hang from the ceiling. 

Medema and his main colleague, Dave Cretsinger, can often be found in the main building when they’re not consulting furniture brought in by dealers or casual customers.  A counter near the entrance is piled high with bills, which Medema never throws out.  He shuns most technology, so the counter lacks the telltale sign of a checkout area: “Don’t have a cash register.  Never have had one,” Medema says. 

They invite customers who wander in to explore the buildings and to ask any questions they might have as they peruse the narrow aisles of the store.  The furniture that spills into the walkways lacks a specific system of organization.  Sideboards from different eras sit next to each other, decorated by ubiquitous glassware.  “Wherever we find a place to set [a piece] down,” Cretsinger says, is where it goes. 

When Medema started the store, he had $1100 worth of merchandise.  He says he originally set up pieces on display in room settings.  He put down rugs and organized the furniture carefully.  After a while the displays and the floor got dirty, and he decided not to worry about cleaning them.  The store has filled up over the years, eliminating space for displays like this.

A radio tuned to a music station provides a mixed soundtrack, a 1970s Fleetwood Mac song playing right before a top 40-sounding pop song.  When Medema and Cretsinger negotiate a purchase, their voices drift into the building, too.  They haggle a lot when people bring in pieces, critical of the types of things they’ll allow into the store.
A pair of men shows up early in the evening the shift with two light-colored wooden benches.  They tell Medema that the benches came from a church.

“These ain’t outta no church.  Don’t tell me these are out of a church,” Medema says. 
“They came with a kitchen table,” Cretsinger says, and Medema repeats it in agreement.
The men continue to insist that the benches came from a church.  They say their friend ran it, but got rid of the benches when she bought new ones.
“Well it musta been an awful poor church,” Medema says, giving in a bit.
“Yeah, it was,” says the vendor.

Medema agrees to buy the benches for a low price.  He and Cretsinger often agree to do this, even when the pieces are not very nice.  Their lower-quality items usually come from vendors they refer to as “street people.”  They consider these purchases a type of donation, helping out people in need.

Most of their pieces are made of dark wood and have a good finish.  Cretsinger says they avoid buying upholstered furniture.  Usually it requires reupholstering, which gets expensive for customers. 

The upstairs of the main building holds rows and rows of dinner-table chairs.  Medema says that people have an easier time finding tables, but often the chairs have broken.  The sets of chairs he has sell well.  He keeps them in even-numbered sets.  “I’m a nut for pairs,” he says, “Oh, I can’t tell you how much I like two.”  The odd chair confuses people; “They can’t figure out money when it comes to five chairs,” he says.

On the walls of the stairway hang suggestions of Medema’s and Cretsinger’s celebrity.  A series of newspaper clippings profile Medema himself, and others mention the store.  Thank you notes sent from local and out-of town customers cover the rest of the area.  Medema says they get lots of out-of-town customers

The other two buildings contain a similar sprawl of furniture.  None of the buildings have heat or insulation, but the other buildings don’t handle moisture as well.  One in particular has a concrete floor and ceiling, meaning it sweats humidity.  It contains furniture is not as well finished, as well as a handful of mattresses.

In the largest building, fans whir to remedy the climate situation.  “A cheap fan is wonderful.  You need air circulating,” Medema says.  Cretsinger says it helps to even out the humidity and to keep the air flowing.

This building also holds a couple of light fixtures that provide illumination to the pieces on display.  Other things hang from the ceiling as well, most notably a large model of a parrot holding a Corona bottle.  It swings between stained-glass panels, which add a touch of class to the display.


  1. Maggie,
    The Emporium sounds like a fascinating place, and from your writing I can really get a sense of the eclectic atmosphere of the store. Like the eclectic Emporium, I feel like your piece skips around a little bit – an impression here, a fact there, etc. – however, with a little rearranging the story will not only flow better, but perhaps you’ll be able to more easily flesh out a conclusion. For example, paragraph 4 begins discussing how the Emporium “occupies three former farm buildings”. I want to suggest moving your last three paragraphs to between paragraphs 4 and 5. Because the majority of your story occurs in the main building, and the rest of the descriptions about merchandise, interactions, etc. I feel that touching on these buildings early on will give the reader a full scope of the property as well as eliminate the jumping back and forth that occurs by having them at the end. Similarly, I would suggest moving the anecdote about their dark wood furniture to right after “types of things they’ll allow in the store” in order to further underscore the mini-story about light wood benches and donation-based purchases. Lastly, I suggest moving paragraphs 12 and 13 in the range of paragraphs 6 through 8, for similar reasons as above (they describe facets of the main building).
    Great work Maggie!

  2. I'm sorry, here are my answers to your questions:
    1. thoughts on how to fix the end are above, perhaps you could leap from donations-based purchases to the Emporium's awards (on the staircase) or the influence the Emporium has in the surrounding area
    2. very vivid descriptions
    3. its fine that you didn't i think

  3. Maggie,

    I loved this piece! I instantly thought Medema was hilarious - I get the sense that you really captured his character through the quotes you used. I also wanted immediately to know where this place was and how soon I can go!

    I think that if you are more profiling the place as opposed to Medema, you should add some more descriptions of the place itself. You almost throw them in at the end, and you could definitely work them throughout more thoroughly. Maybe I’m wrong and I was just so struck with the character. You tell me!

    I don’t feel that you necessarily need to write yourself into a profile, but that’s just me. I like what you’ve started here, and am incredibly intrigued by what’s to come!


  4. Maggie,
    I have a good sense of the store's owner and think you have done a wonderful job inserting his dialogue into the piece. Putting various bits of his words throughout the work helps you advance the narrative and delve deeper into who he is as a person.

    I would like to see more descriptions of the store's interior. While you do a few, I think there are so many opportunities here to really point out some of the truly obscure things that exist in that store. The interior is so unique and there are so many special things to be said about it. You definitely did not need to insert yourself into the narrative, as it reads well without that.

  5. Hi Maggie,

    What a cool subject! I had no idea what was inside Emporium and now I have a pretty clear sense of the inventory and owners. I would like to see you spend time collecting the stories behind some of the shop's most valuable (monetarily or otherwise) items for sale with detailed descriptions of them. I found the bench interaction the most intriguing part of your piece. Also interesting was your subject's exclamation for his love of twos. This could be a powerful hook for your piece, or a cool narrative thread (two barns, two workers etc.). My only suggestion is that you might want to replace some adjectives like "large" and "good" with sensory detail or a quote backing up your statement.

    Nice work. I bet the Gazette will love this.


  6. Maggie,

    I love this place! The owner (I never knew his name before) is really talkative and friendly. One of my favorite lines of his in this piece was, "“Love to be open nights and weekends because, you see, anybody that’s got any wherewithal has work all day,” Medema says." It's pretty ironic.

    I love your first line. It really draws the reader in and makes me wonder why you would step foot in there. However, I was itching for more description of the place. Maybe focus on one space and describe the objects there. There are so many odd object next to each other that would be interesting to include.