Tuesday, April 26, 2022

All in the neighborhood

Years ago when my husband and I would visit his parents in their small New Brunswick town, I'd usually sneak a few moments of alone time to hop in our car and sightsee around the area, stopping to check out any place that caught my eye.
One time, it was a home decor shop selling items in the Primitive Country style which was something my mother liked so I would stop in sometimes. 
When we moved back to the area in September, I noticed that the shop sign was no longer up and in fact, I couldn't even remember where it had been. That's because the shop was actually a small part of a home and you entered through a small porch into the store. You never tried to enter the home, because the entrance was well marked but you also knew you were in their private laneway. So every time we would drive past the homes where I remembered it was, I kept looking for which house had a 'store' attached. 
And for weeks and weeks as we sailed by in our car, I would look carefully trying to remember how the slope of the driveway was. One day I mentioned the now defunct shop site to my mother-in-law wondering if she remembered where it was and if it had moved. My mother-in-law who knows everything about everything in her small town had no idea what 'shop in someone's home' I was talking about. 
I tried to describe it to her from my memories but she was not aware of any such place where I told her it had been.  
A few weeks after I mentioned it to her, I finally figured out which house it was because the slope of the driveway only really fit one house and sure enough, there was a sweet little porch entrance from the driveway that showed itself to be the shop entrance once upon a time. 
That little attached area to the house that functioned as a store blended in with the main part of the house but if you knew where to look you could see the entrance and would likely have qualified to be called an ACU, Accessory Commercial Unit. 
Last year, this article from Strong Towns, The Best "New" Ideas in Planning Are All Old News discussed this topic in more depth and I think if you look around your own area or perhaps where you grew up, you too will find places that function in this way.

Where I grew up in Pennsylvania, all manner of ACUs could be found. I've been traveling down memory lane on Google maps, hunting down all the store fronts and services attached to dwellings that I can remember my parents going to . There were farm stands, barber shops, small convenience stores and larger antique stores in houses. Mixed use buildings with sidewalks or small laneways for quick stops. 
In one of the small towns in Ontario where we lived when our children were small there was a house on the main street that still had a take-out window and tiny deck built onto the front of the house. It was bright cheery colors and the small house was older, but well maintained. It closed before we moved there and it never appeared to be operational again for the ten years we lived in town, but I always wondered about what it might have been. 
After we moved out of that small town, we moved 30 minutes away to a historic town with a vibrant downtown area and one of the houses had a small storefront built adjacent to it but sadly it was never in operation for the three years we lived there. Occasionally I would think I saw items being moved around in the storefront windows, but nothing ever materialized before we moved away.
These are examples that I thought of quickly and could easily show because they haven't changed or I used my own photos. Others exist but the buildings have changed or been demolished so you can no longer see how it once functioned as an ACU. This concept of a shop or service operating out of a home or residential building is also represented in stories, television and movies from many different time periods from the Little House series to Gilmore Girls and much in between. One of my favorite stories for beginner readers is called The Doll Shop Downstairs and the sequel The Cats in the Doll Shop where the owner and his family live upstairs and host an immigrant girl during the war. Shows like Doc Martin and Gilmore Girls both feature main characters that live in their places of work, Luke above his diner and Doc Martin in his surgery. 
In our new neighborhood, several places of business are marked on Google maps at residential addresses including an upholstery business, a disc jockey and a local taxi service.  None of the places marked have any signage up so I can't confirm their existence, but if you look in your neighborhood, you might find some interesting entrepreneurs as well. I would love to have a cake shop as my neighbor!

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