(Excerpt from Finding Thalhimers, p. 211-213)
On the day they begin demolishing The Store, it’s Grandpa’s ninetieth birthday, but he’s far too weak to attend. Assorted members of the Thalhimer family sit on a stage erected in the middle of Broad Street in front of the derelict downtown Thalhimers building. Throngs of children eat cotton candy as they gather around a juggler on a unicycle. Faces in the crowd tilt upwards to see the huge illustration plastered on the aluminum façade depicting the performing arts center to be built in its place.
I can sense Dad’s emotions stirring as city government officials and performing arts foundation members pull a velvet sheath to reveal the massive clock that hung above Thalhimers’ entrance at the corner of Sixth and Broad Street. The crowd claps as our family accepts the clock as a gift.
The clock looks lonely sitting on the street, its hands still and its pulse no longer ticking. I think of all of the events it has witnessed: the move from Fifth Street with the red rolling cartons, the Toy Parades and giant candlesticks at Christmastime, the Reynolds aluminum panels going up, the Civil Rights boycotts, the crowds gathered for Thalhimers’ closing day. I wonder how we’ll get the clock home; it’s bigger than my car.
Dad said he could never go back to the downtown Thalhimers building after it closed because he didn’t want to see it without customers. When I see the clock sitting there on the street corner, I understand what he means. Sometimes it’s best to remember things at the peak of their glory.
I return to The Store about a week later to have one last look. No one in the family accepts the offer to join me, and Ryan says he’s too busy to take a break from work.
It’s a muggy summer day, and the workman who unlocks the delivery dock door looks puzzled at my request to go inside.
“It’s over a hundred and five degrees in there. You sure you wanna go?” he asks.
“I’m sure,” I tell him. “I just need to see it one more time.”
Growing weary from the heavy heat, I slowly climb five flights of stairs to Dad’s office where we used to play with Snow Bear and Val’s typewriter. My mouth feels dry but my shirt sticks to my back, drenched with sweat. On the fifth floor landing, right where the old Thalhimers delivery wagon once stood, a large blue plastic tarp blocks the entrance to the executive offices.
“We’re removing asbestos,” the workman says. “It won’t kill you just to walk through, but be quick.” He lifts the plastic and I duck under.
Then I see it – the barely recognizable doorway to Dad’s office. A few scattered plastic letters remain on an office sign in the hallway, but they don’t spell anything. I don’t know what I expected, but Dad’s office is just an empty cinder-block room with sagging roof tiles, a box of nothingness unworthy of even a photograph.
I turn around and run up two flights of stairs to the roof of The Store, the bewildered workman following close behind. I step over a partially decomposed pigeon, a pile of skeletal remains and sticky feathers, before bursting out the door to the roof for fresh air. The air is heavy and hot, but I gulp it in and look around at Richmond’s skyline.
I finally realize that the city will be more beautiful when this building is gone. It no longer has a purpose.