THE HEART BEATS. AGAIN. A lifetime ago, screwdrivers with lifetime guarantees came from an art moderne castle, and screwdrivers with orange juice came from the only other Friday’s outside of Manhattan.
Ben-Hur, Spartacus and Lawrence of Arabia came from Crosstown, and big splashes came from the Fairgrounds.
Before Home Depot, Best Buy and big boxes, the biggest box of all – the 1.5 million square feet and 14-story tower of Sears & Roebuck – towered over Crosstown Memphis. The stuff of dreams was delivered one lawnmower, one refrigerator, one pair of pants, one screwdriver at a time over what seemed like a thousand counters or from a loading dock that seemed – no, wait – was a hundred yards long. My grandmother took me to see big movies on Crosstown Theatre’s big screen in the shadow of Sears, and Nora and I held our first house together with the baling wire, chewing gum and advice we got in the basement hardware department.
Before you could get a drink or a glass of wine outside of a private club or a brown bag, a few Memphis 20-somethings poured themselves a double-shot of chutzpah and went to New York to talk the owners of hot spot T.G.I. Friday’s into letting them open one here. And the party started in Overton Square.
Before there were pools outside of private clubs, before you knew anybody with one in the backyard, you got on the bus, on your bike or on your Keds and rode them to the Fairgrounds to jump in the water with everybody else.
That was a lifetime ago, before much of the heart of Memphis was left for dead.
But Sears stirs. The Church Health Center, St. Jude, ALSAC, Methodist Healthcare and the West Clinic are bringing hope, healing and warmth to that long-cold monument of neglect. Crosstown Arts, Gestalt Community Schools, Rhodes College, Memphis Teacher Residency, and a team of architects and planners are shining light into its long-dark corners so that we might clearly see all that’s possible.
Overton Square rises. In an innovative public/private partnership, the city and Loeb Properties are cleaning up, dressing up and stepping out to throw the party again. And we’re all invited.
The Fairgrounds has a pulse. Right on top of the old pool, The Salvation Army is making a much bigger splash. In January, they’ll open The Kroc Center, 15 acres and 100,000 square feet of more than you can imagine. More than a multipurpose center, this is the new center of the city.
Recently, a bright “Beacon” rose above the grassy triangle across from old Sears Crosstown. With the kind of shared creative spirit that makes anything possible, Harry Freeman and Sara Ratner made the sculpture possible, and artists Eli Gold and Colin Kidder made their vision from bicycle wheels. When the wind blows, the wheels turn and catch the light in refreshing new ways.
Lately, kinetic energy is blowing across long-still ground, and it’s enough to give you heart.
I’m a Memphian, and I can feel the beat.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at email@example.com.