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Leaving Downtown: Contemplating the end of an era and a dream 

Mid-morning. Spring. A low gray sky. Snowflakes dive-bomb my windshield. I turn into the Mirror Pond parking lot. I pull into a slot on the

Mid-morning. Spring. A low gray sky. Snowflakes dive-bomb my windshield. I turn into the Mirror Pond parking lot. I pull into a slot on the south-end and turn off the ignition. Sitting under the park's white arbor are two punks in soiled white hooded sweatshirts, hoods up, shoulders hunched. One is smoking. Both are on their cell phones. Swell. Something about the irony of so much white. The punks are part of the daily dealing and scoring scene back here on Brooks Street.

I grab my purse and brown bag lunch. The countdown has begun. One week. Six days. Santee Alley the store my store closes. Empty. Gone from this very downtown. I am part of a battalion of Bend boutiques, retail businesses and restaurants morphing into ghosts of commerce. There's no solace though in the "strength in numbers while heading into war" theory. This war is like a Chinese proverb, both understood and not, all at the same time. I lock the car and look around knowing the weather will keep "Parking Nazi" from patrolling. No need to pay for a parking voucher today. Sweet. Another seven dollars not spent.

 Then I launch into my as-of-the-past-eighteen-months-neurotic-recession-is-killin'-me-and-everyone-else calculations. Seven dollars times six times a week, times four weeks in a month equals $168. I pass by Libby's Garden. Purple and yellow crocuses are up. Starlings flutter. Matt unloads sandwich rolls and carries them into his Downtowner deli. Then back to $168. That equals an insurance payment for one fiscal quarter; equals a dozen gladiator-style mock-gator platform sandals in bronze, plus shipping; equals six units of very hip chiffon paisley tunics. Or $168 dollars times twelve months equals $2,016 to park with paid vouchers. I cross Brooks Street. Christmas decorations are still up, high on the lampposts. Cigarette butts are strewn in my path. It is so unbelievably quiet. Then I see the small courtyard where my storefront is. I see the huge FOR LEASE sign. Could it be any "effing" bigger. My chest tightens. Breathe I say. I sigh.

 Key in the lock. Turn. Open the door. My high-heeled footsteps echo.

 "No, no. Not sad." I say. The eternal optimist. A couple of hours later clients start stopping by and sending e-mails with intentions of heart-felt concern and an identical reaction to the "now-verified-in-print-time-sensitive-news" of the closing.

"This is so sad!"

 "Not sad," I repeat, I type, repeat again. Because it is not sad. First, I truly believe what I say. Not sad. I'm not going out of business, I'm just re-inventing it. It's a new era, a new configuration of my business that I've been thinking about for awhile. Secondly, it's not sad because if I said that it was and joined ranks with all my clients' sincere and passionate sentiment, would I not cry me a river, too?

 "So then you're OK with this," one client asked. She took a sip from her coffee to-go cup. She pointed to the fortune cookie bowl I keep on the counter. "Can I?" Then she commented on how she had to have that purple gi-normous purse in the window. "But I'm broke." I nodded. "Yes, I'm OK with this. I've stopped the bleeding. That's a good thing. We're all bleeding here. I don't care what kind of business you're running. Rents are too high downtown. Period."

She scans her fortune. It reads: You will find some money. (Seriously.)

 Business 101 Rule of Thumb. Rent is six percent of monthly gross and never more than ten percent. You know there's a problem when it's hovering at forty, sixty, or higher. And to keep your clients coming in the door you've lowered prices forty, sixty, or higher. Do the math. And then cry you a river, too.

For several days loyalists stop by along with a few vultures wanting fixtures. A few stop by to go fishing, hoping they can get me to dish - Big Time. Then there's a lull. In the quietude I slip into "sentiment." I look around. "I just love those shoes," I say to myself recalling when I ordered the "Michelle O" sling-backs back in January, at the end of a freak warm day. We'd been fabulously busy. The sun - a shopping inspiration. "Screw the recession," everyone was chattering. The day went by like they used to. You know, like back in 2005, 2006, 2007 when there was money, money, money. Forget that it was Monopoly money. Forget that Bend's real estate was forty-five percent over-valued, um, that would be downtown real estate too. Forget that everyone's house was a personal ATM. If you were in retail downtown for those three years, you rocked.

So that's what the day reminded me of. Doped me with the sweet essence of thinking that things going south had all been a charade. Look at the sales done today. Things will go back to the way they were. Sure they will. I need to order some stuff. This is fun. Oh thank God. I can't wait until summer. We'll be so busy. Rent? Who cares how high. No sweat.

The following day it snowed. And the mirage of the day before seemed to make the last eighteen months all the more painful. All I could think of is what my husband Tygh calls a futile outcome to even the best intentions, plans, decisions, vision, and commitment. "You're just goddamn snake-bit."

So now what? I make a list of things to do. Like cancel the phone line, and cable line, and merchant service, and electricity. Pay bills. Make another list of everything that will be moved out. Tables. Chairs. Mirrors. Shelves. Lamps. I will store them for now in the big red barn on our farm. I will make room among the old seed bags and kennel boxes and lawn chairs like one makes room in their heart for those moments in time that we never forget. That we remember fondly. That if we are smart enough, we use as a beacon for the road ahead.

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