By Arthur H. Gunther III
Westwood, N.J. — Rising taxes, a dwindling middle class, O-Care debate, world events and life itself are so full of uncertainties and dilemma that we all need a day off. I got mine recently in a fabric store in this Bergen County borough. Oy, what an experience.
Time does stand still in places, and Discount Fabric King is one such oasis in hurly-burly living. The interior looks 1952; some of the fabric may be older than that though the newer styles are there, too. In fact, you could probably order any pattern in the world from the many style books thrown here and there but quickly accessible. There are bookstores like this, where tomes are piled to the ceiling but the bookseller knows where everything is. So, too, at this Jersey fabric palace.
On a recent awfully cold day, the sort we used to, have in, well, 1952, we were there to find upholstery for two old wing chairs that should be saved. While I didn’t enter the cloth discussion all that much, the trip was worth it since I like 1952 scenes; as a photog and painter I always look for color and pattern; there was steam heat that warmed us like a grandmother’s home; and as a writer the more characters I meet the better. There were two such jewels here in this comfy place.
First, the owner. Name not important. What he is is the point. Head full of fabric knowledge; easygoing, patient manner as a businessman helping guide selections, never a simple task; a fellow for whom the “deal,” the sale, is what makes the day, not the money. One way or another, behind the wonderful charm, was a fellow going for the order, and he did that easily. If he were a cat, he would have been purring as we left the store.
And then there was the counter lady, obviously long in the business. Knowledgeable, too, she looked you in the eye, kept her presence with you and still was able to say what was where, pointing with her head. When it came time to cutting fabric for a customer, she was still talking, hardly looking down as her scissors glided through, cutting the goods almost without ever closing the scissors. And the folding, the folding! Maybe she glanced down twice as she took five yards and deftly folded over the fabric, beginning with a doubling, then another doubling and so on, pushing the accumulating pile out for another fold, ending up with a completed pile so neat that it seemed to have hospital corners.
Now, you don’t meet people like those two very often. Not nowadays. Not in fast-food places where employee turnover is as quick as the burgers eaten. Not in glossy super-duper markets. Not in banks just taken over by yet another bank. No, two well-practiced, friendly, self-educated people long on the job in a very old, non-frilly place who, once again, made me trust in humanity.
They gave me a nice day off from the cares of the world.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at email@example.com. This essay may be reproduced.