Just having come back from a visit home, to Rochester, I still dream of it, its gray skies having shaped me.
When there, I try to do all my favorite 'Rochester' things, which includes, yes, eating the best garbage plates at dogTown, seeing movies at the Dryden, and always stopping by my comic book store, Comics, Etc.
Comics, Etc., though, used to be in the more run-down and desolate Village Gate. Now that Comics, Etc. is located in the Hungerford Buildings, the store is way more spacious and cool, but somehow lacks the excitement of stepping into Village Gate—it was a weird (but amazing) place. I lamented its renovation and the closing or scattering of my favorite shops.
I get more to the point in a little section I wrote on it a while back for my thesis, about USED GOODS, and CHANCE AND MAGIC. I will share it with you now:
In my early 20s, I spent hours in Village Gate, a weird quasi-industrial type building—part artist studios, business lofts, retail stores, and restaurants. Except, the retail stores were bizarre, an array of used goods and vintage stores mixed with a piercing place, a wig shop, and New Age store. My usual places-to-be were Ricky’s Place, Far Out Vintage (vintage clothing), the Bop Shop (vinyl records), Yankee Peddler Bookshop (rare and used books), Comics Etc. (comics, obviously) and some random toy store, I can’t remember the name. I think at the time Village Gate called itself a mall, which I guess is true in its textbook definition: a large building or series of connected buildings containing a variety of retail stores and typically also restaurants. But Village Gate was more like Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Peeling courtyards, worn out facades, displays of wigs or dresses—and lost within all of this some lone individuals and freaks. An image of the petrified world, Village Gate was my arcade. It was a mood—the disorder, the darkness, the air saturated with dust and mildew, the piles of stuff—one of anticipation. It was a magical place where a chance encounter with a rare book or odd record could change you and the course of your life forever (another fork in the labyrinth), a rebirth. It was just that that I was searching for among those obscure places and forgotten objects. These motifs were also the same that the Surrealists discovered in the twenties in Paris—chance and magical circumstance, and an attempt to find new aspects in the vanishing, old-fashioned, and nostalgic.
It was there that I stumbled upon my first issues of Psychotronic and Cult Movies Magazine, the essays of Thomas De Quincey, the madrigals of John Dowland—and it is these same materials now (magazines, books, records) that I use in my artwork. Also, I still possess the same impulse in acquiring old objects, that is, to renew a distant, lost world. In Benjamin’s Unpacking My Library, he explains that a collector’s existence is tied “to a relationship with objects which does not emphasize their functional, utilitarian value—that is, their usefulness—but studies and loves them as the scene, the stage, of their fate.” Everything about the object—the craftsmanship, the period, the region, the former owner—everything remembered and thought about the object adds up to its magical fate, and the most profound experience is its acquisition, and furthermore, its transmissibility.
In 2011, the owner of the Village Gate began renovations to the building in order to transform the run-down labyrinth into an up-scale conglomerate of restaurants. The rent was sharply raised, thus evicting all the small weird shops I frequented. In fact, most of them closed all together. Only three of the stores (Far Out Vintage, the Bop Shop, and Comics Etc.) still exist, although they have scattered to other parts of the city. And so, all the strange stores and strange people have left, and so has all the magic.