A little purchase

A few months ago,  I bought a little sponge holder that has suction cups for adhering to the side of the kitchen sink. I paid $7.44 at Amazon and got free shipping because I have Prime. It took maybe half a minute to finalize the purchase.

But if my loyalty had been unswerving, I would have tried to buy the sponge holder from Miller’s ACE Hardware, which sent me this letter a few months ago:


They apologized for an inconvenience I didn’t know I experienced and refunded money I did not realize I was owed. They sent me a letter. With a stamp. Think of that.

But there was Amazon with free shipping and the i-click option, and how much time did I want to spend thinking about a sponge holder, anyway?

(Apparently way more than the average person, because I am blogging about it.)

If you are not fortunate enough to live near a great hardware store, the transaction is  meaningless—it never would occur to you to think in terms of loyalty.  But I do and I did.

This hardware store in a shopping center with the wonderful name of Ruthfred. I blogged about it in 2009:

Shopping at Ruthfred (where?)

And in 2013:

Shopping at Ruthfred: an update

Shopping at Ruthfred: an update


Well, the bank is gone. It just packed up and left a couple months ago.

I am sorry about this because Ruthfred Acres Shopping Center ought to have a bank.  This place—dating from the 1940s—is western Pennsylvania’s first strip mall. In 2009 I wrote a blog called Shopping at Ruthfred (where?). It was one of the most popular things I ever posted. I figured it was time for an update.

Without seeing Ruthfred, it is hard to visualize how tiny it  is. You could walk from one end of it to the other in about a minute. Yet in that minute you would pass a grocery store, a three-story hardware store (it had to expand vertically), a deli, a dry cleaner, a pharmacy, and the offices of a lawyer and a primary care doctor.

The pharmacy  is new. The old place, O’Briens, had always the look of a business waiting to be sold. Last year the business was taken over by a local chain called Spartan Pharmacy. The place is light, warm, and inviting—not an easy look for a drugstore to pull off.

At the front are an overstuffed couch and comfortable chairs. More candles for sale in proportion to its size than I have ever seen in any drugstore. One line of candles is made by a company called A Cheerful Giver. Burt’s Bees are there. So is Sarris candy.

The primary care doctor next door to Spartan happens to be mine, which is how I found Ruthfred in the first place. (An insurance change necessitated a change in doctors.)  Although she practices thoroughly modern medicine, her office is plain. Friendly and welcoming, but plain. Her office has imbued character from its surroundings.

The last time I was there, my doctor mentioned that when the deli next door makes macaroni and cheese, everyone can smell it cooking through the wall. This is Ruthfred. “You  can talk to me” this office says. “This is life.”

I hope my doctor is never forced to move to an isolated healthcare citadel—a place a sane person would flee from. No one in all of Ruthfred’s history has ever wanted to flee from it. I would bet money on this.

In 2o12, Ruthfred Market won a Tribune  Reader’s Choice Gold Award for “favorite grocery store.”

My ordinary life


You know where the post office is?” the guy who cuts my hair said to me yesterday.

I do. I even blogged about that post office.

“Okay,” he said. “To get to the nursery, you follow that road till just before the one-lane bridge. DO NOT CROSS THE ONE-LANE BRIDGE. Turn right just beyond the railroad tracks. Your rear wheels will be on the tracks when you turn. Then follow road for maybe a quarter mile. There is a wooden sign saying “Flowers.”

I didn’t ask what dire, irrevocable thing would happen if I crossed the one-lane bridge.

He was directing me to a place that grows plants for Trax, a country store. The nursery’s name is Lutz or Liptiz or Lanutz—anyway, it begins with “L.” If you can find this nursery, you can buy Trax plants at its prices (quite a bit cheaper, in other words).


This morning was errand time.

The morning rolled on. People sat at outside tables at places like Panera and chewed the fat in threes and fours and fives. I bought groceries and drove home again past all that retail: Walmart, Papa Johns, Pep Boys, National Tire and Battery, Aldi, the Buggy Bath, a bar mysteriously named Level 20. A sweet empty building that once housed an upscale gift shop.

There is a unique intersection. When the lights go green, they direct traffic in four directions (one right, one straight, two left). One of the left arrows is at the typical 90-degree angle. The other points gently to the left. And there is a good reason for that.

I honor this intersection in my novel Cel & Anna. One of the characters comes upon it in the dead of night, on a deserted tangle of roads, and reminds himself never to underestimate his ancestors.

An author whose name I don’t remember wrote an acknowledgment where she said that her life kept her “both grounded and aloft.” This I understand.

Shopping at Ruthfred (where?)


You have to like a development called Ruthfred Acres. Builder Fred Brown and his wife Ruth (thus the name) built it in the 1940s. It happens to be home to western Pennsylvania’s first strip mall, called Ruthfred Acres Shopping Center.

This shopping center is tiny. But it contains—as I suspect it always has contained—useful abundance. Ruthfred Food Market, ACE Miller Hardware, Supreme Cleaners, the Family Deli, Valentine’s Full-Service Salon, O’Brien’s Pharmacy. You can visit a primary care doctor, a dentist, a lawyer, even a seamstress. Adjacent is Young’s Auto Service. Across the street is Valero gas. Also across the street is Ferruzza Hair Centre, where a billboard says, “Welcome Back, Ron Baker, Master Barber.”

Ruthfred Lutheran Church is there, too.

hardware2Yesterday I stopped at Ruthfred Food Market, which was busy. In search of hand sanitizer and other miscellaneous items, I saw unexpected things: shoe laces and shoe polish, RIT dye for cloth, a candy thermometer, canning equipment. Toy handcuffs. A yoyo.

Judging from the people waiting six deep, the market has an excellent deli. But I went next door to the Family Deli to get “Our own baked ham.” People were waiting there, too.

The small satisfaction I feel when indulging in the great American consumer pastime—pretending that I save money by buying sale merchandise I don’t need—goes up in smoke compared with the satisfaction of buying useful stuff at Ruthfred Acres Shopping Center. I’ll be back.

The only pharmacy I've ever seen with a weathervane

The only pharmacy I’ve ever seen with a weathervane