Misplaced Nostalgia

Posted on April 4, 2011

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Howard Griffin 3/28/11

In the last seven days I’ve read and overheard a lot of people waxing nostalgically on and on about the old Howard Griffin building. Memories are nice, as a child who fondly remembers the old toy store; ‘Howard Griffin Land O Toys/Loads of Fun for Girls & Boys/Bring the Kids and Look Around/The Greatest Toy Deal in the Town!’ I can relate to the warm stories circulating since the massive fire destroyed the old toy store.

But pining away for a forgotten past isn’t the way I look at what happened March 27th, 2011. The simple truth is this; that toy store, the one that so many of us remember so fondly from long ago, has been a blight on Monroe’s downtown and a haven for the homeless for over two decades. Our homeless population, people like Tyrone Robinson and Sherman Pratt, the two men behind bars charged with arson in the fire, have used the toy store of our childhood for shelter since it was abandoned over two decades ago.

When our grandparents left downtown Monroe in the late 60’s and 70’s to spend their $ at the Twin City Mall and JC Penney and Sears (they were on Louisville Ave), we still trooped into downtown Monroe every Christmas when we heard HG’s famous jingle on channels 8 and 10. Then they built Pecanland Mall. And a whole two years before The Gipper left the White House, Howard Griffin Land O Toys passed into memory. The place of childhood wonder was gone, un thought of by most of us except on the rare occasion we had reason to travel south of the courthouse through downtown Monroe or looked down while passing on I20 East to see the massive old warehouse drooping towards the Ouachita river.

Until March 27th 2011 that is, then suddenly we all had a story to tell, sentimental reminisces. I’m glad no was harmed, especially the brave firefighters and police officers at the scene that night. BTW, you see a detailed video report from yours truly @ http://www.youtube.com/griffinsnews filed around 1AM a few hours after the blaze began.

Enjoy the memories of HG and the old Bike Shop and the Paramount Theater or the Palace Department Store, but build some new ones too. Why not use this opportunity to take a fresh look at your hometown’s downtown? The only place for a hundred miles where you can see skyscrapers, well… tall buildings anyway, and Monroe’s downtown is one of the few in America blessed with a scenic river on it’s doorstep.

Don’t be one of those who grumble about ‘how things used to be’, take a look, after a tough run beginning in the 1960’s, Monroe’s downtown is looking better and better this decade. From new restaurants to office and residential developments, after decades of neglect, the area is experiencing a renaissance.  See for yourself, attend the next Downtown Gallery Crawl this Thursday. Enjoy the next Downtown River Jam May 7th and see a video from Saturday’s inaugural series of concerts at the above youtube link. Both of these events are FREE!

Just because our kids will never sing that classic jingle, doesn’t mean they can’t build their own memories in Monroe’s historic downtown.

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