Main Street Melancholy

After resoling the pair on the left a couple of times, Mr. Rundell wasn’t able to do much for the scuffed uppers, so I bought another pair of boots from him — that happily looked exactly like my old pair. I had a black pair too, but I believe those are gone now.

Yesterday was a mournful day for me, and while I’m sure you are tired of hearing of my melancholia, this is what I have.

In the absence of Oz and our walk before or to work I have been parking my car in front of my very indulgent friend Karen’s house in my old ‘hood both morning and afternoon and riding my bike from there.

Yesterday, while approaching work, I rode between two flatbed semi-trucks with an odd assortment of machinery that — prophetically, it turns out — made me think of Dan Rundell.

Dan and his wife Phyllis have been the landlords for Pat’s Screen Printing since 2003. I moved into the south side of his building; he ran his leather shop (repair and sales) out of the north. Then, as we expanded and he cut back, we moved into the front half of the north side. Then we took over his entire retail/workshop area and he moved back to where his storage had been.

A stroke hastened his retirement plans, so we returned his leather shop to storage space, leaving him with a garage (which we started putting odds and ends in a couple years ago) in which to store his saddles and machinery that looked a lot like the industrial pieces I was seeing on the flatbeds.

On the trucks I also spotted some laundry equipment, old washers or dryers, and when I came upon a third flatbed in the alley backing the west side of Main Street, I deduced that French Electric was closing its doors.

You should not take this as gospel, but rather the gossip it is: I have seen no formal announcement, other than the hand-lettered sign that’s been on the door for weeks saying, “Pick-ups only.” And the rumor mill had it that there were at least two people interested in buying our last dry-cleaning business.

So maybe it’s just equipment from a different age on its way out, but I’m guessing this marks the end of the Simillions on Main Street. I can hardly fault them; their daughter Kathy, who is currently our county clerk, is a handful of years older than me, so they’re certainly entitled to retire.

But we are talking a serious mainstay of Main Street, both the business and the people, around a century of dry-cleaning in that place. Perhaps the storefront will continue to offer some form of dry cleaning — I don’t have much call for it, but even as stuff was going out the back I watched a woman with a coat draped over her arm walk up to, and then away from, their front door — but it just feels emblematic of the entire valley these days: the old and affordable making way for the new and expensive.

Then in the afternoon came word from Mrs. Rundell that Mr. Rundell had died the day before.

Perhaps this should not have been surprising, as his health had been rather precarious since the stroke, but it was disheartening and, as the afternoon wore on, deflating.

The Rundells were not just my landlords. Mrs. Rundell taught me accounting in high school, a class where I really didn’t pay much attention even though of everything I was taught in high school, it’s probably what I use most in my job these days. Their two sons, one of whom is currently our business insurance agent, went through school while I was at the newspaper, so I got to know the Rundells as sports parents.

Then I worked at the Book Worm, where I considered Mr. Rundell to be my biggest success. He would come in each week without fail, peruse our tiny section of paperback westerns, and leave empty-handed. Until I started asking what writers he was looking for and introduced him to our monthly catalogues that he could search. Instead of an idle shopper, he became a regular customer. Many of those books are stored in mint condition in the garage at work.

I was also a customer of his, getting boots resoled and sold to me. He was a very low-key salesman, but he knew his market and his merchandise suited his clientele. And then, after the founder of Pat’s died and her building (just down from French Electric) sold, he became my landlord.

He was a low-key landlord, a true remnant of a past generation that operated by word and handshake, something I appreciate ever more as we approach our 19th year as his tenant. He has been very easy to work with, and more than fair.

He reduced me to a snuffling mess early in the pandemic when he called — before I could reach out to him — to tell me to take half off our rent for the next two months, and we’d see from there.

The onset of the pandemic and all its incumbent uncertainties had made the world so stressful, and his gruff act of kindness was such a beautiful spark of light. He and Mrs. Rundell will likely never really know just how much that phone call meant to me, even though I thanked them profusely and we were able to repay the discount (not that it was asked for or even suggested) in installments last year.

Health considerations prompted many of their family members to suggest the Rundells move, a few years ago, down to Grand Junction, where they bought a house just a couple doors down from their son Ryan. Mr. Rundell was not about to give up on Gunnison, however, and he announced, rather defiantly and in a tone I could envision coming from myself, prior to that first winter departure that they would be back in April.

For the last few years he was able to spend the warm half of the year up here, making his way through our cluttered storage to putter in his workplace garage while Mrs. Rundell joined the Saturday pickers in front of the guitar store that pointlessly got booted from its leased space so that the building owner’s “Peace Museum” could remain closed full-time. (Nutty landlords like that just make me appreciate the Rundells all the more.)

Mrs. Rundell, when she called, told Kara her husband “thought the world” of us. From 2003 when I first moved in, and still, I’ve felt I scored as big as anyone could in the landlord jackpot. But it goes beyond that, to all the discussions that started about the building and moved to conversation about his family and the pride he took in all of them, siblings, spouse, sons and grandchildren. I feel richer for having known him.

With the Simillions closing up shop across the street, and now no longer a return for Mr. Rundell, Gunnison feels like a different place — and not in a good way.

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