It was pitch black when I left the house Saturday morning for my weekly supply run. These early morning trips for groceries started as a way of avoiding potential plague carriers swarming the supermarket later in the day on Saturday, but have long since become part of the normal rhythm of life. The draw of continuing to avoid as many people as possible is just too strong to ignore.
My love of avoiding people in a retail setting, however, isn’t really the point. What struck me as the truck rolled down the driveway was an unexpectedly strong memory from childhood. If you didn’t grow up in a specific time and place, it’s not something that’s likely to mean anything to you… but for some of us, it’s a memory that’s almost formative. It’s certainly one of the earliest memories I have that isn’t in some way hazy.
You see, a long time ago, southwest of Connellsville, Pennsylvania there use to be a shopping mecca called Pechin’s. I remember it from the early 80s. It was a time long before anyone in our part of Appalachia thought of big box retail – easily a decade or more before I saw the inside of my first Walmart. Pechin’s was, in a word, unique. They were a one stop, dirt cheap purveyor for groceries, meats, shoes, books, sporting goods, home improvement wares, baked goods, and an insanely cheap cafeteria lunch. Surely more that hasn’t stuck with me, but let me tell you, five- or six-year-old Jeff was obviously impressed with the place.
I remember distinctly the whole place having a pronounced rickety, held together with bailing twine and duct tape feel. I can’t imagine it would ever pass modern health and safety standards, but it was good enough for those of us from the back half of the last century.
Why did this long-forgotten memory come flooding back on a Saturday morning in October? I’m guessing because all of those trips in the 80s involved piling into the car well before sunup, for the hour plus drive across Garrett County and into southwestern Pennsylvania. The early bird gets the worm and all that.
The internet tells me that the original Pechin complex is long gone – done in by the death of the founder and driving force and later fully erased by fire – but that the name lives on in smaller, and surely less colorful stores. Somehow, I doubt today’s shoppers are getting the authentic Pechin’s experience.
I’m glad I did.