I don't often talk about where I grew up, or where I went to college. But today I really do feel I should. I need to.
Because on Sunday, several business in my hometown were damaged - one beyond repair - by fire.
The face of my hometown memories has changed. My memories are the same, but next time I go home, what I see will be different in a way that makes me sad (it's never the same, but this is tragic). My heart aches for my hometown, the owners of the properties, businesses, and the students who lost so much in a fire that gutted The Union and Kismet, and damaged other buildings. All in a single block of Union Street in Athens, Ohio.
A friend of mine put it pretty succinctly when she said that those of us who were born and raised in Athens were raised in and around all of the buildings throughout the area - even the bars.
This does not mean we were bar-goers in our young lives. Just that they are a solid fixture within our memories. The bar that the owner says is a "total loss" (source: The Post, Athens Ohio), was on the street where I practiced parallel parking (they are planning to rebuild). After I got my driver's license. The floral shop where I've read (also in The Post) the fire may have started was where the flowers for our wedding came from. The owners and florists worked with me diligently to ensure my vision for our wedding flowers came to life.
The Uptown Dog tee shirt shop (also dealing with fallout from this fire) plays host to many early memories, including Halloween tees, shopping for the perfect Fur Peace Ranch tee for a friend for Christmas. Pawprint apparel. Waiting for the official Halloween in Athens design to be unveiled year after year was a mainstay in my youth and became a bit of tradition in my young adulthood.
All of these businesses - along with two or three others - suffered damage from fire, smoke, or water. Some of the damage is irreparable. A statement I read from The Union on Facebook said that The Union as we knew it is no more. Pictures online show me a blackened building with no roof. Destroyed. It makes me so sad to see.
The Union was not "my" bar when I was in college at Ohio University. It was, however, the bar of my friends. Many of them met there regularly, and that bar played host to many now nationally-known acts, including The White Stripes and The Black Keys (yes, The Black Keys played in a small, 100+ year-old building in Athens, Ohio. My hometown has cred, guys).
It also was where I realized just how much I loved to dance, and how fun it was to dance until the bar closed. In the wintertime we would get so warm in the second-story bar (where we danced the night away), that we would file out after dance night ended, hair steaming in the cold.
I know that this fire has left Uptown Athens changed. I know that my hometown community hurts, and that students are without the homes they hoped to have for the school year. I know that there is business that is lost. Businesses that will, hopefully, rise from the ashes bigger and better.
Those mainstays may be forever changed, but we (Townies, Students, and everyone else), will always have our memories of what they were.