Friday, October 29, 2010

A Kind of Racism I'm Not Used To

It was such an auspicious start to an ultimately unpleasant experience. Right after we moved here, Dan spotted the pet store in that sleepy little business district about a mile east of downtown Chattanooga. We finally made time on a beautiful autumn Saturday to drop by and perhaps get a couple toys for our dog and cat. Pulling up to the storefront, we realized that we couldn't park on the road, so Dan turned down the next side street, hoping to find a lot in the back. As he made the turn, I noticed a consignment shop on the corner.

"Consignment shop - sweet! Can we stop by there for a minute, after the pet store?"

"Oh, sure," Dan said as he pulled into parking lot. "Wow, look at how cute this is."

It was cute. Beyond the back end of the consignment shop, a half flight of stairs led down to a narrow, brick-paved dugout behind the neighboring row of brightly painted storefronts. We got out of the car and headed for the pet store entrance. Immediately outside the door, at the end of the dugout, we saw a couple dudes lounging at a wrought iron table. A small, hyperactive black dog greeted us.

I laughed as the dog tried to tackle my leg. "What kind of dog is he?"

One of the dudes stood up and said, "Miniature schnauzer. He's just nine months old."

We cooed over the puppy for a bit. Dan reached for the door handle. "Okay if he gets inside?"

"Sure, he owns the place."

We laughed as we stepped through the door. The store, like it's canine owner, was absolutely adorable. It felt like an old timey general store, but with a pet focus. A long aisle leading to the streetside entrance was flanked with racks of colorful dog and cat toys, sundry pet motif toys for humans (I think that was the stuff the owner called "boutique items"), in addition to a few practical things, like food and beds.

The owner brought our attention to a sealed, white paper bag on the counter. "You get a complimentary bag of biscuits on your first visit. We bake all of the biscuits here." That was when I noticed a small kitchen behind the counter. It was very homey, adorned with dog themed hand towels and other bric-a-brac.

We thanked the owner and then set about spending some money at his lovely establishment. Dan had his eye on a new bed for Dulce, but I convinced him to wait until after payday. He assented, but added, "We should definitely get her new bed here. I really like this place."

We settled on our purchases, which included several pet toys and a pair of "I Love Dogs" socks that Dan selected for me. As the owner rang up the order, I noticed a sign on the counter that said, "Is your dog afraid of thunderstorms? Ask us for free advice." Could this place get any cuter?

Our purchases in hand, I thought of the consignment shop and recalled that, unlike the other businesses on the block, it didn't appear to have a rear entrance. I turned to Dan and said, "I think we should go out the front."

Dan turned to the owner. "Is that front door open?" The man looked confused. "Can we go out that way?"

I added, "We want to go to the consignment shop, but they don't have a door in the back, do they?"

The owner walked around the counter. "I'll let you out front. I keep that door locked. But let me tell you something." Looking me straight in the eye, he said to me, in all seriousness, "That store is owned by black people. They're into the crushed velvet and sequins. You're just going to walk out empty-handed."

Boing! I sort of laughed and gasped simultaneously. Dan looked at me, and then the owner, and smiled as he said, "Maybe she likes crushed velvet and sequins."

I added, "Yeah, I just want to check it out."

He persisted. "You're really not going to find anything there, so I wouldn't bother if I were you. You should go to the consignment shop on the north side of town." Chattanooga's north side is notoriously yuppie/liberal; the locals often tell us that we belong there, for one reason or another. "They have a much bigger and better selection. You'll just be wasting your time at this place."

I guess he sensed that we were going to ignore his advice, so he eventually let us out the front door. Dan and I had a very spirited fifteen second discussion on the way to the consignment shop, which by the way, happened to be lovely. It isn't the kind of place where you find splashy, loud, vintage-y stuff (as a matter of fact, I visited one of those places on Friday; I most definitely walked out of there empty-handed, though with many fond recollections of an era when I could dress like Marcia Brady and actually look cool). Rather, this shop was the kind of place where money-minded, middle aged women sell their old Ann Taylor goods to money-minded women in their 30s (like me) who want quality, solid-colored, mostly natural fiber apparel. It was clean, the clothes were organized by size, and they had fitting rooms. They did not, however, appear to have any items made of either crushed velvet or sequins, which was kind of a letdown.

Nevertheless, I walked out with a navy blue shirt and a red sweater, for a total price of $10.93. Let's just say that I know which store I'll be visiting again. And with my combined purchases, I can now rock this ensemble:

Take that, weird dude. Thanks for creeping up my day. See you never.

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