Life

Goodbye to the last local grocery chain in Indianapolis

Indianapolis is losing its last, and its largest, local grocery-store chain. Marsh Supermarkets declared bankruptcy in May and last week closed deals to sell some of its stores. The rest will close.

Marsh Hometown Market

Agfa Clack, Ilford Pan-F Plus 50, 2015

Although Marsh was founded in 1931 in Muncie, Indiana, its largest market has always been Indianapolis and its surrounding counties. At its height, Marsh operated 86 stores around Indiana and other businesses as diverse as a chain of florists, a popular convenience-store chain, and a catering company. The company was owned by the Marsh family until 2006, when it was sold to a capital investment firm. The Marshes said that the competitive environment was becoming much more challenging, and it seemed like the right time to exit.

In recent years, Kroger, Walmart, and Meijer have all invested in Indianapolis, building new stores and renovating old ones. Meanwhile, Marsh’s new owners largely left their chain to molder. They did rebrand Marsh’s budget LoBill Foods stores as Marsh, a welcome change. But a few years later the company rebranded again, with some stores branded Marsh The Marketplace and others Marsh Hometown Market. It wasn’t clear to shoppers what the names meant. (It turns out that The Marketplace stores were full-line and full-service stores, and Hometown Markets were budget stores.) And then, strangely, all new stores built were branded just Marsh with a new logo. Most existing stores kept the old logo. It was a confusing mishmash.

iPhone 6s, 2017

But the confusion ends soon. A subsidiary of Kroger bought 11 locations, and an Ohio supermarket operator bought 15. That leaves 18 stores behind, which should close for good by the end of the month. All Marsh stores are liquidating, selling goods at up to 30 percent off.

From where I sit, Marsh’s demise has three major reasons.

First, its owner failed to match its competitors’ investments in their chains. Few new stores have been built and old stores hadn’t been refreshed in ages. Most stores retain a distinctly 1990s shopping experience.

Second, its confusing branding may have alienated shoppers. When my nearby Marsh converted to a Hometown Market, I shopped there far less frequently as it stopped carrying many of the nicer grocery items I enjoyed, several of which you could buy locally only at Marsh. (Such as delicious, but expensive, Stewart’s coffee. How I miss it.) Actually, thanks to items it no longer carries I can’t do all of my weekly shopping there anymore.

Finally, Marsh was the most expensive supermarket in town, full stop. I’m no fan of Walmart, but when they opened a Neighborhood Market grocery near my home a few years ago its far lower prices were impossible to ignore. I do my weekly shopping there, or drive past this Marsh to go to Meijer. So, I imagine, do most of my neighbors.

But it’s a shame to lose the last local grocery chain, a name that was so heavily identified with central Indiana. When prominent local businesses close, a piece of local identity dies. Kroger, Walmart, and Meijer are fine stores, but you can find them anywhere. When you shopped at Marsh, you knew you were in Indiana.

I’ll miss Marsh. But my life won’t change much, as I’d already moved on. Clearly, too many others in central Indiana had as well.

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Photography

Photographs of things that aren’t there anymore

What have you photographed that has since changed dramatically, or isn’t even there anymore?

I’ve been walking or driving around with my camera for long enough now that I’m starting to build quite a collection of photos of scenes that look very different today.

The Elbow Room pub was nearly an Indianapolis institution, having been in operation since 1933 — right at the end of Prohibition. It abruptly closed for good a couple weeks ago.

Elbow Room

These neon signs came down immediately.

Elbow Room

This was one of my favorite downtown pubs. I first visited it when I still lived in Terre Haute and had business in Indy. When I worked downtown in the late 1990s I used to walk over here for lunch all the time. After my brother moved here, this was the first bar we visited together. In the past couple years, Margaret and I have stopped here several times, usually at the end of a downtown photo walk. She really liked a lemony martini they made. I have always loved their cheeseburgers.

The Elbow Room (rear)

The Elbow Room occupied the ground floor of a wedge-shaped building at the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and Ft. Wayne St. on the north edge of downtown. I’ve sat at a table in that window many times, most recently just a few months ago.

The Elbow Room

An unexpected benefit of buying and testing film cameras over the years is that I walk and drive around with them and photograph stuff. I’m not necessarily trying to make art, but am rather just capturing anything I find interesting in the moment to see how the camera works and what quality of images it can make.

I made these shots with a Nikon F3HP and 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor on Fomapan 200, and a Minolta Maxxum 7000 and 50mm f/1.7 Maxxum AF on Fujicolor 200. They’re not great art; heck, that first color shot turned out pretty underexposed and muddy thanks to a fault in the camera.

But I have them. The Elbow Room’s existence is proved, though evidence is starting to be erased. Soon this will be some other business and anyone who moved here since might never even know about The Elbow Room.

In 2008, I took hundreds of photos as I surveyed the entire Michigan Road. In 2018, I hope to survey it again, end to end. I wonder what photographs I’ll take of things that have changed. Maybe I’ll do a series of then-and-now photos!

What photos lurk in your archive of scenes that are all different now?

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Photography, Preservation

As society changes there’s always someone there to make a buck off it

The Broad Ripple neighborhood has been a nighttime destination the whole time I’ve lived in Indianapolis, going on 23 years now. But in those days “the strip” still featured many small businesses that served the neighborhood by day. Today it’s even more a bar-and-nightclub spot, with only a couple of the old neighborhood businesses hanging on.

For most of the time I’ve lived here, Broad Ripple was characterized by low buildings and open skies. I made this photo several years ago of a pedestrian bridge over the Central Canal. If you look through the truss, you can make out a little apartment house and the trees that have characteristically lined the village’s streets.

Pedestrian Bridge

But density is the name of the modern city game. As millennials flock to walkable neighborhoods like Broad Ripple, developers are there to meet the need. This tall apartment building was recently completed. It and others create dramatic change in Broad Ripple’s look and feel.

The new Broad Ripple

Longtime Broad Ripple residents are generally and unsurprisingly not happy with these changes. And arguments are being made that while millennials are being targeted to live in these apartments, they can afford it only if they’re upper-middle-class or wealthy.

It’s always been a little more expensive to live in popular Broad Ripple, but it wasn’t necessarily out of reach for a middle-class young adult, especially one willing to take a roommate. But do middle-class young adults exist in any significant number anymore? I see working-class and well-heeled so-called “creative-class” twentysomethings and little in between.

Every time Margaret and I walk through the neighborhoods surrounding Broad Ripple Village, we are drawn in: single-family dwellings on small lots with mature trees, sidewalks connecting these neighborhoods not only to little parks where our eventual grandkids can play, but also to the Village and its burgeoning shops. Fresh Thyme is a delightful little grocery. We’d love to have one within walking distance. I wonder if other empty nesters and near-empty-nesters are charmed by Broad Ripple as well.

I can’t make sense of all the trends. But here’s what I do know: societal change brings economic opportunity, and someone is always smart enough to capitalize on it. Let the Broad Ripple Villagers cry and protest, but greater density is coming to places like Broad Ripple because money is to be made.

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Photography

Great fun with the Polaroid Colorpack II and Fujifilm FP-100C during Polaroid Week 2017

I shot my last two packs of Fujifilm FP-100C during Polaroid Week three weeks ago. My packfilm stock is now gone and I’m out of the peel-apart instant-photography game. I’m not paying $30 for leftover stock of a film that cost about $8 new.

I’m sad. This is a lovely film, and it’s a shame it’s no longer being made. I made beautiful prints from my last packs.

I long ago whittled my packfilm camera herd down to one: the Polaroid Colorpack II, a decent all-around performer. I shot both packs of FP-100C in it on two separate days that week. Here are some photos from the first day.

Polaroids

And from the second.

Polaroids

Let’s take a look at some of these photos more closely, shall we? I scanned them on my Epson V300 through Silverfast. They’re not bad, but aren’t as crisp and jewel-like as the prints themselves. Here are some narcissus in my front yard.

Narcissus

It was a cloudy bright morning as I drove to work. I pass through the Broad Ripple neighborhood every day now, so I parked and made a few photos. This shoe repair is one of a small handful of businesses on the main drag that was in business when I moved here in 1994. In those days, most of the strip was little local businesses like this. Today, it’s all restaurants and bars. And the bars are generally giant, sparsely-appointed rooms in which you drink thin beer from plastic cups. The college kids probably love them but at my age I look for greater sophistication and ambience.

Shoe repair

On a brightly sunny morning two days later I paused again in Broad Ripple. “Open late night” is a big deal around the strip, as the twenty- and thirty-somethings need someplace to grab a bite and sober up after the bars close.

Qdoba

Just down the street, the rising sun was right to shine this pattern onto the street through the Rainbow Bridge’s railing. I think I’d like to explore this subject more. A longer lens might yield some interesting results.

Rainbow bridge

The Colorpack II’s focal length is great for grabbing gobs of surrounding context. You have to move in to the camera’s minimum focus distance of three feet before a subject will fill a frame (like the narcissus above). If you back up even a foot, suddenly the camera sees all. From this I induce the camera’s two main purposes: close portraits and wide vacation shots. With a 50mm lens on a film SLR, I could have isolated these truck noses and the shadows they cast. But with the Colorpack II, I will forever remember just where I made this photo: on the street by the office building in which I now work. This would be a killer feature on a trip, as even a quick family shot would bring in so much of the surrounding scenery. That’s a perfect way to record vacation memories.

Truck snouts

All was not skittles and beer with this camera and film, however. The Colorpack II’s primitive autoexposure system doesn’t resolve challenging lighting like this very well. And the FP-100C tends to blow out strong highlights.

Orange door

The film also washes out where the sun reflects off light objects. The effect is worse on the print; I tweaked highlights in Photoshop to bring out the fire-station’s sign as best I could.

Station 32

And good heavens, don’t shoot this camera toward the sun. A lens hood might have helped. Did they even make lens hoods for these rigid-bodied packfilm cameras? There are no screw threads, and a push-on hood would cover the focus markings on the barrel.

Monon bridge

And of course there are the usual pack-film vagaries such as undeveloped corners.

Door

But oh my gosh did I ever have a great time making these photographs. I will forever be charmed by getting a nice print in a minute. And like I said, the prints look great compared to these scans. They’re little jewels of color.

But more than that, I really came to appreciate the Colorpack II shooting these last two packs. I would love to explore its lens’s capabilities some more, showing subjects and their surrounding contexts. It’s a shame pack film isn’t being made anymore.

Instant-film lovers worldwide contributed to a giant Flickr pool this Polaroid Week; see it here.

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BlueIndy

BlueIndy
Polaroid Colorpack II
Fujifilm FP-100C
2017

Most people need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future. We’re wired to maintain the status quo; we just want things to stay the way they always have been. Or return to the way they used to be, because weren’t things just better then? I suspect we want an idealized view of the past, because that time makes sense in retrospect.

Indianapolis residents are generally not happy with the changes to transportation infrastructure here over the last 10 years or so. They shake their fist at lost driving lanes thanks to added bike lanes. They protest the coming rapid-transit bus and the corresponding loss of a driving lane on a major north-south corridor. They hope like hell the roundabouts that have proliferated in the county to our north don’t start showing up here, too. And they scream over the prime parking spaces lost to a controversial electric-car-sharing program — this one, called BlueIndy.

Presumably smart, yet certainly politically ambitious, people drive changes like these. Let’s assume altruistic motives. They’re trying to move Indianapolis toward a future they envision, one that will come whether we are ready or not. But such leaders have guessed wrong before, and we’re all happiest to have forgotten those failed initiatives.

Photography

single frame: BlueIndy

Photo: BlueIndy cars parked in Broad Ripple, Indianapolis.

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Life, Stories told

Happy life in a modest neighborhood

It’s a modest house in a modest neighborhood. Isn’t the aspiration supposed to be for more, for a fresh build in a tony suburb? But I’ve been happy here, surprisingly so. It has been a good place to rebuild my life after my first marriage crashed and burned.

My humble home

The homes here are ranches, usually faced in brick, largely built in the 1950s and 1960s as people moved out of the city proper. But a couple lots remained vacant until almost 1990, which is about when the golf course was built behind us, putting an end to flooded back yards on each heavy rain. And the cornfield across the main road finally succumbed to suburban sprawl in about 2010 when the megachurch went up. Thanks to the city’s MapIndy site and its historic aerial imagery, you can watch my little neighborhood go from farmland 80 years ago to what it is now.

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I’ve been here ten years now. I probably shouldn’t have bought this house; my divorce left me broke. But I’d moved three times in three years and I craved permanence. And this house was less than a mile from where my sons lived with their mom. And my credit was very good. So I got an ill-advised 100% mortgage and moved in.

I couldn’t see the looming housing bubble about to burst. I couldn’t see my ex-wife soon remarrying and getting that fresh build, that tony suburb, 20 miles away. I wanted to move to live closer to my sons, but my house was suddenly worth less than what I owed on it. And so I remained.

It’s worked out; my sons and I have been happy here. But now my sons are grown and all but gone. And the housing market has recovered. And I’ve remarried; my new wife and I would like to share a roof. This one is too small and would take her youngest son out of his school, so now I’m preparing to put my house on the market.

I’m thrilled to move into the next part of my life, but sad to leave this home behind. I’ve been so content here. Preparing to leave has me in a reflective mood, which drove me to look through my photographs. I was surprised by how many I’ve made around the neighborhood. Could this be the most-photographed neighborhood in Indianapolis? Let me share it with you.

The homes are spaced wide and set back deeply on broad streets. Lots are about a third of an acre.

IMG_0222

In the late autumn and early spring, when the trees are bare, the neighborhood looks dingy and tired. That’s in part because so many houses here have become rentals and receive minimum care. Strangely, all corner houses here are duplexes and have always been rentals. And during the worst of the housing crisis a good number of these modest homes went abandoned into foreclosure.

My front yard

1967 Ford F250

In my neighborhood

But the neighborhood wakes up in the spring, thanks to so many flowering trees the original owners planted.

Spring flowering trees

Spring flowering trees

Spring flowering trees

And a few owners have taken great care in their landscaping, which looks best during the summer. And even now, after so many dead ash trees have been removed here, the neighborhood remains heavily wooded and deeply shaded all summer.

Neighbor

Home in my neighborhood

Home in my neighborhood

Home in my neighborhood

Because of the tree cover, autumns here can be spectacular.

Neighbor's house under the yellow canopy

Neighborhood trees

Autumn leaves

Autumn Street

Even the wintertime has its charm as the snow hangs in the tree branches. However, the city has plowed our streets but one time that I can remember, making it challenging to get in and out. One snowstorm a few years ago stranded me at home for a week — the snow was simply too deep for my car to cut through.

Snowy day

Mild winter in old suburbia

Snowy day

Snowy neighborhood scene

Down the street

It’s quiet here. Neighbors mostly keep to themselves; I know few of them. But I guess that’s the age. It’s also safe here — crime is very low. About once a year I drive to work and forget to close the garage door. Never once have I found anything missing or even disturbed upon return.

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I won’t miss a few things. The houses that need upkeep but never get it. The one fellow who parks his giant trailer on the street; it’s so hard to see it at night. The neighbors who forget to keep their storm-sewer grates clear, leading to flooded streets under heavy rain. I certainly won’t miss going out in my raincoat and waterproof shoes to rake the drains clear in front of their houses. But I’ll miss a lot of the rest.

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