And now, as John Cleese might say, for something completely different.
Nothing warms my heart more than local amateur retail. Stores run by people who just wanted to open up a coffee shop, or video store, or organic food store, and did it. They have no professional training and no formal instruction in marketing. They’ve got to put something in the shop window, though, and they do. These living, working folk-art installations are unique expression of the human spirit, and they are all around us, at least in Europe. How can people walk blithely past them, I often wonder?
Fancy stores have enough money to hire professionals, which kills the charm. Therefore, the best shop windows are in non-chic neighborhoods like mine. My neighborhood, for example boasts the (unnamed) women’s shoe shop, whose window showcases row after row of used women’s shoes (usually rather schoolmarmish brown-leather affairs from the 1970s or 1980s). Methinks I have seen one or two shoe fetishists spending a little too much time in front of this particular store. Or there’s the hearing-aid store whose window features tiny hearing aids perched, for some reason, atop child-sized Dubuffet-like biomorphic papier-mache sculptures.
But my favorite, bar none, is a store about 2 blocks from my apartment, on a pleasant, wooded streetcorner.
What does this store sell? I haven’t the faintest idea. If you look at the first shop window (l), it seems to be an auto radio store. "Instant installation," it advertises cheerfully! At this point, everything seems clear. You go inside, buy an auto radio, and the guy installs it for you. On closer inspection, though, there’s something not quite right here. What is a "Take Two" bicycle rack doing in the shop window? And why do all the packages look as if they’ve been sitting in the punishing sun for years? And why are there styrofoam packing peanuts strewn carelessly on the ground?
You then move to the next window (r), and something confusing happens. The auto-stereo theme starts to be displaced by a bicycle theme. Oh sure, there’s still a Pioneer sign there, but there underneath it stands a variety of bicycles in various states of repair. "OK," you think to yourself, "the guy installs auto radios and repairs bikes. An odd combination, but hey, everyone’s gotta make a living somehow."
Now we reach the third and final shop window. What could possibly be in the third shop window, you ask? I know what you’re thinking, and no, it’s not Beethoven_shooting a mynah bird. Good guess, though.
Look instead to your left. This is a decidedly more ambitious affair than the first two. The author here, blocks out the background, creating a delimited and depersonalized space. To establish thematic unity (or as a sop to commerce), he has included a Blaupunkt stereo sign. But underneath? A fringe jakcet, cowboy boots, and books about Big Sky Country, open to pages describing the rough and ready pleasures of life on the range. There are subversive undertones to this depiction of manly individuality, though. To the right of the jacket, on a small stand, we find not the expected cowboy hat, but instead some odd oval headwear that only some European fairy would wear. And at the extreme right, a faded poster of a male tennis player, with flowing golden locks, chasing a drop shot.
The entire composition is entitled ""GO WEsTERN"". Every time I pass it, I feel the urge to nominate it for a prize, but I cannot find the right one. Perhaps the Bundesverdienstkreuz?