I am a sucker for businesses that operate in old buildings; cafes in gussied-up train depots or bicycle shops in former garages.
I was dismayed when the New Britain Museum of American Art near my former home in Hartford, Connecticut, moved all its exhibits out of a creaky mansion and into a shiny new building right next door. Sure, there was more room to display the collection. Of course it had better light and climate control. And who doesn’t appreciate elevators? But I missed the cozy, quirky intimacy of looking at art on the walls of a house. It was friendlier somehow.
Luckily for me, there are lots of examples of small scale adaptive re-use in Providence. I take my cat to a veterinarian whose office is in an old house just down the street. The waiting room may have fluorescent lights and bags of Science Diet, but it also has a fireplace with an elaborate mantel and surround. My teenager attends classes in what were once the dormitories of an all-girls boarding school. The ceilings are high, the windows are tall, and the wood floors slope in soft valleys where hundreds of girls once trod.
And Acme Video, my favorite place to rent DVDs in the city, occupies the first floor of a pink clapboard building in the Fox Point neighborhood.
There isn’t any place to sit down, every inch of floor space is devoted to tall racks of DVDs and boxes of VHS tapes. The front counter is cluttered with posters and tchotchkes. There’s no way to search on-line for available titles, so you either call ahead, or stop by and take a chance.
It’s hard to understand how a place like Acme can stay in business. I was so charmed by this idiosyncratic relic of a by-gone era, I even volunteered to enter their inventory into a searchable database. I want to see them succeed, or at least hang on.
They never took me up on my offer, but perhaps it is for the best. In this age of precise Google searches, unerring GPS driving directions, and micro-niche cable channels, we’ve eliminated one of the greatest pleasures of life: serendipity. Step inside Acme Video. You never know what you are going to stumble upon.