Unpublished Piece: Awakening Frankfort Avenue

Having been let go from my job thanks to COVID-19, I’ve been actively pursuing my dream of having a career in journalism. One thing I’m learning is that not every piece I write will be published, and that’s okay. Here’s a loving piece I wrote a few weeks ago about the street around the corner from me:

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In the wake of the worldwide shutdown, many of us may feel like forest animals after a fire, poking our heads out from under the brush, checking for signs of safety before we venture out to what used to be our homes. All around the world people are reluctantly stepping back into old haunts, and visiting favorite places without calling in beforehand. Facemasks have replaced air fresheners on most rear view mirrors, and they are now parked on streets in front of shops and restaurants that are now waking up from a very long and lonely winter.

There are literally billions of little streets like this around the globe, but we’re going to focus on one in particular, in the neighborhood of Clifton. Just a mile or two outside of downtown. It’s a tiny stretch on Frankfort Avenue, just nineteen little businesses visible from the street, and eight that are hidden. We’re looking at that little stretch that’s not even a quarter mile long that goes from the Crescent Hill Library to the fire station that houses engine 4.

It’s early Monday morning. The roosters are still crowing from the chicken coops neighbors keep in their yards. The church bells dong a somber tune that emits from Crescent Hill Baptist Church where the sign outside reads: “HE IS RISEN WE WILL TOO.” Is this a promise that we will rise from our hiding places, our quarantine? Or simply that our spirits will rise back up as Christ has done from his grave?

The Crescent Hill Branch Library’s sign is a little more clear: “WE’LL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER.” Hashtag LFPL.  And another hashtag: Team Kentucky. But the sign hanging on the widow is blue and ominous, and many others will echo it down along the rest of Frankfort Avenue. It says all the library branches are closed due to COVID-19. There’s no opening date. No promise that they’ll be back soon to open the doors and load your arms with books.

Walk west several feet with the unusually quiet railroad track to your right. When you come to a blue horse statue, you’ll find an Italian restaurant with patio seating, seats the patio hasn’t seen since March. Porcini offers insalata, antipasto, pasta, pizza, and fine wines. You can almost hear the building sigh, hoping that it will get to see rowdy summer evenings this year.

But perk up! Because next door brings our fist glimpse of good news! The first sign of life is posted on a bright yellow notice on the widow of Fitness on Frankfort. “We are very excited to reopen Fitness on Frankfort on June 1st. We have missed each and every one of you!” And everyone has missed you, too, Fitness on Frankfort. But everyone is still being cautious. Following the announcement is a list of rules and guidelines that must be strictly adhered to upon reopening.

The not-for-profit store, Just Creations, is carefully following CDC guidelines, so patrons can still stop in and pick up international spices and peanuts and also purchase hand-made facemasks displayed on orange and white mannequin busts. But the absence of flyers advertising concerts stand up shows and the Trolley Hop is felt from the sidewalk. From yoga to dentistry, and even to shops that turn bourbon into food, no one was left untouched and unharmed from the coronavirus. Not even the shops on this quiet little street in eastern Louisville. You can feel the fallout. But these little places are still standing. They’re still here.

But there are some casualties. The Louisville Rock Shop, for instance, had to vacate their baby blue building, tucked away from Frankfort Ave. A big “FOR LEASE” sign faces S Baly Ave. from building 107. But don’t be too worried. Customers can still get their stones from the website, louisvillerockshop.com, and your stones can now be delivered. Jill is also still doing crystal readings, so don’t forget to book a session. Support local business. Help the hard working entrepreneurs who have lost so much. But the final words on their farewell sign hold on to hope, even if the tears are still there. “We are looking forward to what the future has in store for the shop so stay in touch. Much love to you all!”

But not all is lost. Caspian Grill will still be serving gyro burgers, Heine Bros’ only allows three people in at a time, and even though restaurants were allowed to open on May 22, Eggs Over Frankfort will continue to only do carry out as they feel their “small size might make it difficult to maintain social distancing for our staff and guests.” The notice mentions “a new normal” for proper dining experiences.

Will things ever go back to being the same?

Lashtastic of Louisville, where people go to get eyelash extensions, attempt to brighten the spirits of pedestrians walking by with hearts of all colors cut from construction paper, hanging like drapes over the windows. A nice reprieve from health guidelines. Margaret’s replaced their unsold Derby dresses with white gowns to be worn underneath graduation robes that won’t see the large crowds of proud parents and grandparents this year.

Cross South Hite and you’ll find artwork going un-perused in B. Deemer Gallery. Someone is getting their hair done inside Era Salon, and Ward’s Hair Shop has yet to open. Urban Kitty has those yellow smiley faced-balloons floating above their plants. The Craft House and the Wine Rack will be open later today, but under strict guidelines, of course.

Will we ever be free of these health guidelines?

Some places were considered too essential to close, like Oscar’s Hardware. Because even during the shutdown, toilets leaked, people needed lug nuts, and damnit, some people just wanted to build stuff while they were stuck inside all day. But still, it’s nice to know that some businesses are considered essential. But wouldn’t it be better if all were considered such?

Like Redhog, the pork shop. What used to be a fun gathering attraction can now only occupy two customers at one time.

This may be the “new normal” as Eggs Over Frankfort suggests. But will this be our permanent normal? Will the people of Frankfort Avenue continue to tiptoe around and inside these favorite landmarks? Or will people become brave one day and come all the way out of hiding and reclaim the neighborhood that’s theirs?

Maybe that’s not up for us to decide. Maybe it’s just a matter of time before the dust settles and we can take off our facemasks and smile nakedly once more at the dog walkers, the joggers, the early evening first-date strollers. May those moments not be only for Frankfort Avenue’s history books, but also for our tomorrows and subsequent spring afternoons, summer evenings, and brisk fall mornings. May these moments always color Frankfort Avenue.

Published by Andrew Toy

Writer when I'm not being a husband or dad. So mostly just a husband and dad.

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