I went to the furniture store the other day to mail a package. It was weird.
Like so many other places in the Valley that aren't what they once were, this furniture store isn't a furniture store anymore. It's a post office. And so I was able to mail to my nephew in Detroit a box of old Jack Jones albums rather than purchase an end table or try out a Herculon recliner. Still, it felt like I was in a furniture store the whole time I was there.
Maybe you remember the Breuners store at 1776 North Scottsdale Road, just north of McDowell. The United States Post Office moved in late last year and turned it into a place where one can buy stamps or send a tin of cookies to one's aunt in Pennsylvania, after Breuners went belly-up in 2007. The post office abandoned its former home on East Osborn Road just east of Scottsdale Road, a spot that's now a parking lot belonging to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn.
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"The hospital bought this building and traded it to us for our old location," according to the postal clerk who waited on me. His name — and I am not making this up — was Dude. He went on to explain to me how the transfer of properties was made, but I missed a lot of what he was saying because I was thinking about how convenient it must be, in the early 21st century, to be named Dude when that's all anyone under 30 is going to call you, anyway. I came out of my reverie just in time to hear Dude say, ". . . and before this place was a Breuners it was LaBelle's," a comment that caused us both to laugh because LaBelle's was such a stupid store and therefore a sort of in-joke among people who've lived here a long time.
I tried to tell Dude my theory about the travel guide that plays in our heads as we're driving through town, but our transaction was complete and he didn't seem all that interested. So I'll tell you, instead.
I think — and maybe I'm just plain mad — that while those of us who've lived in Phoenix for a long time are driving around, probably talking on the phone or maybe yelling at our kids, there's an audio loop playing in our heads as we whiz past buildings, an audio loop we're unaware of because we're yakking with Leslie up the street about her timeshare in Poughkeepsie or threatening to smack the grouchy pre-teen in the backseat or whatever.
The audio loop is going, "Coming up on the left is the Sprouse-Reitz where you bought school supplies in the '70s. And across the street is the movie theater where you took your daughter to get Ladmo's autograph, right next door to the Baskin-Robbins where you had your first job." Except that the audio loop, which somehow never gets updated, is all wrong: The drug store is now a thrift store, and the movie theater is a grocery store, and the ice cream parlor is a tanning salon (which may or may not be a front for something else).
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There's nothing new or even very interesting about how old buildings change owners and tenants from time to time. The thing is, some buildings make the transition better than others. In a few cases, it's the fault of a tiny renovation budget or an unimaginative designer (I'm sorry, but Miriam's Designer Clothes on North Seventh Street still looks like a gas station to me, and not just because I used to get my tires rotated there.) Other times, there's just no obliterating the distinctive profile of a building. (Need an example? Think of any of the dozen or so old-school Taco Bells scattered around town, with their uniquely arched windows and low, slump block façades, which are now trying to pass themselves off as barbecue joints or gay bars. No one is fooled. You drive past one and the travel guide in your head goes, "Taco Bell!")
The Breuners post office is a tough one, though. Because Phoenix architecture is just weird enough that it's entirely likely that someone may very well have designed a postal station fronted with glass showroom panels and giant display windows. I walked around and around the building after Dude and I were done talking postage stamps, trying to see it with an out-of-towner's eyes. Would a post office have such a long, low, peaked façade? And a big, ugly wrought-iron chandelier over the door?
The answer, for as long as I was able to forget that this used to be a furniture store, was Yes. Especially in south Scottsdale.
Because, really, the new Scottsdale P.O. looks very much like any number of the other conventional, casita-inspired public buildings that give the Valley its profile, such as it is. As I drove home, I began to look at other buildings with a new eye. How would that dry cleaner look as a hardware store? Could that Circle K morph easily into a nightclub? And here's what I noticed: We have a lot of potential post offices in Phoenix. Furniture stores, too.