Sunday, February 14, 2010

Kinfolk Grocery: The door latch

Kinfolk Grocery, located at 14 1/2 West University is of particular significance to the village of Alfred. As an employee of 2 1/2 years, I have interacted with many of the towns' residents-- locals, students, Alfred State and University faculty and administration, etc. It is for many, the a cultural and social epicenter, a reprieve from the oppressive daily routines of the school's semester.
It is difficult to describe Kinfolk as a place, but more appropriately as an experience. The experience begins with the action of opening the door: the latch clicking up to open, the sound of the bottom of the door scraping the concrete floor-- open, footsteps in, door shutting, and finally the latch falling to click closed. You are overwhelmed with the scent that is particular to only this store-- it is woody and warm-- homely, really. You are instantly greeted with fresh, seasonal, and often local goods; it is difficult not to become absorbed in the sensory pleasure and charm of such an idyllic place.
Whether it be for novelty or necessity that one visits Kinfolk Grocery, it is unavoidable that everyone must enter and exit through that white door, with the rusty, bronze latch. It is apparent that such a mechanism has become antiquated in the 21st century, where most of one's experience with doors consist of "knobs." Conveniently labeled with basic use instructions, which read in handwritten, blue, capital letters "LIFT + PULL," the latch presents a challenge to many-a-first time visitor. The brief moment of hesitation is usually accompanied with a sheepish look of confusion, a failed attempt to first pull, then lift, and then finally the mental registration that one can exit, and finally success: the sound of the latch lifting and falling, the bottom of the door scraping across the concrete floor, and the door slamming closed with the latch briefly rattling in echo.
Owner Elliott Case has described to me his awe and surprise at the changing generation's lack of exposure to latches, "So many people have never seen a latch before! They have such a hard time with the door. Growing up, my mother had a latch on every single one of her cabinets. Maybe I should have that door replaced since so many people have trouble with it..."

I seem to find objects of cultural significance in their decline towards obsolescence, which begs the question: do we recognize an object's significance only in its twilight? Only on its road to "history"?

It is a poignant question that resonates with the issue of declining small businesses, as well. The latch presents a dilemma that is symbolic of this notion of twilight: Does one acquiesce to convenience and familiarity (global networks) in sacrifice of quality and experience (local networks)? In relation to objects, how would the experience of Kinfolk change if instead there were automatic doors? How does the gesture of maintaining this single, seemingly insignificant object represent a larger philosophy?

Perhaps the latch evokes nostalgic notions of the truly rural and pastoral-- romantic images that have saturated the cultural consciousness of the 21st century-- making it such an effective point of entry into this small, modest space. But this is not installation art. It is not meant to evoke a feeling or memory. The latch is a friendly greeting-- a reminder that this place is very much real (and so is everything inside).

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