In the days before Walmart, the hub of most small towns in the United States was the high street general store.
Here you could find anything you could possibly need and lot more besides. There aren't so many left these days, but a great example is Horsfall's Lansing Variety in Lansing, Iowa.
Even getting into this shop is a challenge. The entrance leads directly into an aisle packed from floor to ceiling, and the maze simply continues. Household goods of every type, toys, crockery, picture frames, repair hardware, toilet seats, vacuum cleaner bags, greeting cards, candles – shelves and boxes everywhere.
Within 30 seconds of entering I had lost my wife in the labyrinth, and I blundered around like Theseus expecting any minute to be set on by a plastic Minotaur with Made in China inscribed on its behind.
I lay down my hand and found myself holding a can of black spray paint that was exactly what my son needed for a school project. Now I had to pay for it. I had to ask someone that I hoped was a shop staff person to find out where. He was, and I did – a small hole left clear in one of the towering display shelves.
As I was waiting two browsers scuttled by me, breathing heavily and muttering about claustrophobia. I was happy to follow them out, leaving my monopod behind in the process. This was alarming – not because I thought someone would steal it, but would I ever find it again?
But I did, and settled down on the hot sidewalk to wait for my wife to emerge. A woman biker sat on the doorstep of one the sealed entrances, blocked by boxes of candles, chatting away on her cell phone.
Several minutes – I think it was minutes – later my wife came out and told me that there was another branch of this same store just three buildings further up the street. An overflow, she said…