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Madison Monday

Madison Monday: Zombies at the Jay C Store

By January 3, 20112 Comments
The downtown JayC

Among the many things I like to wax enthusiastic about is my adopted hometown of Madison, Indiana. I wish everyone could live in Madison, though we would obviously have to work on making some room. I grew up in a small town that was rapidly becoming a suburb, and though it was still small town enough for me to, say, randomly meet people who turned out to be cousins, it was rapidly losing that small town feel. Growing up in a small town is a mixed blessing, I find. You spend the first 20 or so years of your life wanting to get the hell out and then the next 60 or so wishing you could go back. The small town I grew up in kind of disappeared while I was gone, so Madison is a nice compromise. I’ll never be a native Madisonian (this is part of the nature of small towns, that if you have not been there for several generations, you are just not really ever a native), but I can still partake of many of the benefits of small town living. So on Monday’s, I intend to celebrate my small town.

I begin with our grocery store, in part because it’s about to change. When I was contemplating where to buy a house in the area, it was partly a visit to the local Jay C store that swayed me towards downtown Madison living. I’ve heard folks describe the Jay C store as “old” and “dingy” and truly, it is no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. And it is certainly not new, but I also know that the store you know often doesn’t look “old” or “dingy” to you at all if it’s your store; it just looks like your store. I grew up going to an IGA that was owned by a local family, and by the time I have my clearest memories, it was quite old and dingy, but it was also my store, and so I didn’t see it that way.

The downtown Madison Jay C was far superior to the grocery that had been around the corner from my college rental house in Hanover. It has a surprising number of somewhat exotic ingredients….fresh cilantro, chick peas, soy milk and feta cheese. These things can be hard to come by in small town America. Some of the people who work in the Jay C are friendly and chipper and some of them are not, but this is just true of the population in general. I especially like that the Jay C on the weekends is often staffed by high school kids, in all their great variety of enthusiasm and stylistic expressions.

The zombies outside the JayC, graciously posing for a picture

This Sunday, I walked down to the Jay C for some chick peas, and found a group of zombies wandering up and down the aisles. One zombie was photographing the other zombies and I had to move into their line of sight to grab the chick peas. The cashier at the Jay C was not exactly certain what the zombies were doing, but didn’t seem particularly put out by it either. When my research methods course was conducting a survey for the city of Madison, they got kicked out of the sidewalk in front of the Kroger on the more suburbanized hilltop, but not the sidewalk in front of the Jay C. “The people downtown are friendlier,” they concluded. Or perhaps just more tolerant.

It is a huge perk of living in downtown Madison for me that I can walk to a grocery store. In the throws of winter storm scare when everyone is panicking about bread and milk (I’m never certain why these two things are most important), I know that in any weather, I will be able to obtain both just two blocks down the street at the Jay C. The only time in my years in Madison when the Jay C was not fully functional was after Hurricane Ike hit, and really, can you expect a grocery store in southern Indiana to be prepared for a hurricane?

As a community and urban sociologist, I also know how important a grocery store is to vulnerable populations in a town like Madison. This includes the fairly large elderly population (15% of Madison’s population is over the age of 65) who live in downtown Madison and because of the Jay C, can walk to get their groceries. Places like downtown Madison allow folks to “age in place” as the experts call it. This means that you can live on your own without a drivers’ license and not have to move into a retirement community. The Jay C is also incredibly valuable to the people in Madison who can’t afford a car. I know many middle class folks like myself believe that there is no one who can’t afford a car, but you’d be quite surprised; 8 percent of Americans live in a household with no access to a car. Those who do have access to a car might share one with extended family or have a car that works only sporadically. Having a downtown grocery store is also good environmentally, because it means that the 15,000 or so people who live downtown don’t necessarily have to get in their cars for groceries (though that doesn’t always mean they don’t).

Recently the rumor has been flying around that the local Jay C will be shut down, though the latest news is that it will be transformed into a Ruler Foods, losing its deli and the jobs of the folks who work there (as well as the smell of fried chicken that wafts out into the street). One of the things I know about small town folks is that we often don’t like change, and so the idea of losing my Jay C is troubling. Will they still have fresh cilantro? Will they still hire high school students who have interesting body piercings and hair color along with crabby old women who all in all seem like they’d rather not be bothered? Will they still allow zombies to wander up and down the aisles?

Madison seems in many ways to be a town that hasn’t changed much in its 200 year history, but of course, it has. Before my time, there was the Star Market, and a lot of long-timers around here still talk about it with great nostalgia and longing. Change happens, but I’ll miss the smell of fried chicken and sincerely hope that our grocery store, in some form or another, sticks around, zombies and all.


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