Granite State of Mind, #60: Ames, Stratham
Before the mind-numbing ease of shopping online, and before the cookie-cutter dominance of Wal-Mart and Target, there were crappy little department stores like Ames and K-Mart, and local iterations like Bradlees or Rich's. These were places that combined Dollar Store ambience with a Marshallsesque thrill of the hunt. You never knew what you might find in those meandering aisles, and the one on Portsmouth Ave in Stratham was a staple destination during our childhood. It was close, just around the corner, and we went there for all manner of things.
I can remember buying games for the Atari and the Commodore 64 in the shabby electronics are just outside the toy section (which was weirdly walled off from the rest of the store, like William McKinley putting a napkin over his wife's face during her seizures at dinner). Tools, batteries, greeting cards, and all too often, back-to-school clothes. This latest ill fortune led to the sobriquet "Shames", which remains my favorite nickname for a store, except perhaps our intentional mangling of Eric Fuchs Hobbies at the mall. Yeah, getting your school clothes at Ames was the mark of a provincial, even if it was the same Ocean Pacific shirts and name-brand jeans you'd get at Filene's.
Sadly, there's no more shame to be had. Like Bradlees, and Rich's, Zayre's and Jordan Marsh, Ames has gone the way of the department store dodo. There's some unfinished wood furniture store in that plaza now, last I saw. But once in while I'll come across a little bag of screws or an old coloring book with an Ames price tag on it, and be brought back to a world of fluorescent overhead lighting, floppy disks and cassette tapes, and lying about where you bought your shoes.