Saturday, July 12, 2008

Venerable Jackson Building will bounce back

When I was in my late 20s, I thought I had my whole life figured out. I'd earned degrees in social work, counseling and criminal justice. I was working as counselor for the Department of Corrections. I'd be chief counselor by 35, assistant warden by 40, warden by 45, retire and then spend the rest of my working life teaching and writing.
As the Yiddish proverb says, Mann troche, Gott lauch -- man plans and God laughs.
I got pregnant. I miscarried. I got pregnant again. Again, I miscarried. It had never occurred to me that I might not be able to have a baby. Suddenly all of my priorities changed. I had to have a baby.
After months of tests by multiple doctors there was still no definitive reason for the miscarriages. But I knew. It was stress related. I was working with a prison population that was the worst of the worst; Reidsville sent its problem cases to us. So I took a leap of faith and quit my job.
Ten months later, Molly was born. Everyone assumed I'd return to work in Corrections. Everyone but me.
I simply could not leave my sweet baby each day to venture back into the belly of the beast. Safety concerns aside, I didn't want to miss a minute of her babyhood. So I came up with a ploy: I'd open a business. It would take it at least a year to fail and by then maybe I'd be ready to find a sitter for Molly and go back to a "real" job.
Since I was a lifelong bargain shopper, a resale business seemed like the logical choice. That's how I ended up in the Jackson Building. In retrospect, it was a poor business decision. It was, and is, located on Washington Street with virtually no parking, just a few parallel spots that were generally snapped up early in the morning by employees from the federal courthouse.
The space was 400 square feet at most. There was no way to display any signage other than a name on the window, but I didn't care. The lease was for just six months and utilities were included. Before Molly cut her second tooth, Next to New Resale Boutique was born.
The Jackson Building is an interesting edifice. It's nothing spectacular on the outside, just a five-story rectangle made of brick the color of Dijon mustard.
Step through the front doors, though, and it's a different story. The wooden doors are probably original to the building, at least eight feet high and solid in a way that's unheard of today. The marble hallway was the perfect place for Molly to scoot back and forth in her walker and the high ceiling caused her squeals to echo to her unending delight. I never rode the creaky elevator without having a moment when I wondered if it would actually make it to the next floor, but it always did.
The top three floors housed apartments ranging from efficiency to two bedrooms. They were home to a glorious mixed bag of residents. There were several retired teachers, a couple of divorcees and a college student or two. There were some elderly tenants who moved to the Jackson Building when the Dixie Hunt became Hunt Towers and no longer offered residential rooms, a down-on-his-luck drunk and a jailer for the Sheriff's Department, which helped insure that everyone behaved appropriately. If I were a sitcom writer, I'm sure I could fashion a hit from these characters.
They all became part of the village that helped raise Molly. We stayed in the Jackson Building for four years and then moved on to a location with considerably less charm but far more sales space and parking. The business that was supposed to last only a year is still going strong after 21.
The Jackson Building has been in the news of late because of legal wrangling between the current owner and the city of Gainesville. There are code violations to be corrected, and it looks as though the city is running out of patience.
I'm not worried, though. The Jackson Building made it through the tornado in 1936, and it can surely survive this little hiccup in the life of a grand old building.
I watched the Times' video of the owner, Lanier Bagwell, as he talked of the work that needed to be done. I'm pretty sure he'll do it, too. His love and admiration for the place was obvious. I know just how he feels.
(Originally published Feb. 22, 2008 in the Gainesville Times)

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