The Little Place that Big Business Forgot

Among the fondest memories of my childhood was walking six or seven blocks with my mom and/or dad from our home to downtown Auburn. It was not the fact that we were going downtown that I enjoyed, but what we did while we were there.

Auburn is a modest town that is slow to change and genuinely serious about maintaining the quality of life there. Many mom and pop types of shops and restaurants have moved in and out of the downtown area. These are not national chains like McDonald’s or Best Buy. Those types of places are located closer to the highway.

Downtown Auburn consists of quaint little establishments where the customers know the owners and the owners know their customers. In fact, these establishments are among the rare instances where the owners interact with the customers – unlike national chains who are owned by individuals and stockholders with no ties to Indiana; let alone little Auburn.

Having lived there nearly thirty years now, I have seen many structures go up and many go down. Mostly though, the buildings are the same – just remodeled. In some instances, they have been remodeled countless times as different businesses have come and gone.

But the reason I enjoyed family walks to downtown Auburn so greatly lies in a itty bitty little building probably no more that thirty foot by thirty foot (if that). Decades ago, a woman by the name of Martha opened a popcorn stand in this little white building. It was illuminated by only a couple lights and I am pretty sure there was a little bench out front.

Martha sold bags of popcorn for like twenty-five cents. The popcorn was always fresh and, if you requested it, she would pour warm, melted butter over popcorn so it soaked through the brown paper bags that housed the food. It was greasy and it was good.

On certain nights, Martha would cook up a batch of her special caramel corn, which I still attest to as being the best ever made. It was warm, sugary and it was good.

Years ago, Martha passed away. I hadn’t walked there with my family in a long time at that point. Only years later did I realize how much I cherished those visits to downtown and Martha’s popcorn.

It saddened me to know that I would never get to provide my own children with such an experience. Surely, Martha and her popcorn stand were remnants of a different era. Surely, the little booth would fall to the corporate wrecking ball and become part of a parking lot or bigger building. Surely, I thought, the slow change was finally going to occur.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

The building sat empty for a while. I am not sure how long, but much later after Martha’s passing, someone, an older man who I believe was an acquaintance of Martha’s reopened the stand, complete with her old recipes and no modifications to the building whatsoever.

Over the years, different individuals have run the little business since then. I am not sure what their motivation in doing so is, but I like think that they (like me) are still remembering a simpler time. When bags of popcorn were twenty-five cents and something as easy as caramel corn could bring smiles to the faces of men, women, boys and girls of all ages.

Last week, my wife, daughter, sister-in-law and I walked from our home to downtown Auburn. We stopped at Martha’s Popcorn. A kind woman was working the stand. She greeted us with a smile and a friendly hello. When we requested our popcorn, she was eager to serve us and made sure we all walked away from the encounter with a priceless memory.

The building, still small and illuminated by only a few lights, was still white and had a bench out front. On a small structure next to the building stands a small memorial to the woman who has become legend. Newspaper clippings accompany a near life-sized painting of Martha. After all these years, it’s amazing that Martha still welcomes visitors to the little business that big business forgot.

Sure, the popcorn and caramel corn was a little more expensive and the walk was a little longer, but the fact that I and my wife could still share a cherished memory and time well spent with our daughter made it a trip well worth taking – and one I am sure we will take many times more.

No Responses to “The Little Place that Big Business Forgot

  • I hadn’t thought about Martha’s popcorn in a long time. I remember my parent’s taking me there all the time when I was little. It would almost be worth the trip back to Auburn to get another bag.

  • I remember it…

    It was great. Some of my fondest memories were because it was a family thing. My mom and dad and sister would all go (this was before the young one was born, or maybe she was a baby).

  • Martha’s passing marked another interesting chapter in Auburn sociology, but it’s one I’m sure went unnoticed by many.

    I think she was one of the last nice elderly people in town. Most of them now are bitter old assholes (possibly because Martha did, in fact, die).

  • Remember the dude who just around and waved at everyone?

  • I suspect there are just as many bitter A-holes who are not old as there are those who are old. But I do meet a lot of nice people in Auburn – young and old.