At the Bay downtown, I know people. On summer evenings, few shop there, but those who do spend time. Because the elevators are slow, people wait for them together. The rows of pantyhose are tidy, and when the basement was a supermarket, the aisles were wide, but empty.
The store's pace is why one acknowledges another, and when I was hired to sell fragrances at age 16, spending time with strangers made me want to stay.
So I did. I stayed long enough to know Ralph, who, in his 70s, travelled with a walker, wishing passersby a sunny day. He waved at me in the Paddlewheel restaurant, and I was still working on the main floor at age 20 when Ralph held hands with me and said he was sick.
There was Deb who traded sex for crack cocaine and lived to talk about it. She told me I was beautiful, and we promised each other we would throw our cigarettes away.
Anita pulled a basket on wheels across the store. She wore leopard print and feathers and had animated eyes. Mandy, a California paparazzo, told me the Bay reminded her of childhood. And Charlotte was spiritual if not religious. She impersonated Tina Turner on the side.
In the staff room on the top floor, The Golden Girls played on TVtropolis. Although I loved the show, I did not need to watch it. The ladies who worked with me in fragrances were incarnations of Blanche, Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia -- and stand-ins for my own grandmother, whom I missed in real life. Josie brought me hamentashen around the Jewish festival of Purim, and chocolate-covered matzo, too.
Gabriella, an old soul, would visit with me before going to drawing classes at the WAG. She showed me her sketchbook one time. Working at the MAC counter, I was among makeup artists who opened their minds to boys who were girls and girls who were boys.
The mirrors in the fitting rooms have the same words written on them, regardless who is standing before them. "You are beautiful," they say.
At the Bay, the malts were tasty and the window displays are the last of their kind downtown. The architecture of the building makes me nostalgic for a time when I wasn't even alive.
When you're there, you might see ballerinas walking through on their way to the RWB building, or students from the University of Winnipeg running to catch a bus home.
Above all, the Bay is home to an eclectic array of people who come and go as they please. There, I have exchanged stories with the shoppers and the wanderers, the lonely and the wise; I have found a sense of belonging in a scattered, eccentric, and beautiful community.
For that reason, it is my favorite place in Winnipeg, and to me, it feels like home.
Kristy Hoffman is a writer and aspiring documentary filmmaker. She recently launched her first book, Late Bloomers, at McNally Robinson. It's an art book comprising photographs and short stories on the topic of female adolescence and early womanhood. She enjoys spending time in Israel and New York.