October 5, 2023
An old grocery store…transformed
By Matt Troyer-Miller
An old grocery store near Red Lake, Minnesota, has been transformed into a “marketplace” of MDS service. On Sept. 5, the Red Lake Nation held an open house at the old store—now the Red Lake MDS volunteer accommodations—a building familiar to many in the community.
Several years ago, a new grocery store was built across the street, and this building sat empty for a long time.
Nearly 100 people showed up at the open house, including MDS volunteers and people from the Red Lake Nation community. Tribal Council members and other leaders, young families, groups of kids and young adults, and intergenerational families all attended.
This event was a great opportunity to share about the mission of MDS. As we gave tours, we discovered that the average community member had little understanding of what was happening at the shelter. People asked if this was a place where they could buy food or snacks, a place where they could get a meal if they didn’t have food, or a place where they could spend the night if they didn’t have a place to sleep.
Most people knew that there were volunteers working on siding and windows, and we were able to explain that this facility is where the volunteers lived and ate when they weren’t working. People were pleased to learn the building would be returned to the Red Lake Nation when our work was completed.
Nearly all the visitors I spoke with had worked in the old grocery store. You could generally identify these people quickly. As they entered, their jaws dropped as they looked up and all around. In one family, a grandma, daughter, and granddaughter had all worked in the old grocery store. People loved to talk about which departments they had worked in and nearly all showed me where the department had been located. Often, they would share memories from their time at the grocery store.
As people shared memories from their experiences at the old store, I was reminded of a quote that I have taped to my desk. “If you live long enough in a place, it becomes haunted by ghosts: memories of events and friends long gone still inhabit spaces that have been levelled and covered over by the unstoppable newness. It’s a form of double vision: you see things that are no longer there.” (Lawrence Wright, “The Astonishing Transformation of Austin”; New Yorker; February 13, 2023). It’s clear that the transformation of this space means something to the people who came to the open house. Their memories remain, but the space has been transformed into something new and beautiful.
Matt Troyer-Miller is MDS Region 3 Operations Coordinator.