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Nestled in the heart of the McLaughlin neighborhood, at 245 Irwin, is a very special place. Reminiscent of the mom and pop stores of days gone by, Direct Connection is much more than a simple candy store. Stepping through the door, I am transported back to my childhood and walks to the corner store, where they knew the names of all the neighborhood children, and we were always greeted with a smile, and perhaps a hug if needed. Then walking home with a pocketful of penny candy, or maybe a delicious ice cream treat., just like you find at Direct Connection.

Miss Sue
When you enter, you notice the walls are filled with an eclectic assortment of collectibles. Shelves, wooden crates & boxes, and even a hook or two hold everything from pop bottles to polar bears. There are tins and trays, posters and puzzles, coffee mugs and even a few plush characters we all know and love. Although most of these items are not for sale, they definitely add to the charm as you browse the items that are.
Near the front of the store is the grocery section. Here you will find an assortment of canned goods, condiments, bread and other items. There’s even a freezer stocked with frozen dinners and entrees, and a cooler with milk, juices, and sodas. This is also where you will find shelves of knick-knacks and gift items. Back on the other side, nearer the door, is the freezer of those wonderful ice cream treats. They’re just the thing on a hot summer day.
Next, you’ll see the sales counter, which contains a display case of handmade jewelry for sale. On top of this case sits an antique cash register dating back to 1914. Originally used at Montgomery Wards, it’s now only for show. At the corner of the counter is the modern cash register used for ringing up sales.
Finally, at the back of the store is the candy corner. Shelves containing colorful buckets and bins of assorted two penny candies are set low so little hands can more easily make their selections, . Nearby is a selection of twenty-five cent lollipops and other treats, including a variety of Wonka candies. This may be part of the reason that neighborhood children affectionately call owner Steve Counselor “Mr. Wonka”, along with his friendly demeanor and obvious love for them. A love that is shared by his fiancé and Direct Connection operator, Sue Howe, known as Miss Sue to these same children.

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There are some items you won’t find here. Things like cigarettes, alcohol, or unhealthy energy drinks. “There are other stores in the area where people can find these things.” says Miss Sue, “I’m proud to say, there is nothing in this store that a child can’t buy safely.” This is why the children of the neighborhood have come to know Direct Connection as a safe haven.  Parents also know this. It’s not unusual to see a small child walking proudly to the store to buy a treat while his mother watches from the yard to make sure he gets there safely.
Steve and Sue opened the store four years ago. They sold t-shirts, handmade jewelry, and knick-knacks. They soon transitioned to candy and it has grown from there. During these four years they have also become very invested in the neighborhood. Spending time in conversation I was touched to observe various children and adults stopping in and each one was greeted by name. The most moving though was one particular young man. He stopped in while we were talking to drop off an envelope. Inside was an invitation to his graduation open house. It was obvious, looking into his face, that, over the past four years, Sue and Steve have become a very special part of his life. Equally as obvious was the love and joy in Sues eyes as she turned to me and said, “I’m so proud of that boy. He’s worked hard for this.”
So stop in some day for a loaf of bread or maybe a tasty little treat. The store is open from noon to 6:00 on Monday through Saturday. Let’s all support this wonderful little store and help them grow. Tell them Jeff sent you!

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            We grow up in our imperfect worlds, and they make us who we are.  We learn our limits, and we know that we can’t fix the world, but we try.  We try to fix the things that hurts us.

            I sat in a little bistro on 3rd street called Mia & Grace, talking with Carlos Avrard, fellow Mosaic Way-er and coordinator of the Healthy Neighborhood Project in McLaughlin. 

“They have muffalettas here,” he said as he explained the place.

I set out my digital recorder and give him a simple directive: get me to now.

            He told me fondly about New Orleans – the food, the music, the weather, the drive-thru alcohol stands – the diversity he encountered on every side.

“We moved a lot, though, around,” he said.  He went to eight different schools in his thirteen years, never setting down any roots.  Then he tells me in a quiet sort of way that he’s envious of people who have long-term friendships, the kind that stretch back into childhood.

Carlos

     He met his wife, Sarah, in college.  They hung out in a Hardee’s one of the first nights he was there.  “She knew right away,” he said.  After graduation, they moved to Michigan.  The church they attended was located in McLaughlin at the time.  Starting Mosaic Way has seen them come full circle.

            “The diversity, that’s a good, healthy thing, that there’s not people who look like you and think like you.  There’s a vibrancy in that,” he said of the mosaic McLaughlin neighborhood.

            We arrived at now, so now what?  These days Carlos is remodeling his house and continuing his work with the neighborhood.

“One cool thing about our home remodel project – where we’re taking this home built over a hundred years ago and it’s sturdy and it has all this character to it, but has all this work that’s required – I’m kinda paralleling this home remodel project to this neighborhood.  Where as we’re spending ourselves and putting in effort and money into restoring this home in a way, of pouring passion and energy – and granted, it’s one little piece of this neighborhood, but paralleling that to this community, putting in effort, putting in time, pouring ourselves and our passions toward seeing this community be restored in a way. And I think those two parallels of the struggles that we deal with on the house, of knowing it’s not a quick fix and it’s not gonna be easy and we’re gonna have to be patient; we’re gonna have frustrations and roadblocks.  The same is true for this neighborhood, that it’s not going to be a quick fix; we’re gonna have to deal with the frustration and the roadblocks and all those things.  As you kinda dig into this stuff you find that you bust open a wall, and you find out what the plumbing and electrical is like below it.  Whereas, you knock on a door, you find a neighbor that has issues or something…  So that’s been an interesting thing that’s been echoing in my head a lot that this house remodel project in a nutshell is kind of symbolic in a way of this neighborhood.  You know we can’t do this house remodeling on our own; we can’t have this neighborhood redo itself on its own.  It requires other people.  Community and folks for support and all those things.”

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