I ended my tour of Dayton's brief downtown at Wilkie's Book Store, the oldest bookstore in Ohio, and one of only four in the nation older than 100 years. The city had recently passed legislation to outlaw the bookstore's sidewalk signs, and many thought they were trying to shut them down. Locals and journalists rallied to save the store, and a newspaper column defending the store was posted on the door when I visited. [It has since closed.]
Inside, tables and chairs filled space between sparse bookracks beneath a dropped ceiling with fluorescent light. It was as close as a bookstore could come to looking like a Hopper diner.
The man behind the counter said his name was Jim, and he and his wife owned the store. He was balding on top, but long hair fringed the sides of his head. His face was smothered by a graying walrus mustache. He wore a red T-shirt with the yellow insignia and address of a Santa Fe, New Mexico burrito place.
"Dayton doesn't support the arts," he decried. "They have three world-class dance companies here, and none of them gets supported by the city. There's a suburbanized, discounted mentality here. People don't want to come downtown, and they don't want to pay for quality. They just want everything as cheap as possible. The city claims to want to grow, but they don't allow anybody room for that."
"Are any artists in Dayton well-known?" I asked.
The owner said, "There's a number of print-graphics type people, but you don't see much of them here. Some spring out of the old school at the Dayton Art Institute. It closed down twenty-three years ago," Jim said. "I went there. One day I had to go get my transcripts, and found out the entire school has been reduced to two folders.