Call them permanent or ghost welcome mats. At one time, many small American Main Street stores and offices displayed their name or logo at the feet of patrons as they stepped to the front door. Sometimes painted, but more often rendered in tile or terrazzo, they were often works of simple, but utilitarian art.
Today such welcomes as you enter a business are rare. It’s an architectural flourish that’s gone out of style. Many of the old ones have been covered with a veneer of concrete or other material. The few persisting usually bear the name of a company that long ago vacated the storefront or has gone out of business. The once beckoning salutations remain as commercial epitaphs.
Whenever visiting a traditional downtown, I look for these old front walkway greetings as if on a treasure hunt. I admire their artistry, but more than that they immediately alert me to past presences that would otherwise be invisible. They are a kind of “Kilroy was here” greeting from bygone years when people did most of their shopping in the city center.
Many of the names embedded in these masonry welcome mats were major retailers that once seemed a permanent part of the mercantile landscape. But storefront businesses like shoe merchant Thom McAn and department store W.T. Grant have been gone for a generation or more, though their name still boldly greets you as you enter a shop.
I’m intrigued to see who has replaced the once grand downtown retailers that brazenly imprinted their names for the ages. The homes of historic chain stores are now occupied by antique shops, clothing boutiques and other specialty merchants. As you enter, you step on a welcome out of the past and into a much warmer greeting from the person now behind the counter inside.