Helena’s Emporium

She sells Birkenstocks and books

and biscotti, and products by Bodum

and Burt’s Bees, also Fair Trade Coffee

and Catawissa sodas and Chai.  Still, the best

offering of Phillips Emporium is none of these—

but owner Helena’s open generosity. 

An artist whose genre is coziness, she opens

her warm heart with a smile and easy chatter—

offering her space and connecting you.


Sure, I could knock the place—

a sofa has a broken spring,

the bathroom shivers in winter—

but what would be the point

to set an inch of annoyance

against a mile of praise?

Now in the state of Maryland

I see clearly where the Heart

of Bloomsburg’s Main Street lies . . .


Beneath a round green awning

enter a double door.  Pause

by a  Bulletin Board that illuminates

the community with flyers for yoga

and babysitters and The Vagina Monologues,

for high school musicals, ArtSpace receptions,

and BTE show-times, for local rock bands.

School fundraisers and Quit Smoking

clinics and apartments for rent.

Spectrum and Big Dog and adoptable pets,

dancing or guitar lessons, drum circle,

Five and Dime Cultural Center.  Come inside

to the espresso machine where fresh baked

brownies can be purchased on purple plates

and mingle aromas with coffee in Fiesta Ware

cups of aqua or orange or chartreuse.  Art

hangs on the walls, for sale without commission,

surrounding book discussions or games of chess

or River Poets’ readings, Italian lessons,

or belly dancing class, a film or a discussion

about The Power of Myth.


On the yellow sofa a woman rewrites

her novel; onstage Compassion Moves

and a list of young bands (Still Life

Decay, Sulfonic, Killing Chapel . . .),

play to root beer drinkers

keeping time in a smoke-free room


Green Walls,??  I said, some years ago.

Helena, are you really going to paint

the walls green?  It will be dark, I said.

It will be warm, she countered.

And later a Feng Shui expert

from Catawissa said the bathroom

in the money corner of the building

was draining the business.

But no naysayer convinced Helena

to alter her welcome to artists

and musicians and poets

and to those rest of us

who hang out and hang on.


No prize, no trophy, no star shines in its place

as bright as Helena for Bloomsburg.

Her good deeds spread wide, her profile

modestly low.   But we are on to her,

Helena Griffith, empress

of Phillips Emporium, of Bloomsburg,

of Pennsylvania, of the Universe.   Helena.

--JoAnne Growney 

Silver Spring MD  October 2006