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There was, after all, no place like home

Charles Ewry, Staff Writer

The Pythias Gallery coffee shop was recently destroyed by fire. This column is for those who never set foot inside the business as well as those who did.
Webster’s calls it, among many definitions, “The social unit formed by a family living together.”
Of course, if you prefer the poetic: “Home is where the heart is.”
Any way it’s defined, for the dozens of teens and young adults that congregated there, the Pythias Gallery coffee shop was home. And for many of them, it was providing what mom and dad should have, but did not. Among other things, it was there for the teens seven days a week.
At the shop, the kids were given the freedom to behave, dress and speak the way they wanted, within reason. This group probably wouldn’t have had it any other way. But more importantly, in Pythias Gallery the teens had found a place to belong.
Unfortunately, the freedom afforded the kids inside the shop led to a great deal of criticism and rumor by those who had never set foot in the building, and the occasional petty mischief in the neighboring parking lot only seemed to add credibility to the complaints.
Pythias did have a coffee bar, not a hash bar. Talking was the number one pastime, as is the norm in coffee shops. Many of the patrons were musically inclined, and the shop’s guitar and piano were put to use at least for a little while almost every night.
Games were played: card games, chess and staples like Monopoly.
Kids looking for entertainment weren’t the only ones to come to the shop. A few “big kids” paid frequent visits too.
Tom Schickel, 45, was a man who related better with teens and young adults than he did with his peers. Like the kids, Tom was burdened by few responsibilities, and he found a ready audience in the shop for his thoughts on music, his past or whatever else was begging for discussion on a particular evening.
Tom was an interesting person, and filling what is almost a prerequisite for being interesting, he was unusual and imperfect. He decided to hang his hat a little closer to his heart this summer and moved into an upstairs apartment directly above the shop.
On Sept. 29, the move proved to be a fatal one. An early morning fire claimed the coffee shop and Tom’s life.
Teens gathered in the municipal parking lot outside the shop throughout the day, staring at its charred remains and participating in related discussion. They spent much of the weekend in that lot, after all there is no place like home. Homes are all unique, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.
Friends and relatives of Tom Schickel must have been visibly moved when, on the following Monday, they discovered the part of his life that crossed paths with the coffee shop.
A post-mortem entourage of more than two dozen coffee shop patrons, mostly teens, and the shop’s owner, Butchie Stilger, entered the doors of the funeral home to express their condolences and pay their respects. They were followed by still more of the shop’s former customers.
Tom’s remains have since been put to rest. The building that housed the coffee shop awaits demolition. Eventually, even the rumors will fade away.
But though they may build another coffee shop, there is no place like Pythias.