These are the people in your neighborhood


I am the nearest storefront to your apartment, halfway between you and your child’s public school.

I have a sign that includes the name of an Italian city, and a picture of palm trees.

My front door is nearly always open.

Through my front door is a red curtain, usually about three-quarters of the way closed.

What am I?

If you’re me, you go with “uncategorized” for a while and don’t give it much thought. You walk past it every day, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. If pressed, as I eventually was by M, I said it was a travel agency. You know, Milano? Palm trees? Far-off destinations?

Alas, it is not a travel agency. It is a brothel.

Prostitution is legal in Berlin, I’m told by my husband, and I wonder, he knows this how? Was this in the travel books? Because if it was I missed it.

I guess I walked by with blinders on for a while. I could identify any other storefront – we’re surrounded by cafés, little markets, restaurants, antique shops, hair salons, gay bars, karate studios, and probably legitimate travel agencies, but this little spot around the corner from our apartment building eluded me.

I was even proud of myself for figuring out that the storefront whose sign says “Crema: Coffee and Bakery” is NOT a café, but instead a popup textile art storefront. Yes! I was onto that one. The other evening there was a gallery opening at the Crema Café that does not serve coffee, and hip people were spilling out of the storefront onto the sidewalk, drinking wine and eating restaurant food off of tin trays, and new art was on the walls and in the gallery, and it looked very cool and urban.

But little Club Milano sat silently down the street, the last establishment we pass on our way home, with the red curtain parted just enough to see a young woman seated near the door, her head turned demurely to look out to see who might be dropping in, only to see me, glancing with new understanding, meeting her eyes, feeling very awkward indeed.

At which point I hear my youngest daughter ask, Mommy? What is that place?

And I answered, like a truly articulate mother, Umm, umm…

By then we’d turned the corner, and I took my opportunity to introduce a new topic, something about the chocolate bar waiting for her in our kitchen, hoping to make her think about future good things, instead of that recent strange and confusing thing behind us, trying to keep her world “uncategorized” for just a little while longer.


4 thoughts on “These are the people in your neighborhood

  1. Sarah

    This brings to mind the dismay I felt when I was made aware that the Nina (neena?) after which that really charming street (little and charming – just like my daughter! – how perfect) and coffee shop on Selby, both in St Paul were named after a famous brothel owner, actually

    1. Jill M. Post author

      It’s the land-use dilemma that most fascinates me. We’re not in a red light district, by any means, and yet here is this place mixed into a commercial block. I’m more familiar with the Amsterdam model — cluster similar establishments in a particular zone, right in the city. The idea of building a model of sheds outside town that rely on drivers only strikes me as odd as well.


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