I’ve always wanted to spend a day in the life of my favorite author. I wonder where they like to hang out, what do they like to eat, and how do they get inspired. Do they take sip coffee at the local cafe while jotting notes for their next story? Maybe they enjoy an ice cold pint at their neighborhood watering hole while brainstorming ideas, getting inspiration from the staff and patrons. Well, I just so happen to live in the little Northwest Ohio college town of Bowling Green which was once home to the Gleefully Macabre maestro himself Jeff Strand. Back in the day, Strand was a student of Creative Writing at Bowling Green State University, so I picked his brain to find out what were his favorite spots during those wild college years. Then I set out to visit those places to find out what has changed and what has stayed the same. I took it a step further and I actually became Jeff Strand! I dressed like him, donned a not-quite-Jeff-Strand-but-it-will-have-to-do wig (it’s actually a “Tween Dream Wig!”), browsed the local shops and roamed the streets fending off fans seeking autographs to spend a day in the life of the horror genre’s most humorous writer and one of Dreadful Tales favorites. Join me for a look at Bowling Green, OH then and now through the eyes of Jeff Strand!
Just to set the timeframe here, I went to Bowling Green State University from 1989 to 1993. When I left campus, it was mostly to go to the following places…
Spectrum Video: This was back at a time when an independent video shop could not only exist, but be the biggest and best place in town! I rented VHS tapes from them almost every weekend. Any horror movie in that place that was released during my college years probably found its way into my VCR.
Video Spectrum, also known as “A Movie Buff’s Paradise,” was an unfortunate casualty of the digital age. Until this past July, Spectrum was still chugging along and they continued to boast the most expansive VHS collection in Northwest Ohio (hell, maybe even the entire state!) despite the recent DVD release of many titles. In fact, you couldn’t get some films, like Night of the Creeps, on DVD because they already had the VHS tape and wouldn’t carry the same movie in two formats. There is a Blockbuster in Bowling Green, but you won’t find the same knowledgeable staff of movie buffs like the ones that worked at Spectrum and you most certainly won’t find the out-of-print, never-before-released-on-DVD VHS tapes that Spectrum offered. The loss of Spectrum is truly one of Bowling Green’s greatest tragedies.
Cla-Zel Theatre: During my college years, my career goal was to be a screenwriter, so I literally saw every movie that played in Bowling Green during those four years. Cla-Zel was a single-screen palace-style theatre, kind of run down but managed by a very nice guy. I’d sit in the very front row, because they had a (closed) orchestra pit that kept you from being so close to the screen that you got a sore neck from looking up. My fondest memory is seeing all eight (at the time) Friday the 13th movies back-to-back from midnight until 12:30 the next afternoon…and I’d seen the Night of the Living Dead remake in the same theatre earlier that evening!
While Clazel Theatre is still around, instead of screening all-night horror marathons, it functions as Bowling Green’s hottest dance club. DJs get the college kids fallin’ in love and live bands like Real Big Fish get ’em waving their lighters, or I guess these days cell phones, in the air. Every once in a great while a cool act will come through, like alt-country singer Neko Case, but otherwise this is the place to hit up if you’re a single youth looking for a night of drinking and dancing.
127 N. Main St.
Bowling Green, Ohio
Woodland Mall Cinema 5: This theater was about a three mile walk from campus, which was not a big deal from an exertion standpoint, but the Bowling Green winters are COLD!!! If more than one movie opened on a particular weekend, I’d usually see both of them as a matinee on Saturday, so between movies I’d hang out at the mall, which did have a Waldenbooks but was otherwise about 90% shoe stores. The theater itself was just a regular old mall multiplex. These days, I live about a mile from a 24-screen AMC theater, and so every wide-release feature is available to me; back then, quite a few films simply wouldn’t open in Bowling Green, so I’d be desperately hoping that something like Halloween 5 would actually play there! (It did. Army of Darkness did not.)
Woodland Mall is like a ghost town these days. In fact, it looks more like a flee market after the sellers have packed up for the day than a mall but luckily Cinema 5, now known as Cinemark, is still around. There are still many films that don’t open in Bowling Green, but the tickets are really cheap so it’s a great place to see movies when you’re on a tight budget. Their website is a pretty apt representation of the mall itself – riddled with “404 page not found” errors and useless text that offer nothing really interesting. When you click on the “Movies” hyperlink it is a completely blank, white page!
1234 North Main Street
Bowling Green, OH 43402
Pauper’s Books: A used bookstore with lots of clutter and random piles of books everywhere, which was part of the fun. The owner was helpful and friendly on the verge of being too helpful and friendly (dammit, I just want to browse!). Today, my to-be-read pile is so immense that I could vanish into a cave for a decade and not get caught up, but back then I would actually be looking through the shelves for something to read that day.
Another unfortunate loss to the changing times, Pauper’s Books finally closed its doors for good several years ago in the early 2000s. While it’s definitely a painful loss to the community that Pauper’s is no more, that hole has sorta been filled by the local coffee shop Grounds for Thought. Right in the heart of Bowling Green’s downtown area, you can get a delicious warm cup of joe at Grounds, but it also doubles as a store for used records, VHS tapes, comics, and books. Home to thousands of used books, Grounds even has a special section specifically for horror. You can find a whole range of horror books depending on the day and the ever-fluctuating inventory. They even have a whole collection of books by that guy who keeps beating me at the Stokers. What’s his name? Sam? Steve something-or-other… ? Drawing a blank here.
174 South Main Street
Bowling Green Ohio 43403
Phone: (419) 354-3266
Finder’s Records: This is where I did a lot of searching for Alice Cooper and Dead Milkmen cassettes. In the world of Wikipedia it seems almost incomprehensible that you could be a fan of a musical artist and really not know what was out there, but without the internet, where are you gonna find a complete Alice Cooper discography? The endless browsing at Finder’s was more because of my friend Dave than me, but I definitely clocked in some hours there.
Finder’s Records is one of the few places that has survived the test of time. Cassettes have been replaced by CDs, but you can still find new releases and represses on vinyl although they tend to be a little pricy. The used record selection at Grounds for Thought may be hit or miss and you won’t find new music, but there is a warmth of community in the shop that can’t be replaced so when it comes to browsing for hidden jems I recommend the coffee shop instead (pictured above).
Restaurants: None, really. My lack of alcohol consumption meant that I had spending money available for movies, but not for eating out. Every once in a while we would try buffalo wings at different places, and I liked Subway, but that was about it.
Bowling Green still has a Subway – hell, who doesn’t have a Subway!? – but there are a few other great places to try when you visit. This may sound crazy, but the Bowling Green Dairy Queen is probably the best Dairy Queen in the Midwest. Not your run-of-the-mill chain restaurant, this Dairy Queen is old school. They have a variety of sodas in the bottle, serve the biggest blizzard portions you will ever get at any other Dairy Queen ever, and they have a breaded veal sandwich! This DQ is more like a local greasy diner than a chain.
Maybe you got a hankerin’ for pizza rather than greasy diner food, then Myles Pizza is your best bet. Myles is right next door to DQ on East Wooster. They have an old style pub atmosphere and the deepest deep dish pizza that can only be rivaled by a Chicago pie.
For the drinkers, especially those who enjoy a good pint, Reverend’s, located on East Wooster right before you hit Main Street, is the place to be. They offer a variety of burgers, some Tex-Mex options, fresh salads, interesting appetizer choices, but most importantly great beer! Boasting “No Crap On Tap,” Reverend’s always has a draft of your favorite poison available. The service is almost always exceptional for a bar and attracts a wide range of patronage, not just the young college crowd.
Overall, Bowling Green has lost some important community staples over the years, most notably Pauper’s Books and Video Spectrum. There isn’t really anything that would lure a horror fan here, for movies or literature, but whether you go to the school, you’re passing through or already live close, there are a few places that are worth visiting.
While it was an absolute blast playing Jeff Strand for a day and now it is time to go back to being Meli again. But, before I go one last thing…
I AM JEFF STRAND!