Focused Built Environment Description: Little Five Points

As I approached the main plaza on an overcast Monday afternoon, my nose picked up a dull musty odor. The area was lightly populated, unlike on weekend days when the sidewalks are packed full of people. The smell I had noticed became sharper the closer I got to a group of five men sitting in and around a wooden bench. As I walked past the group, I noticed that three of them were puffing on lit cigarettes. One of the other men stomped his foot on a beat as he strummed an acoustic guitar covered fully in stickers, while the others talked amongst themselves. The men wore stringy, straw-like hair with straggly, unkempt beards. Their clothing appeared disheveled and unwashed. The few other people scattered around the area, visible from my vantage point, had a similar appearance to these men.

A bird’s eye view of the main plaza in the Little Five Points commercial district of Atlanta.
Source: Google Satellite Images

The main plaza was situated near the center of the small shopping and dining district called Little Five Points. If you saw the plaza from a bird’s eye view, it would be shaped like an isosceles right triangle with the tip of the ninety-degree angle rounded off. The perimeter of the plaza was made up of a straight sidewalk that merged with a curved sidewalk at the other two points on its triangle shape. The inner space between those sidewalks was the home to many individual trees surrounded by mulch in their own separate enclosures that were encircled with small metal fences. Additionally, the area contained several lamp posts, wooden benches, and trash cans scattered throughout. There were six old brick buildings painted florescent colors, hosting ten places of business within them, along the straight sidewalk of the plaza. From the outside, the buildings had a grungy and unique appearance when compared to most other popular Atlanta shopping strips.

A view from the street of the left corner of the main plaza and some of the surrounding stores.
Source: Google Street View Images

Most of the store fronts had shabby weathered paint jobs and metal bars visible through their doors or windows. The items displayed in the shops’ windows were in many cases different from the conventional items commonly showcased in store windows. For example, after I had walked by the ten shops on the strip I had seen luchador masks, spiritual items, marijuana leaves, traditional African masks, and vintage children’s toys exhibited through windows.

After observing the exterior of each of the individual businesses and the areas around them, I began browsing from the inside. I opened the door to Crystal Blue, stepped inside, and found myself immediately greeted by a woman standing behind a u-shaped glass display case in the center of the baby blue store. Natural light flooded into the space through the large store front windows, and the air was filled with the faint tones of ambient music and hushed sounds produced by three people as they gently browsed the merchandise.

View of the Crystal Blue store from the front.
Source: Crystal Blue Official MySpace Page

Healing crystals were the central product of this shop, set out individually in the display cases or grouped together by kind inside of plastic buckets in the front section of the building. The crystals were available in numerous sizes, shapes, colors, designs, textures, and transparencies and labeled with a handwritten description of their healing properties. The store also had an abundant selection of meditation supplies and spiritual books to offer, occupying the space in the rear section on both left and right sides of the display cases. I exited from the building and continued a few doors down the strip to Criminal Records. The shop had a long and narrow rectangular shape layout, and the checkout area was just to the left as I entered. Once the door had closed behind me, a young man in casual clothing standing behind the checkout counter promptly informed me that he would need to hold my purse in the front while I browsed the store. Alternative rock music rained down on everyone in the store from speakers mounted above. The entire store was well lit, however artificial yellow light dominated the space, as the light from outside did not reach the end of the long store. The sources of the artificial light were concert style light fixtures on the ceiling, and the decoration style was modern and alternative.

A view of the interior layout of Criminal Records.
Source: Google Street View Images

There were several rows of wood and metal shelving, racks, and boxes lined with CDs, vinyl records, and comic books sorted by alphabetical order and genre. The store was stocked with new items sealed in their original packaging, with the exception of a small selection of used items located in the very back. A tall, thin man in his twenties wearing glasses and nice clothing was meticulously searching through the used records section. The only other people in the store were the cashier and two other male employees in the comic books section up front. As I slowly moved closer to the counter to pick up my purse, the unintelligible murmurs between the two employees in the comic book section took the form of a crisp conversation about potential new items for the store. I continued past them, and the cashier returned my purse. I exited the store facing the plaza and sat down on an empty bench. From my seat, I watched people go about their business in the plaza and along the strip for about thirty minutes. Seven or eight people went from store to store accumulating shopping bags along the way, some traveling in groups and others alone. A man with a youthful face but tired eyes in raggedy clothing pushed his belongings down the sidewalk alongside the road in a wobbly shopping cart. A woman laid curled up on the concrete with her head hidden beneath her arms and rested on a worn down book bag. A man who sported aviator sunglasses, Doc Marten boots, and a thick brown mustache walked through the plaza with a rhythmic stride, past the sleeping woman, carried a plastic shopping bag with a denim jacket spilling over the edges.

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