Abandoned Marsh: West Bethel Avenue in Muncie

In 2016, I came across an article on Vice about a guy named Brandon Bird who traveled the country making impressionist paintings of Sears department stores. “It’s funny because [I’m] taking the time to do this thing that nobody cares about,” the artist said. “You look at it, and you’re like, Why did somebody make this?” I enjoyed the post but forgot about it until the following summer when I was eating some onion rings in the Burger King parking lot. I happened to look out my window towards an old Marsh supermarket, and I was struck by how the building seemed to divide its grim-looking parking lot from the sky like a brick-and-mortar cigar band. Zesty Sauce dribbling down my shirtfront, my “Abandoned Marsh” project started that day: If Brandon Bird could document Sears, I could certainly document Marsh!

Abandoned Marsh #1. My own work.

Marsh was a regional grocery store chain that was founded in Muncie and eventually grew to encompass 157 supermarkets, 154 convenience stores, three florists, two catering services, and a restaurant. My grandpa was a lifelong company man who started unloading railcars during high school and eventually retired as Warehouse Superintendent after forty years of service.

In 2006, the Marsh family sold the business to an investment firm, Sun Capital Partners, for $88 million. After eleven troubled years, the chain declared bankruptcy and closed its remaining forty-four stores. Many were left to decay.

My 1990s childhood landed near the tail end of Marsh’s architectural renaissance, which spanned from about 1980 to 2004. Even if you didn’t happen to see the big sign out front, every new supermarket the company built was easy to identify thanks to their angular greenhouses and dark brick massing. For Abandoned Marsh, I decided to focus on how highlights and shadows interacted with the stores’ intersections and edges by depicting the buildings stylistically.

At first, I decided to do that cutting simple shapes out of construction paper. Then I remembered that computers exist and decided to use Adobe Illustrator instead. All of the seventy-one Abandoned Marsh images I made were created as 18×24 vector files in Illustrator, though I’ve rasterized and compressed them a little bit for upload here.

The abandoned Marsh Supermarket at 3910 W. Bethel Avenue in Muncie was the building that started this project: it opened in 1979, but closed in 1996. Five years later, Marsh brought the store back under the company’s discount banner, LoBill Foods. Sun Capital Partners closed the store for good in 2014. Today, the building is home to Affordable Family Storage.

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