The smellscape is dotted with commercial beacons. Bakeries, pulp mills, sugar refineries, and candy companies become olfactory landmarks as generation after generation grows up around them. But times change and the scent departs. As it does, a little bit of our shared history evaporates forever.
The latest smellscape to be erased is in Rockford, Michigan, a town just northeast of Grand Rapids. One hundred and one years ago, G.A. Krause built a tannery there on the banks of the Rogue River. In an unavoidably stinky operation, it turned pigskins into the suede leather that became famous as the Hush Puppies shoe brand. The Wolverine World Wide company—also the maker of Merrells—has now decided to close the Rockford tannery and warehouse as part of a major corporate restructuring.
Columnist Tom Rademacher of the Grand Rapids Press interviewed locals about the tannery and memorialized its equivocal olfactory legacy in yesterday’s paper. Nobody liked the smell, some hated it, but it was undeniably the “smell of money” for the charming little town of Rockford.