Barry Saunders

Dig if you will this unique tribute to Prince

Prince performs during the 'Pepsi Halftime Show' at Super Bowl XLI on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Prince performs during the 'Pepsi Halftime Show' at Super Bowl XLI on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Getty Images

People who get paid to sling words have tried to outdo each other in offering tributes to Prince, the music mastermind who died two weeks ago.

The hyperbolic hosannas are well-deserved, but those writers can all go home because we have a winner of the Wurlitzer Prize.

David Cantwell.

Who does he write for? Rolling Stone? Vibe? Billboard?

Naw. Ace.

Never heard of that publication?

Neither have I, but I have heard of the hardware store, which is where Cantwell does his thing.

If you’re literate and travel on N.C. 54 in Durham, you’ve likely seen Cantwell’s handiwork paying homage to Prince – and good ol’ U.S. capitalism – on a sign in front of the Ace Hardware store:

DIG IF YOU WILL OUR SHOVELS.

It is a line any Prince-o-phile will recognize, playing off the opening lines to Prince’s 1984 hit “When Doves Cry,” which opens with “Dig if you will the picture ... of you and I engaged in a kiss.”

Buildings and sports arenas around the world were bathed in purple lighting in honor of Prince, but it’s doubtful any of those tributes were as inspired and as unlikely as the one at a Durham hardware store.

“My wife and I are big Prince fans,” Cantwell told me. He said he saw the performer at least four times and his wife and he together saw Prince several times.

“We were very surprised when he died, and sad. She said we should use ‘Dig if you will’ with something regarding gardening. When I got to work the next day, it was my time to change the sign out front, so I came up with that.”

Buildings and sports arenas around the world were bathed in purple lighting in honor of the performer, but it’s doubtful any of those tributes were as inspired and as unlikely as Cantwell’s.

C’mon, a hardware store.

Because Cantwell works at the hardware store part-time, he said he hasn’t been in much since the sign went up, so he was unsure of what kind of responses it has received. He said, though, that he put it on his Facebook page “just for laughs” and it was a hit with many of his friends.

Missy Fields, a co-owner of the hardware store and pharmacy, said it has gotten a good response from customers. “Several people,” she said, “have gotten a chuckle out of it.”

Yeah, but has the store gotten any increased sales out of it?

Fields didn’t confirm that, but when asked whether the store is having a sale on shovels to match the sign, she said, “We always have a sale on shovels.”

I asked Cantwell if he planned to take his creativity into advertising, where he could probably make a lot of money selling shovels and other goods with winsome wordplay such as that.

“No,” he laughed. “It was mostly my wife Kerry’s idea. I also work as a teacher’s assistant at Y.E. Smith (Elementary School), and I’m happy with that job.”

Regarding the clever sign, he said, “Sometimes you do what you can to bring a smile to the world.”

Right on.

Even Prince, posthumously hailed as a humanitarian, would tip his raspberry beret to someone committed to teaching first-graders.

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