Bambergers and Other Memories

by Harry T. Roman


Newark was founded in 1666. There is a stone tablet commemorating where the first residents came ashore near what is now McCarter Highway, on a small grassy knoll adjacent to the new Performing Arts Center (PAC). In 1966, the City celebrated its 300th anniversary. As I recall, the event was dubbed Renaissance Newark. There were banners and special signs and promotional materials everywhere in the downtown area.

I still have this little white gift box with some colorful renaissance figures on it. At the time it was new, it contained this lovely green and brown costume jewelry pin I had bought my Mom at Bambergers. All the department stores were featuring celebration motifs for the anniversary, so when I bought Mom that pin for the Holidays, I got the decorative box. Over the years it found its way back to me, probably recycled at one of the annual gift giving times. I am looking at it now and remembering.

Do you remember the escalators at Bams? The first couple of floors had the newer metal ones, and the upper floors had wooden ones.

How about that incredible smell of perfume that would greet you as you entered the store from Bank Street? It would engulf you like a tidal wave.

Do you remember the Catholic nun that sat by the entrance patiently awaiting donations?

That renaissance celebration was quite an event for the City.....lots of special activities. Bams had entertainment industry guests who came to sign autographs and talk to store patrons.

1966 was my senior year at Barringer High, and for a term project in History class our subject was The Renaissance Period in Europe. That project was conjured up to highlight the City's celebration; and it kept me busy at the Newark Public Library for quite a few weekends. I poured through ancient books and tried to zero in on my chosen area for the report----the famous painters of that period. I had an enjoyable time learning about all these neat artists and the new techniques that were developed.

Actually, the interior of the Library, especially on the second and third floors where those lovely arched columns are located in the central foyer area, are examples of Renaissance style architecture. A librarian pointed that out as she was getting some books for me. A little bit of culture right there in my city library.

I guess kids today seldom go to town libraries as regularly as we did for special school reports and research. Today you can just surf the net, finding a huge variety of information. I remember the second floor walk-up branch library on Clifton Avenue, where I always went as a kid.

About two years ago, I had an occasion to visit the old Bamberger's building. It is now an internet hotel, home to a number of telecommunication companies who base their electronic and computer internet facilities there. I entered through the old Bank Street door, now a tight security entrance, and there were the old elevator banks.....with some new doors.

I could almost hear the sounds of that store as I remembered it; and for a minute I thought I smelled the lingering scent of Shalimar, White Sands, and Cotillion perfume. Ah this memory of mine plays such tricks on me at times. I almost expected an elevator operator to sing out the floors as we made our way to the appropriate floor.

After getting to my destination, I was asked to wait for my tour guide. While there, I struck up a conversation with the security guard. Well, don't you know this guy, an ex-Newark cop, grew up on North 5th Street in Newark, by Abington Avenue…..right near where I lived. Talk about a deja vu experience. I had so much fun talking with this guy and reminiscing, that when my tour guide showed up to give me a behind the scenes look at their company's operations, I almost wished he had something else to do. You meet so many folks who came through this city.

As I left the building, that familiar Bank Street stiff wind greeted me at the door. It’s nice to know some things never change.

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