The Neighborhood Stores

by Bill Newman


Like most cities of any size each neighborhood had a street where most of the retail stores were located. The one in my area ran for about ten blocks and was all hill. In one five block stretch it was one store after another.

The fish store had a large tank in the display window with live fish swimming about. Customers pointed to the fish they wanted and the clerk would net the fish. There was a thick block of wood to place the fish on and a heavy club. Two, or three whacks on the head and the fish was ready to be cleaned.

Retail bakeries usually did the baking in a section to the rear of the store. It was tough to walk past a bakery, smell the goodies and not take a peek in the window to see what the days special was.

Sunday was the big day in the bakery business. From the morning till late afternoon all bakeries were crowded. Most bakeries got a jump on things by starting to sell about 11 P.M. Saturday night when the baked goods would start coming out of the ovens. The stores were not open so the customers went to the rear and waited in an alley outside the baking area. You couldn't buy fresher goods than that, out of the oven into your bag.

The drug stores in the neighborhood displayed large glass globes in the display window. There was no particular size and shape that the globes had to be, the only requirement was that they be filled with an exotic colored water. The colors were changed every so often so people always had a reason to look into the drugstore window.

We had shoe repair shops, dry cleaners, tailors, and even small repair shops where it cost .50¢ to have a toaster repaired.

When leaving something at one of these shops the customer never got a claim check. The shopkeeper trusted to memory as to what belonged to who. Sometimes the shopkeeper would write a note to slip into a garment, a shoe, or another item. The note held the briefest of description of the person it belonged to. A description was usually four words tall man with glasses, for example would suffice.

No shopping street was complete unless it had at least two candy stores. A candy store sold newspapers, magazines, tobacco items, a few sundry items, had a soda fountain but most of all sold those wondrous penny candies.

Most customers were young children that had a penny to spend. Sometimes a big spender would come in that had as much as .05¢ to spend. Most selections were based on which you got the most of for a cent. One of my favorites was Collins Walnettos, they came in a package of seven for .01¢. The shopkeeper seem to spend most of his time behind the candy counter.

You may wonder how the candy store survived doing a business in pennies, the answer was not too difficult to come by. All candy stores had pinball machines. Most required a nickel to operate and some a penny. There were cash prizes, not advertised but you could ask.

In addition to the pinball machines many candy store owners booked numbers. I don't know if that goes on today. A person picked three numbers and could bet an amount from one cent up. If your number "came in" you won $5.50 for each penny bet. It was illegal but the law winked at the whole business.

At the bottom of the Hawthorne Avenue hill was a White Castle hamburger stand. In some cities today there are still White Castles. I also see White Castle products for sale in the frozen food section of some supermarkets.

I don't know why but the prices are much higher today than they were in the 1930's. I can't recall ever paying more than .05¢ for anything in a White Castle. After the war, in the 1940's the White Castle would have a coupon in the newspaper every so often that entitled a customer to ten hamburgers for .25¢

Come on White Castle, bring back those prices.


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