Our Busy Streets

by Harry T. Roman

I laugh today when I hear companies and stores talking about customer service and personalized attention. These business managers obviously never grew up in my old Newark neighborhood. Vendors and people with something to sell came right to your door. It does not get more personalized than that.

Let me tell you about North 4th and 5th Streets where I grew up, and some of the daily sights and unique traffic that came past my door. Much of this daily parade also served as a source of fun and entertainment too.

Well of course there was the usual folks you saw in the neighborhood, not much different than today: mailman; meter readers; police cruisers; fire trucks……that sort of thing, and oh yes, the ice cream trucks. In my day it was the Good Humor Man ice cream truck-those short squatty white trucks with the little freezers in the back.

Now on my streets we had an unusual assortment of vendors. There were the Dugan bakery trucks, black and white with their lovely assortment of cakes, muffins, breads, pies, and pastries that they delivered door to door if you wanted the service. This went very well with the nice cold bottles of milk that would also be delivered fresh to your door early every morning. The milk came by truck and sometimes by horse drawn wagon.

Speaking of horse drawn wagons…….there were the fruit and vegetable wagons that clip-clopped down the street, with their drivers singing out their special and unique song that brought faithful customers to the door. My grandfather had a horse drawn wagon like this when he first immigrated here from Italy at the turn of the last century; and later was able to buy a Reo truck.

The ragman also came by horse drawn wagon with his sad and lonely chant……”Rags”…..”Rags”. When was the last time you saw or heard hoof beats on a cobblestone or brick street?

You could get your knifes and other utensils sharpened either by a man in a small station wagon or car with an electric sharpener, or by a man who carried a knife sharpening foot-wheel on his back. He simply took it off, set it upright and pumped the wheel pedal and in a few minutes your kitchen knifes or scissors we as good as new. Seen any of these lately?

Mom had a dry goods salesman, Mr. Beihm as I recall. He came by every 2-3 weeks and sold all sorts of curtains, napkins, cloths, and a variety of things for the house. He had many stops in our neighborhood and was a feature of our block for years. When he retired, Mom had been a customer for almost 30 years.

And then there was Mr. Addonizzio who was our insurance man, again another long time feature of our block. Mom would have a little whole life insurance policy on us and once a month Mr. Addonizio would stop by and collect the premiums. Many folks in our neighborhood would cash the policies in and give the money to their kids as a gift when they got married or graduated from college.

“Tripo, Tripo, Tripo” sang the tripe man as his little paneled truck came slowly down the street, selling the sweetbreads and organ meats for delicacy dishes. These men had the most beautiful voices. You could hear them a block away. If some tripe salesman was new to your block, you knew his voice was different instantly.

Here is a cute story about the tripe man. One day a new voice was heard on the block and the mothers came out to see who it was. Now my block was mostly Italian immigrant 2nd and 3rd generation families and when the tripe man came calling, it was usually an Italian fellow doing the singing, but when the mothers came out this particular morning, there was a black man doing the singing!

Well, that called for a conference of mothers and they approached the man and inquired how he could sing so well and speak Italian so fluently. The man explained he served in Italy during World War II and learned the language. Soon he was another regular on the block.

I almost forgot to mention the truck rides that came down the streets. Remember those? There was the whip, and the miniature ferris wheel, and the one where you pump the little car and make it go over the hanging bar. It was like having a rolling carnival stopping at your door.

Ooops…..almost forgot the bleach man who sometimes refilled your bottle or rented you a new one for the laundry.

And there was also an umbrella repair-man who would recondition your favorite umbrella right there on the spot.

If your yard was filled with trash or seasonal debris, junk men could be hired to take the mess away or haul any scrap to the junkyard.

And everybody had a paperboy. The paper was delivered to your front door, not thrown, and he got that paper there every day, dry and clean, and he was polite and a gentlemen when he rang your bell to collect the week’s pay. Chances are that paperboy was also one of the kids you went to school with or a playmate on the street.

When I first got married and moved to East Orange where I now live, we had Tony the vegetable man who came twice a week in his station wagon until he retired. Seemed just like my old neighborhood in Newark. Haven’t seen another traveling vendor since him.

I miss it all.


Oh yeah, Mr. Business Man, tell me about personal service and individualized attention. You haven’t even got a clue.


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