Today, a lot of us use catalogues or the
internet to do our shopping. I am a very devoted shopper myself
on Ebay, as an example of how technology has changed the way we
live and make some of our purchases. We can pay our bills, find
cars and homes, and explore the nether parts of the universe by
a mere click on our computer keyboards.
In my childhood days in Newark, living at 321 Belmont Avenue, I
recall some of the shopping that was done by our parents and neighbors
at that golden time in our lives.
No one frequented the large and overly abundant supermarkets we
know today. Although there were a few larger markets such as the
A & P,(Elizabeth Avenue), and the Acme (the intersection of Clinton
Avenue and Broad Street), and the Food Fair, (Clinton Avenue, Clinton
Hill section), most families depended on the neighborhood and local
mom-and-pop grocery stores. Our family frequented Baer's Grocery
and Herbie (Shapiro's?) smaller version on Belmont Avenue. No coupons
or complicated sales brochures, just cash-and-carry merchandise,
and even sometimes, "credit" based on your family's name. Recognition
of neighbors by first name was the password usually to needed items
dealing in foodstuffs. No computers or adding machines, to add up
your cost, just a pencil and paper sack, figured manually by the
grocer. How many times, one's mother ran out of milk or eggs, and
off you would be sent down the street to let the grocer know what
supply was lacking, and off you would go supply in hand to a waiting
Clothing? Off you went to Clinton Avenue merchants, such as Liebeskind's
Childrens' Shop. On Springfield Avenue, near Prince Street, it was
the London's' Childrens' Apparel Shop, notwithstanding the many
other local merchants who thrived on Prince Street. From gloves
to girdles to live chickens, it was all there within reach of your
neighborhood! Going "Downtown" to shop in the large department stores,
was the really big event, usually reserved for back-to-school bargains,
(at S. Klein's, usually), and for "special" occasions at Hahne's,
Bamberger's Kresge's or Ohrbachs department stores. You might get
to even enjoy a snack at Schraffts or later in time, a delicious
donut and maybe even a coffee at Chock ful' O' Nuts on Market Street,
near the A. S, Beck and Kitty Kelly Shoe Stores, and right next
door to Ohrbachs.
However, there were a few items which could only be purchased from
door-to-door salespeople, and as such, they were always usually
men who peddled these items. In the springtime usually, our apartment
would be visited by the Fuller Brush Man. Mother always made some
of those purchases, and usually, he would leave a "free sample"
brush of some kind, probably a small vegetable brush, for scrubbing
veggies or potatoes. Mother bought all manner of brushes, as I recall
it, brushes to clean the stove, (no self-cleaning ovens or "Easy
Off" back in the day, just a lot of elbow grease!) Toothbrushes,
stove brushes, vegetable brushes, the Fuller Brush Man had them
all! As a "bonus" gift for purchasing from him, he might give you
a circular tin mothball holder to hang in the closet, or perhaps
some other kind of "free" brush or product sample. Of course, purchasing
the moth balls was another extra! Who could ever forget the vile
smell of those mothballs? At the first sign of spring, mother would
relegate all woolen clothing to a closet which reeked of that same
odor which I can still conjure up in my mind, unfortunately!
Another door-to-door peddler was the fruit/vegetable man. Once a
week or so, early in the morning, his arrival would be heralded
by the sound of his voice loudly touting his wares: P-E-A-C-H-E-S!
B-A-N-A-N-A-S!, as his old horse and equally old wagon, clippety-clopped
down the streets of the neighborhood. Three pounds for a dollar,
or whatever the going price, was usually emphasized in his spiel.
The mom and pop groceries in the vicinity would dread his arrival,
because he always seemed to undercut and offer better prices to
the eager neighborhood mothers. They would hurry down and flock
from the highest floors, in many cases, from their apartment buildings,
and congregate like swarming bees in a flower bed, to grab up some
of the bargains. Mothers would always insist on "doing the picking",
selection of fruit, lest the fruit man slip in a few overripe fruits
or vegetables! The fruit man would always arrive in a wooden wagon,with
his horse, an old farm house nag of indeterminate breed, wearing
a battered old straw hat, sometimes one with an artificial flower
in its brim. On the back of the wagon, was a swinging metal scale,
which the mothers scrupulously watched as the fruit man weighed
the purchased goods. One of my favorite memories from my childhood
is bringing out a bucket of water to give that poor old steed, who
so dutifully pulled that wagon in the warmest of days. I can recall
the fruit man placing a feedbag on the horse's face, to placate
him while the selling was going on. Occasionally, he would allow
me to pet the poor creature's face. As as animal lover until this
day, that would be a special treat for me to acknowledge that poor
old horse, in such a childlike and kindly manner. Although, by today's
standards it would be considered abusive to an animal to work in
such warm conditions, there somehow seemed to be a warm rapport,
a special bond, if you will, between vendor and faithful horse.
My mind's eye also recalls an African-American man,whose name was
Raymond, who was said to be an alcoholic. He would somehow materialize
in the Springtime, and offer to clean windows, following the long
winters of deposited Newark sleet and snow. No one even knew where
Raymond lived, but his appearance would always herald the coming
of warmer weather. His sworn method to clean would always employ
vinegar and water, followed by vigorous drying of the glass surfaces,
old newspapers. To this very day, I still find this to be the best
method to clean windows! A product called "Glass Wax",
a pink liquid which dried into a powdery substance to be wiped off,
came on the market in the early 1950's. However, Raymond would not
hear of it...."too many streaks left", was Raymond's claim.
Nothing would beat the old vinegar and water approach!
Another frequent neighborhood peddler was the butter and egg man.
I recall his name as being one Mr. Pomerantz. He would make his
deliveries from a wooden picnic basket type carrier, selling and
bringing farm fresh eggs and butter. I do not know Mr. Pomerantz'
point of departure. I believe I recall my mother saying he came
up to Newark from Vineland, where he had a chicken farm, and was
a Jewish refugee survivor of a concentration camp. A special delight
of mine as a child were the double yolks, which my mother would
occasionally petition Mr. Pomerantz to garner for our family, when
the opportunity arose. I recall Mr. Pomerantz making the rounds
of all twenty apartments in our building at 321 Belmont Avenue,
leaving with funds which, I might imagine, made his trip from "far
away" Vineland worthwhile. And it was on to the next apartment
building as well!
In the mid 1950's, Mr. Pomerantz' travels to Newark suddenly stopped.
However, in lieu of those dairy expeditions of Mr. Pomerantz, one
of our neighborhood families, who lived at 328 Belmont Avenue, opened
a dairy store on Clinton Place. It was called Abramson's Dairy store,
and within, one could purchase all manner of dairy and eggs, far
out rivaling the simplistic deliveries of Mr. Pomerantz. I recall
the store as being just at the bend of Clinton Place, next to where
later stood Goldman's Pharmacy, as one approached Lyons Avenue.
At one point, I resided at 188 Clinton Place, and recall the store
was one short block away. One could purchase all types of cheese,
block butter, "potcheese", also called "farmers'
cheese",(no preservatives or guar gum within its content),
block cream cheese with chives, which was always cut with a serrated
device, and sold by the block and pound amount.
An almost daily delivery was made by the milkman, leaving Borden's
products, (think Elsie the Cow, and Elmer), leaving quart glass
milk bottles in a metal container kept outside the apartment door,
for this express purpose. Among other dairy companies in Newark
I also recall the Alderney Dairy, which was located on Bridge Street.
I fondly and especially recall a second grade field trip to the
dairy, accompanied by our dear Avon Avenue second grade teacher,
Mrs. Citret, a kindly elderly teacher and grandmother. The highlight
of this trip ended with all of us school children receiving a treat
of free vanilla ice cream, freshly made at the dairy. Milk was always
delivered in glass bottles, with the molded glass top holding the
portion containing the cream. A special childhood delight of mine,
was to help mother make whipping cream, for "special"
company or occasions, using the cream from the top of the milk bottle.
What childhood joy to lick the last remnants of the whipped cream
from that metal bowl kept for that purpose! The following day, the
milkman would pick up the "empties", or the empty milk
bottles for return and re-use at the dairy, while replenishing the
Another familiar door to door peddler comes to mind. Usually, a
harbinger of the arrival of springtime was the curtain sales of
one Mrs. Weinberger. I guess she was the prototype of the "working
mother", long before mothers were acquainted with Womens' Liberation,
or outside- of- the home- jobs. She would bring all manner of window
curtains, and I distinctly recall mother always purchasing a pair
or two of new, sheer, and usually yellow colored kitchen curtains.
Mother believed that yellow was a "sunshiney and cheerful"
accoutrements to dress up the kitchen, since that is where we would
dine all the time...no such thing as formal dining rooms in our
Third Ward railroad apartments of the day. To eat in dining rooms
would be associated with the wealthier folk, living in the luxurious
confines of the South Ward of the city, the Weequahic Section, or
at least in the Upper Clinton Hill Section of Newark.
As another sideline, Mrs. Weinberger sold what was known as womens'
"house dresses", made of cotton, and always with buttoned
down fronts. I recall these simple, informal and unattractive garments,
having garish and paisley type prints. The dresses were designed
for stay-at-home- moms, and very often grandmoms, and were suited
to doing the household work of the day. Nothing fancy, just utilitarian
clothing. The housedress was the typical "uniform" of
most of the mothers living in the neighborhood, as I recall it.
It was a very inexpensive item of clothing. Over the housedress,
mothers usually wore some type of apron, since mothers were usually
engaged in the preparation of nightly and delicious home prepared
meals. I recall one of my very first part-time jobs in high school
was working in a store on Broad Street, near and opposite City Hall,
which specialized in this type of apparel, and also sold uniforms
for nurses and other jobs requiring white colored work clothes.
Occasionally, an infrequent peddler arriving in the neighborhood,
also with horse and wagon, was the ragman. He would go door to door,
asking the ladies of the house, if they had any old discarded clothing
or rags to donate, which would then be hauled off and made into
bales, to be sold for so much (?) by the pound. I recall the wagon
working its way down the street, the flotsam and jetsam of discarded
clothing, waving in the springtime wind, as in salute to the new
season, as the old horse clipped-clopped its way through the neighborhood.
Today, interestingly enough, charities like Good Will, sell rags
for recycling cloth, made from the dregs of merchandise, perhaps
too worn, stained or undesirable for re-sale.
The last vendor coming to our neighborhood in the mid-fifties, as
I recall it, was the advent of the "Avon lady" Mothers
would gather in another's apartment for hours, watching the Avon
Lady demonstrate the beauty products which would enhance and alter
the typical "household drudge" into a veritable"Cinderella."
I guess the Avon Lady was the prototype of the current makeover
programs, so popular now on television.
One would know, coming home from school, the occasion of a visit
from the Avon Lady. Upon entering home, one could experience the
myriad and sometimes cloying aroma of the diverse perfumes and spray
products proffered by the Avon representative. She was usually another
neighborhood mother, one of the independent "early working
brigades" of neighborhood women. The highlight of these sales
demonstrations would be the gift of small samples of Avon merchandise,
such as lipsticks and lotions of all kinds. And orders galore would
be reaped upon the visiting Avon representative by mothers looking
for a bit of glamour in their lengthy days of household toil!
Despite our modern conveniences today, the peddlers formed a vital
part of the everyday business of living. The aura of friendliness
and salesmanship went hand in hand back in those days. At least,
it sure beat driving to go shopping at the high cost of fuel these
days! And there was always something new under the sun for purchase!
Those were the days!