Reading the Old Newark Memories

by Mary Ann Lynch


I read the Old Newark memories with a great deal of fondness for my native city. I grew up on Mt Prospect ave, between Montclair and Coeyman Street. My parents were Irish immigrants who came to Newark in the early 1950s, met at an Irish American Club function, married and had 10 children in 13 years. We lived in a three-bedroom brick row house. The neighborhood was mostly Italian with a minority of Irish, Cuban American, and Puerto Rican We didn’t have much, but we knew we weren’t poor because we didn’t live in the projects.

I now live in a suburb of Portland Maine, where you have to get in the car and drive in order to buy a bottle of milk. It is at these times of driving everywhere that I think most fondly of Newark and the block I grew up on. One could spend their whole life on my block and never have to get in a car.

First a description of Mt. Prospect is in order. Mt. Prospect was a wide avenue, paved with brick, and many of the side streets were paved in cobblestone. It was a beautiful tree lined avenue from Verona all the way to about Second Avenue, or maybe even Bloomfield Avenue. Utility poles were above ground making natural safe zones for the game of Tag.

On the side of the street I grew up on, there was a small grocery store, I think called Carino’s. Every kid who went into the store received a slice of bologna from Mr. Carino, or whoever was working behind the meat counter. We bought “chopped meat” there, never hamburger. Next to the grocery store was a tailor/ tux rental place, which I don’t think I ever entered. But you could rent a tux there and get married around the block at the “Italian” church, Immaculate Conception. We played baseball and lots of other games in the parking lot of the church. Thankfully, we never, to my knowledge, broke a church window and the priests were most accommodating to us city kids. Right at the corner of Montclair and Mt. Prospect was a bar and grill, named Hopkins Tavern.

There was a furrier business in the home of Mr. Colello (sp?) (I think), and his brother had a shoe repair business on the corner of Coeyman and Mt. Prospect. We would get used rubber shoe heels from him to pitch when we played hopscotch. There was also a beauty parlor in one of the row houses down towards Coeyman Street. There I got my hair done (set, teased and sprayed) for the Our Lady of Good Counsel 8th grade graduation dance!

The other side of the street had every other conceivable business one could need or want to survive. Liss Drug Store was on the corner of Montclair and Mt. Prospect. Candy bars there were $0.05 or six for $0.25!

Directly across the street, also on the corner of Montclair and Mt. Prospect was a toy store which carried a large selection of Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and The Hardy Boys books. At one time I owned every one of the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books. Near the toy store was a dry cleaners. And further down the street was a fish store, which I remember going to every Friday to buy fresh fish for dinner.

Old Mrs. Waldron (I think) owned a penny candy store, where you could gorge on a nickel. Further down the street was a liquor store owned by a nice family from Nutley. I received many beautiful hand-me-downs from that family. Nearby was Pepe’s (Italian) Deli - where you could buy the best cold cuts, hard rolls and fresh vegetables. Pepe’s is owned today by Chris Virginio who grew up on the block in the 1960s. Chris, I’m told, also owns the liquor store as well. Congratulations, Chris!

I almost forgot the German bakery, I think it was called Schweikert’s, where people would line up on Sundays for their pastries, especially the “crumb buns,” the likes of which I’ve never been able to find since I left Newark. I’m told that the owner, Mr. Glatzel had a flour allergy!

There was also a hardware store named Weber’s. I remember my dad sending each of my brothers, in turn, on April Fool’s day to the hardware store to buy a “glass hammer!”

By now you are undoubtedly saying “but they couldn’t buy clothes or shores on the block.” That’s true, but just one block down on Mt. Prospect near Verona avenue was Mintz’s a shoe and clothing store. Although I didn’t appreciate it then (foodie that I am now), there were two other stores of importance: an Italian coffee roaster, Juvelis, (I can still remember smelling the coffee as we walked by) and a shop that sold homemade ravioli, which Mrs. Calcagno, and many other Italian mothers and grandmothers in the neighborhood frequented. There was also a perfume factory where many of the girls had summer jobs. Oh yes, we had interesting zoning!

It was the most wonderful neighborhood to grow up in. Next to Mintz’s there was a trampoline store where for $0.25 you could bounce on the trampolines for some specified period of time. Branch Brook Park was nearby with tennis in the summer, Dead Man’s Hill for sledding in the winter, and many teenage nights spent on “the Bridge.” The cherry blossoms of Branch Brook Park rivaled those in Washington D.C.

In the summer we worked and/or hung out at the Ridge Street School, where I honed my table tennis game and the boys their basketball games. When we were younger (pre riots) we walked, yes, walked (although sometimes we took the #27 bus) to the 77 steps to swim at the Boy’s Club. In the fall there was football in the street, gangs of youths playing touch football on an “island” on Heller Parkway just west of Highland Avenue. To catch the ball on a single bounce off the hood of a parked Buick was a completion. Three completions - a first down!

Stickball in the street -- On hot and sticky summer nights -- playing stickball on Ridge Street with a sawed-off broom handle and a Wiffle ball from Nebb’s – and if the wind was right – getting hit with the sickly sweet smell of malted barley and hops from the Pabst or Ballantine breweries.

For the men and boys -getting a haircut at Vinny’s, the barber on Mt. Prospect, (between Elwood and Heller Pkwy) took three times as long as it should have due to phone calls Vinny had to take in the back from his other customers as part of his second job as Vinny the Bookie. Vinny would ‘go away’ every now and then for about 6 months to a year.

There’s the memory of the “junkman” coming around weekly in horse drawn wagon – picking up junk and sharpening kitchen knives. You could hear him coming a block away. And of course, the “egg” man and the milk man who delivered fresh farm products to us city folks.

Most of us who went to OLGC grammar school went to Catholic High Schools: OLGC, Essex Catholic, EOCH, and a smattering to Mt. St. Dominic’s, the Hall, and St. Benedict’s Prep (It was a very sad day when “Benedict’s” closed in 1972! And of course, most of the other schools subsequently closed down, and Benedicts is open again. How ironic!

I’m not sure how many people are still around Newark – I left in 1975, and though I love my adopted state of Maine, and the beautiful Town of Cape Elizabeth, I’ll always love the Forest Hill section of Newark, NJ. Special thanks go to Peter and Stephen Sisa and Phil Mattarazzo who have shared memories which have gone into this revision.

I’m sorry if I’ve messed up names etc. I’m 51 now and have been gone for 31 years. So I welcome correction and additions.


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