Isn’t is surprising what we remember? In the midst of a wonderful visit with my grandson Malik, I mentioned that he might accompany me to get a haircut. “Will I get a lollipop?” he asked, remembering that we had done this before. I was not only surprised that he remembered that, but that I immediately connected lollipops and haircuts with my own childhood some 60 + years ago.
At the end of Sheridan Ave. where I lived in Roselle, New Jersey, was a little shopping area of some 10 to 15 stores. Two barbers had a competing business there— Jack’s and Nick’s. I generally went to Jack’s and did get a lollipop, but when my friends told me Nick’s lollipops were better— the round, Tootsie-roll-insides kind instead of the plain flat fruit flavors, I walked across the street and changed barbers. No loyalty when lollipops were at stake.
Thinking of Jack’s and Nick’s made me remember Debbie and Irv’s, the corner store where I got candy and comic books, Lorraine’s Pharmacy where I sometimes got a root-beer float at the counter, accompanying my parents to Burt’s Hardware and Sam and Andy’s grocery store where Sam often gave me a free piece of fruit. (I never did meet Andy, who I think was gone except for his name on the sign.)
Jack, Nick, Debby, Irv, Lorraine, Burt, Sam. My childhood notion of business was connected to people, people with names that I knew, people I could have a little conversation with. It was a time when business and relationship were joined at the hip and the necessity of a haircut or food shopping or a candied sugar rush was mixed with the pleasure of saying hi to a neighbor and exchanging a few words. It helped forge a sense of community, of knowing and being known, of people there to exchange both goods and pleasantries.
As an adult, the Inner Sunset stores were about the same distance from my house as the Sheridan Avenue shops and back in the 1980’s, some still had the flavor of personality. It felt great to take the kids to Heidi’s Bakery and actually be served by Heidi, who often gave them a little extra treat for free. There was Stoyanoff’s Greek restaurant where the owners, cooks and waiters were all part of an extended family. There was the Campus Travel Agency where my favorite agent Michael knew me as Mr. Goodkin (the only person in my adult life to use that name in addressing me!). In other neighborhoods with stores I frequented, I often recognized the people working there even if I didn’t know their name and if I wanted to talk to someone at the 9thAve. Bookstore about a book, at the Magic Flute Record Store about a record, at the Carbon Alternative Xerox store about a project, they knew their stuff.
But then everything changed. Noah’s Bagels came on the scene, but no one, including the people working there, knew who Noah was. The movie theaters with ticket takers I recognized gave way to the mega-plexes, bookstores were swallowed up by Borders where workers had to look things up on computers to answer questions. Business that once had a face was now cold and distant and impersonal with workers who needed a job to pay rent, but didn’t necessarily carry a passion for the store’s goods or services.
Of course, some have held steady. Family-run Yellow Submarine shop is still holding on, Green Apple Bookstore is still with us, Cole Hardware continues with its knowledgeable and helpful workers. I’ve come to recognize and enjoyed chatting with some of the Farmers at the Farmer’s Market, my daughter is doing the same with the folks at the 22ndAve. Market and my haircutter and I have our once-every-six-weeks chat.
And like Jack and Nick, when Malik joins me, she gives him a lollipop.