Yesterday(October 4, 2011) Pastor Uhler of our Saint John's Evangelical Lutheran church here in the nearby town of Hamburg, PA and I were talking about the good old days in downtown Easton, PA. Pastor Uhler grew up in Wilson Borough, PA around the same time as I grew up in Alpha, NJ. We both have the same fond memories of Christmas shopping in downtown Easton. He told me of the time he was shopping with his brand new Roy Rogers wallet, and he lost it. The next day while he and his parents were listening to a radio show on the then WEST radio station in Easton, they heard an announcement that someone had found his wallet. He got it back and all the money was still in it. He was a very happy young boy, with a lesson that people are inherently good.
Re-Post from 2009-Downtown Christmas Shopping, When I Was Young
So today, many of you may already be finished with your Christmas shopping, but quite a few of you are out shopping as I write this. I heard on the news last night that PennDot was worried that Christmas shoppers would jam up traffic as we are expected to get quite a bit of snow today. Those of you south of us have already felt the trepidation of traveling out on icy snow covered roads doing your shopping.
My daughter Jamiann has purchased the majority of her Christmas gifts online. She avoided the hazards of driving, crowded stores, and the unhealthy quick bites to eat at fast food restaurants on the ride home.
I have discovered that the older I get the more I hate shopping of any kind. Because I have spinal column injuries, walking and standing are quite painful, and money has been tight. I ordered a few gifts online, and my husband got the majority at Cabela's last week. I still have a few to get, and I am waiting for those last minute sales.
Nothing can ever compare to my memories of shopping with my mother on South Main Street in Phillipsburg, NJ, downtown Easton, PA, and even the Hillcrest Mall. I will first address my memories of Twin City, and the South Main Five and Dime.
When I was about six years old Mom took me along to Twin City which was situated on South Main Street between Tyndall Avenue and Hudson Street on the left side going up South Main from Union Square on the left. In later years George Penyak ran a store in the same building called the Lucky Penny.
That year, 1957 I wanted a Tiny Tears doll for Christmas. I can remember my mom whispering to the sales lady and her responding, "We sold the last one yesterday." I just knew she was talking about a Tiny Tears doll. Well, I did get a doll that wet, and cried, that year but it wasn't the real Tiny Tears, it was the reasonable facsimile. Coming from a family of five kids, with a stay at home mom, most of our toys were just that or hand me downs. We all shared one sled, and one bike. One year mom got me the baseball, and Irene the bat. We had to get along with each other in order to play a game. Our mother should have gotten the Nobel Peace Prize that year.
My other favorite store on South Main in Phillipsburg or P'Burg to most of the locals, was the South Main Five and Dime. This store sat on the corner of Stockton and South Main right across from St. Phillips and St. James Roman Catholic Church. The store had those creaky wooden floors, and isles and isles of display tables filled with everything from home decorations and clothes, to hardware items, and toys. It also held a candy, and cookie section, which was sold by the pound . Mom always bought windmill cookies, chocolate covered wafer cookies, and horehound candies. Horehound candies, yucky, awful horehound candies, all of us kids hated them. Just like the stinky Limburger cheese she bought for New Year's Eve those horehounds were meant for adult consumption only. I so loved the little rubber cars, trucks, and balls that were sold there for a dime! They were blue, or pink, and the cars had silhouettes of people molded into the side windows. They also sold those plastic naked dolls with the open and close eyes, and wavy hair. The kind of doll that ended up with a crepe paper or crocheted dress and was placed on the hood of wedding cars, along with Kleenex roses. That is something you don's see brides doing anymore! Back then they all did it, and drove around the neighborhood after the ceremony beeping their horns before the reception.
On Christmas Day 1954 my cousin Carol gave my sister Irene and I crocheted pocket books that were made using those dolls, and the dress part doubled as a pouch, hence the pocket book. I can vividly picture her giving them to us and I was only four years old. I sure wish my short term memory was as good as my long term memory.
There were other stores on South Main Street where mom had shopped, Stoney's Dept. Store, Harold's Shoe Store, Bob Paciello's Italian Market, New York Italian Bakery, and The Food Basket. On one occasion Mom and I went shopping at the South Main Five and Dime. We drove there in our dad's 1959 green Ford pickup truck. After we were done shopping, we headed across S. Main where we were parked in front of the Catholic Church Rectory. We got into the truck, pulled out onto S. Main and were heading back to Alpha. As we traversed down S.Main, I spied a radio in the dashboard, and questioned mom as to when dad put a radio in the truck. Mom screamed, "Oh no, we are in the wrong truck!" She then nervously turned down McKean Street to Sitgreaves and headed back in the direction from which we came. We had to pass the former city hall, and police station, to end up on the right side of S. Main, hoping the same parking space was available, and that the truck's owner had not discovered that their truck was missing. Well, we made it, and there was our truck parked about three spaces down the street.
I have a few favorite memories of Christmas shopping in downtown Easton with Northampton Street all decked out in it's finest of Christmas decorations, and a Salvation Army member in complete uniform, ringing a bell by the kettle, and sometimes playing a Carole on a horn.
On one shopping trip with my mother while shopping in the basement section of Pomeroy's/Laubach's Dept. Store. Mom bought me a really nice green hooded car coat, and a stuffed chimpanzee that looked like Chatter the popular TV show personality. In recalling that trip, I have this feeling of pride and joy when I think of those two gifts, that were not at all a surprise from Santa that year, 1960.
During the Christmas shopping season of 1967, Mom, asked me to do some of her shopping for her. I was sixteen, with a list in hand, a purse filled with money, my sister Ruth Ann, and friends Cynthia and Celia, and I boarded the Transbridge bus from the adjacent corner of our family store, The Alpha Luncheonette, and headed off to downtown Easton.
I can't remember all of the gifts I purchased from that list, but I do remember some. One gift was for my sister Irene and it was Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sister's Christmas Album, and I found it at Woolworth's on the corner of Northampton Street and Center Square. I also got a couple of flannel shirts from Woolworth's, and some Christmas decorations. Then there was the Surprise Store where I got some plaid flannel night gowns, white cotton underwear, and cotton stockings that were for Great Aunt Ree. My mother was always practical, and socks, nightgowns, and underwear were always considered the best Christmas gift anyone could give. The other stores where we shopped were, Green's Dept. store that had the " tubular money containers" that traveled above our heads from the registers to the store office, John's bargain store, the forerunner to the Dollar Tree, Lerner's Shop, and The Caramel Corn Shop. At Christmas time we always bought clear toy, barley sugar candies there, if Dad hadn't already gotten them from the Nazareth Farmer's Market and Auction.
No trip to Easton was complete without eating in either the My Place Lunch, the Woolworth's lunch counter, the Easton Sweet Shop, or the Deluxe Restaurant. Our friend Georgia worked at the later for many years, as it was owned by her Aunt Olga and Uncle Pete. So, it was always nice to see her there along with her cousins Lillian and Dino.
I can remember stopping by our dear friend Sam's apartment on Northampton Street in Easton, and convincing him to come home with us for Christmas. At that time Sam was about 68 years old, living alone, and sad as his mother had passed away on Christmas Eve many years earlier.
His name was Samuel Stewart Jones, and he was a vaudeville drummer, turned house painter. He also sold Christmas trees, and fruit for a farmer who befriended him, in Center Square at the farm market that used to be set up in the middle of the square.
He was a friend of our family, since my Uncle Dick introduced him to us after meeting him in the army. We all loved him like a family member, a grandfather like figure. If you have read my book, the character Sam is one in the same. Christmas 1968, he bought not only my sisters and I gifts, but he also bought our friends gifts too. Christmas at our house was more complete when Sam was there.
Another of my favorite Christmas shopping adventures was Christmas Eve shopping at Harold's Auction House in West Portal, NJ. It was the same year, 1968 when my sister Irene bought our brother David a snow mobile race set, with a track molded into snow mounds. It was a really neat thing, and we all played with it. Harold's auction was an exciting place on Christmas Eve with bargains galore. It still exists today as Dave's Family Auction, http://www.davesauction.com. I am not positive but I do believe that Dave had been related to Harold, and was a partner with him back in the day.
Once the malls became a popular place to shop, downtown Easton and Phillipsburg, slowly began to fail, and one store after another closed their doors. It was a sad day for all of us. We started shopping at Woolworth's in the Hillcrest Mall, Fashion Bug, Thrift Drug, and the Orrs Dept. Store. My girls have fond memories of eating at the Hillcrest Mall Woolworth's lunch counter. One thing was for sure we always had this huge box of Ann Page Chocolates, our mother bought at the Hillcrest Mall A&P every Christmas. Sooner or later Mom would open the box only to be angry that many of the chocolates were smashed in on top, by our prying little fingers trying to discover what flavor it was before placing a yucky maple cream in our mouths. Today, I love maple cream chocolates, but back then chocolate covered cherries were my favorite.
I for one really miss the experience of shopping in a downtown atmosphere. The last time I did have the experience was in 1998 when Jamiann and I went shopping on a bus trip to NYC with former fellow employees of the Warren County Welfare Board. Now that is a really fun way to go shopping in a downtown atmosphere. We walked from one end of Fifth Avenue to the other. I had to buy Jamiann a pair of sneakers while there, as she opted to wear fashionable boots against my warnings. The window decorations are fabulous, and it is really easy to get into the spirit on this kind of shopping adventure. I would recommend it to anyone who can handle the walking, or in a motorized chair.
I have seen that the "Shopping Mall" trend has now switched from the indoor malls to the new huge "Strip Malls" with the big anchor stores like Walmart, Target, and Lowes. The Sear's Catalog Wish Book is now online, and the Salvation Army no longer wear uniforms, and play instruments while ringing their bell by the kettle.
Life marches on while we adapt to the changes, but I for one am thankful for my memories of a really wonderful childhood.