One of my favorite songs starts out, "There are places I remember all my life...." Whenever I hear that song, I think about Rochelle Park when I was a kid, and all of the places that used to be a part of our lives when we were growing up. The Swiss Chalet, Eugster's Dairy, and Arcola Pool are the first that come to mind, as well as "the steel factory," Bijou, and Vet’s Texaco. They were all within walking distance, or easily gotten to on bikes, but not too long ago, when I was cleaning out my attic, I came across an old 8x10 black and white photo of the group of stores on Rochelle Avenue, between Marinus and Chestnut Street, just around the corner from where I live. I almost forgot about them.
I took the photo myself. I think it was part of my project for the Photography Club in the 7th grade. My father was an amateur photographer, and had built a darkroom in our basement where he taught me how to develop my own prints. This is one of the few that survived the flood during Hurricane Floyd.
The photo was taken from across the street, looking at the storefronts from the other side of Rochelle Avenue. At that time, the first store on the left, or north side of the building, was a combination luncheonette, soda fountain, and candy store called "Slupow's." Next to Slupow's was a hardware store, and next to that, Joe's Barber Shop. I got my first haircut at Joe's, and my friends and I used to buy nails and things at the hardware store for building tree huts and making go-karts, but both the barber shop and the hardware store have since been combined to become a laundromat.
Every one of the stores, with maybe the exception of Womersley's Real Estate, on the corner of Chestnut and Rochelle Avenue, and Loretta's Shoppe, had something of interest to kids. Hare's Bakery, which was right next to Joe's Barber Shop, was one of my favorites. No one can forget their first chocolate éclair, or jelly donut, and until I was old enough to venture down toward Railroad Avenue, to see what they had at Schneider's, Hare's was the first bakery I had ever been in.
The store to the right of Hare's was boarded up at the time the photo was taken, but next to that, distinguished by a large awning, was Loretta's. I'm not sure what Loretta's was all about, but I imagine it had something to do with women's clothes and accessories. It was one of the few stores my friends and I were not familiar with, probably because we didn’t pay much attention to it when we were on our way to the deli and meat market under the big Wonder Bread sign, "Builds strong bodies 8 ways," or to the shoe shop next door. Both of these stores have also been combined, and have now become a workout and tai-chi center, but back in the 50's, we loved to go into the shoe shop for leather scraps, which make great hinges for a tree house door, and to watch "the shoe man" work. All of the machinery in the shop was old, even in those days, but when the shoe man turned on his light and bent over the sewing machine, all eyes were on the way the needles effortlessly poked holes and pulled thread through the thickest pieces of leather. There must have been something about the precision of the machinery that captured our attention, or maybe it was the humble couple who ran the shop, because I remember stopping there often on my way home from school, just to say, “Hello.”
Every kid has heard their parents tell stories about what it was like "when we were growing up," and one of the first things they hear is that their parents had to walk to school every day. It was no different in my family, although to be honest, I think the only reason we had to walk to school was because we only had one car, and my father needed that to get to work.
Walking to school wasn't all that bad, though, especially since my normal route took me right past Slupow's. Whoever coined the phrase, "like a kid in a candy store," must have had Slupow's in mind. If you were younger than 16, one of the first things that caught your eye was a glass case filled with cap guns, water pistols, sparklers, rubber knives, toy cars, model airplanes, plastic rings, and maybe a hundred other items that every kid dreamed of having. And that doesn't include the candy.
There was a rack of comic books, with all of our favorites, like Blackhawk, Superman, and Archie, and along the left side of the store, toward the back, was a long counter and a row of stools that served as a soda fountain, where Mr. Slupow made ice-cream cones, sundaes, and floats. In those days, the ice cream sodas and floats were made by mixing flavored syrups with seltzer water. I'm not sure you can get an ice cream soda made that way anymore.
When Halloween came around, Slupow's was the only store in town that carried masks. In those days, a mask was a luxury item, and not really required for a costume that was more times than not, homemade. A hand-me-down shirt, sweater, or floppy hat and a little charcoal or make-up served the purpose of turning us into clowns, tramps, or old men for Halloween, and using a pillow case for trick or treating, we brought home enough candy to make any kid happy. It was after Halloween that we had a problem. During the months in-between, the only place to get candy was Slupow's. Luckily, a box of candy, like Good 'n' Plenty, or JuJubes, only cost a nickel, so with an allowance of twenty-five cents, it was possible to fill our pockets with Chuckle's, Necco's, and enough wax lips and wax bottles filled with bright green, red, or purple syrup to start a candle factory. If you didn't have a nickel, you could buy a single piece of bubble gum, or reach into one of the jars on the counter and pull out one or two pieces of penny candy.
Looking at the photo again, I realize that none of the stores have survived, and unlike the ending of the song, "some have gone, and some remain," they have all been replaced by stores that are newer or even bigger than the ones we grew up with. Had it not been for a photo I took myself, when I was no more than 12 years old, I might have forgotten them altogether.