Friday, October 29, 2010

The shops on Grand

We had the typical shops of the 50s and 60s in our quiet Mac-Groveland neighborhood in St. Paul. I wrote about Dory's corner grocery store in the "Boxcar Children" post.

Our weekly allowance was most often spent at Dory's, on the corner of Grand and Prior. There we'd find shelves of penny candy or two-cent Tootsie Roll pops; or Popsicles and Dreamsicles in the freezer.

Dory was a fat, grumpy old guy. He was always clearing his throat. We could almost hear him groan as we approached the store. Not a friendly shopkeeper at all.

So we would request candy from the very bottom shelf where the penny candy was kept: Double Bubble or Bazooka gum, root beer barrels, or candy buttons on a paper roll. Then Dory would lean over with his fat body, hold his back with one hand, and grunt as he retrieved the candy.

But then, when he straightened up, we’d change our minds and select something else instead: candy lipstick, Lik’M’Aid, a wax pop bottle, or a marshmallow cone.

Then he’d have to lean over, groaning, again.

This sounds so cruel now. But I can’t help but wonder: Why didn’t he just put the penny candy on the upper shelf in the first place?

Besides Dory’s, we liked to go to the dime store further down on Grand Avenue. There, the rotund owner, Mrs. Stetson (we named her Stella), and her mouse-like clerk, Mrs. McBride (we named her Minnie), watched as we perused the selections of construction paper, scrapbooks, black photo mount corners, rubber cement, wedge-shaped erasers, colored index cards, finger paint sets and protractors and compasses.

The wooden floors creaked and there was a large black heater vent in the middle of the store that we liked to walk over. If we were lucky, the heater fan would kick in, sending a blast of hot air to blow on our bare legs.

Next to Stetson's store was the Grandview Theater. The local neighborhood theaters (indeed, all theaters then) had only one screen and one feature movie that played for weeks.

My mother took my sister, Christine, and I to see “The King and I” and also “Rear Window,” though I can’t for the life of me imagine why she’d take us to an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

I already mentioned Lacher Drugs in the "Corner drugstore" post, on the corner of Grand and Fairview where you could sit at the fountain and drink phosphates or cherry, vanilla or lime Cokes, and buy magazines and comic books.

Across the street on Fairview was Strandy’s Bakery. Mom would send me and Christine there to buy bread. It was so fresh, yeasty and warm, and we’d always eat the crusts on the way home.

Next to Strandy’s on Grand Avenue was a supermarket under various ownerships. Originally a Klein’s, it became Krogers, then Piggly Wiggly. You could get Klein bars for three cents, and small jars of pickles or maraschino cherries for a dime. Yes, we would buy dime jars of pickles with our allowance and eat them on the way home.

Next to Strandy’s on Fairview was the Dairy Queen. On occasion, Dad would take us all for five cent ice cream cones. Of course, the Dairy Queen was only open in the summertime and only had one outdoor window, unlike the fast-food restaurants they are today. And though it was only a block away from home, it was a rare summertime treat to go there.

Today, Grand Avenue remains dotted with small shops and, for the most part, except for a Subway where Lacher's was, has escaped the chain-store invasion. I believe that a concerted effort on the part of the neighborhood association of residents and business owners has been responsible for this. They have been outspoken in their protection of the quaintness of Grand Avenue and, to their credit, have thus far been successful.

If you visit Grand Avenue now, you'll find a neighborhood that has remained pretty much as it was when I was growing up there. Yes, Dory's is gone (a small bicycle repair shop took its place), Stella Stetson and Minnie McBride are no longer there, Lacher's has closed, Strandy's is now a cafe, and the Dairy Queen has been razed.

But Grand Avenue has been well cared for by its inhabitants and shopkeepers. And the heart of Grand Avenue is the same.