There are certain words that trigger an automatic recall of a place vividly in one's mind. When this old friend asked me if I remembered Durables, for some reason, I almost died laughing. Durables was in Norwich, CT and was THE supermarket before Stop and Shop came into town and certainly well before Walmart was even a thought. There is something funny about the name of that store that only those of us that went there and remember it could appreciate. I would imagine that in your home towns you have similar places that you remember that no longer exist but you remember them just the same. This blog is for you and although it focuses on Norwich CT, I’m hoping that it triggers good (and possibly bad) memories of where you grew up. To those who grew up in Norwich, let’s see how many things you can remember. If you can remember things I haven’t listed, please feel free to write about them in the comments section of this blog.
Now on with the stroll down Memory Lane (which, by the way, I looked up and there IS no Memory Lane in Norwich, so I’m not sure why I’m even saying that. But somehow it didn’t sound the same saying, “Now for a stroll down Yantic Lane.” Let’s all pretend there is a Memory Lane. No one will know unless you tell them. Or unless they look it up on their GPS. But those things are never accurate anyway. Our little secret.)
Let’s Start With the Dives
Norwich was a town subdivided into smaller sections that were defined by the factories that were built there. Taftville had the Panema Mills factory, Greenville had the Broadwalk factory and Table Talk pie factory, on the Yantic River there was Falls Mills, a textile mill, so on and so forth. As is true of any small town that had factories and mills as its industry, there were bars that gave the workers somewhere to go to unwind at the end of their day.
I'm going to start with one of my favorites. I went to school with a boy named Tom LaFrenia whose parents owned the best little local bar in town called Bid’s Tavern. Bid’s Tavern was the type of place that had pickled eggs in glass jars on the bar; sacks of potatoes on the floor by the door; pool tables in the middle of the room with a beer advertisement light hanging over top, and an ornate woodwork bar that patrons could either sit at, or choose to sit instead in old mahogany pew-like booths with light green and gold flecked Formica tabletops (popular in the 50s and 60s). The place was old and gave the appearance of not being clean, but it never bothered us or stopped us from eating there. At Bid’s Tavern, you could order quarter drafts and a “combo sandwich” which consisted of shaved steak, a sausage patty, grilled onions, peppers and melted cheese on a fresh roll, all for under two dollars. When I turned 18 years old, which was the legal drinking age in CT back then, we would go there and order $2 pitchers of Genesee Cream Ale from the tap, and just have a great time. The owners were respectable people who never let anyone get out of hand. Somehow they commanded respect. Nobody wanted to get so drunk that they weren’t allowed back in to Bid’s, so nobody did. To get belligerent in Bid’s would be hurtful to Old Man LaFrenia and nobody wanted to do that. I can still picture the man in his stained white apron, spatula in hand from frying the grilled sandwiches on the grill that resided behind the bar, taking orders and making everyone feel at home. He ran a nice, calm, respectable environment. Or at least every time I was there it felt like a safe place to be. Sometime in the mid to late 80’s, Bid’s was sold and it was never the same again. The new owners raised the prices, did some renovations, and changed the whole essence of what Bid’s was. It became just another bar and the clientele changed. It was no longer a great place to stop and get a great sandwich. It was now just another bar where the drunks would hang out and cause trouble. Shame.
Cheerios Tavern was another local hang out but was more inclined to attract the drunks in the neighborhood. As a kid I remember sitting in the back of my father’s car, driving by Cheerios Tavern, watching as police were breaking up a fight outside. I was petrified. So even as I became legally able to consume alcoholic beverages, I never did go in there out of fear. The same clientele that went there also frequented the Maple Shade in Yantic. The Maple Shade was a little bit more, well, shady, as the name would depict. I think at one point they offered strip tease shows. So it was definitely one of those places that was less respectable and a bit seedier. When I was 16 hanging around with kids that were older than me who had already turned 18 years old, I had to use a fake ID to get into certain places. The Maple Shade was one of them. There was nothing more embarrassing than to go to a bar with a group of friends, be carded and not be able to get in, making everyone have to leave because of you. Not for any other reason, but the Maple Shade became a favorite place only because I knew I would get served there.
There were many specialized bars like the Germania Club, Club 41 (had the best pizza in town!), The Polish Citzs, The VFW, The American Legion. All these places had reduced priced alcohol and if you knew someone to get you in, granted these places were dives, but they were a cheap night out!
The Lincoln Inn on the west side of Norwich was another bar that had employees who couldn’t tell a fake ID from a real one. Woohoo! Score! My 16-17 year old west side friends and I would all go there for cheap pitchers of beer, which is what we could afford based on the allowances we were getting from our parents. (Of course our parents didn't know that the allowances were going to beer funds.) I have great memories of going to the “Blinkin’ Lincoln to do some stinkin’ drinkin’”. When I wasn’t with my friends, I would sometimes go there with my friend and her mother for dinner. They had $1.99 spaghetti and meatballs specials on certain nights that my friend's mother liked. I would hide behind my menu hoping that the waitresses wouldn’t ask me if I wanted a beer in front of my friend’s parent, recognizing me from the night before when I was there with my other friends boozing it up. (The Lincoln Inn. Ironically, my younger brother bought the Lincoln Inn, did some renovations to it and sold it a few years ago.)
As I got a little older and could officially drink, wait, let me rephrase that, after I graduated high school I was still only 17 but was close enough, my friends and I would frequent a place that was a renovated funeral home called the Village Green. It was the local disco dance club. It was the only place in Norwich that had a disc jockey. If you wanted a REAL disco, you could go to Groton to a place called Rhanna Pippins. That place was ahead of its time. It was our local version of Studio 54 with multiple disco balls, loud dance music, and a big dance floor. But what made it different and oh so memorable were the pillars that held up the ceiling that were in the shape of frogs. A little unnerving at first, but then you barely noticed them after a few drinks. Nobody cared. You went there to dance.
If disco wasn’t your thing, and you wanted rock and roll, you went to the Brown Derby in Montville. The Brown Derby occasionally had live bands like Maleana. Never heard of them? I think they’re still alive and kicking at fairs and small venues across the state. I couldn’t tell you if they were any good or not. The only thing I know is that they were a local band. If you could afford the cover charge at the Brown Derby, and the bouncer bought your fake ID, you could see live entertainment and at the time, it was the only place that offered that. The Brown Derby is still there, which goes to prove that Rock and Roll does indeed withstand the test of time.
Entertainment in Norwich is a Contradiction in Terms.
There wasn’t much to do in Norwich when I was growing up there. It was pre-casino days when Ledyard and Preston were nothing but farmland and corn fields. If you wanted to go see a concert, you couldn’t just go to a casino. You had to drive to the New Haven Coliseum or the Hartford Civic Center, or wait for the annual Rose Arts Festival to see a one-hit wonder sing their only hit song. (Although I saw Harry Chapin there before he died which was big-time for Norwich.) The only entertainment that Norwich had at that time was the Norwich Duck Pin Lanes (props to Donna Fargo Terenzi for revitalizing that brain cell in my head! Lots of memories were had at the Duck Pin Lanes), Norwich Ten Pin Bowling Alley, and downtown Norwich had two theaters – the Midtown Theater and the Palace Twins. I have fond memories of walking from my house to downtown Norwich to go to the movies with my friends. We weren’t worried about getting abducted in those days. There was no CNN alerting us to all the dangers in the world so we never knew bad things could happen. Thank goodness they didn’t. We were lucky I suppose.
The theaters in Norwich weren't the megaplexes that they are today. The Midtown had one movie theater and the Palace Twin had two choices. They both had matinees where you could see a movie for $1. On rainy days on the weekends, my friend and I would meet our boyfriends (who happened to be best friends too) at the theater. My personal favorite out of the two theaters was the Palace Twin because there was a smoking room, and at the time, I smoked cigarettes. The smoking room was cinder block construction, with one wall having a glass window, approximately 5’ wide by 2’ tall that extended the length of the wall; it had one speaker so you could hear the movie; along the ledge of the window was a moat-like sand ashtray that was full of cigarette butts. If my friend and I didn’t have money to buy cigarettes, we would scour the ashtray for half-smoked cigarettes, light them up, without a thought in the world of who had it in their mouth before us. I know! Ewww, right?! I’m wiping my lips as I type. I can’t believe we did that. But we did. A true testament to the power of nicotine and what one will do to get it once one starts. Anyway, the smoking room was standing room only, there were no chairs in there, and the place reeked of smoke, like standing inside an ashtray. I saw many Vincent Price films from that room and I can’t see him on tv without thinking of that room in the theater.
The other option for movies was the Taftville Drive-in, which sadly is no longer there. The drive-in - a dying piece of Americana. I loved the drive-in as a kid. The funky big speakers that would hang in the window of the car. The concession stand that sold popcorn and hotdogs. The intermission ad songs like “Let’s all go to the lobby, let’s all go to the lobby, let’s all go to the lobby, to buy ourselves some snacks.” Classic. I have fond memories of sitting up front in the car with my parents. Most cars back then had bench style seats, so three people could sit up front comfortably.
Other entertainment, if you want to call it that, was going on the school field trip to the Uncas Museum in Uncasville. Back then I don’t remember any Indian tribes in the area except for the Mohegans. I suppose because of those field trips to Mohegans’ itsy, bitsy museum made it memorable. All I remember is learning about Chief Tantaquidgeon and watching some Indian customs. But I distinctly do not remember them covering anything about casinos, gambling or Indian bingo. This was well before any of that came to light.
Norwich - A Shopping Mecca
So many stores have come and gone through the years, but all of us that grew up in Norwich remember the names of the places and remember where they were.
Zayres, Barkers, Caldors? Styles? That’s where I used to put my corduroys on layaway. Jeans North was cool but a bit pricey for my purse. – Sandra Davis Hill, fellow Jr. High and High School Classmate and Norwich Historian on Facebook.I loved my hip hugging, straight leg corduroys! In high school my mother worked at Styles so we used to get a discount. I had every color I think. But my favorite ones were the off white ones or the baby blue ones. They had to be cuffed at the bottom just so. Three inches was too much and definitely uncool. Only one inch missed the mark too. It had to be two inches or not at all. I would wear my cords with my leather belt that had two rings that looped, not really offering any type of function or support, but just there for aesthetics. I was too cool.
Back to shopping, downtown Norwich consisted of several streets merging into the middle of town. On one side of the road, there was Teppers, or otherwise called the Five n Dime. It was a general store and the owners were on heightened security alert protecting their inventory from teenager shoplifters. Kids of my age were not allowed to go downstairs to the toys and games department without a parent, and if they did allow you down there by yourself, the highest scrutiny of a one-on-one salesperson per child ratio was in order. Upon leaving the store, the owners, if they were able to, would have patted us down. As kids, my best friend and I decided that Teppers was not where it was at. But Woolworth’s, on the other hand, was right next door. They were more lenient towards kids coming into their store. We could hang out there all day and nobody would say anything to us.
Here’s my own personal story about Woolworth’s. My mother came from London and didn’t have her driver's license. In London where she lived there were taxis and double-decker buses on every corner. So there was no need to get a driver's license. When she married my father and moved to the States, I think she attempted once to drive but got discouraged and scared and never pursued it again until later in life. As a child, I had to either walk everywhere or ride my bike because my mother couldn't transport me. If my mother had to go somewhere during the day, we relied on the Norwich Taxicab service for transportation. My father worked and back then fathers didn’t have time to take off to take their children to doctor’s appointments and such. I have vivid memories of taking a taxi cab to downtown Norwich, sitting on the seats that flipped up from the floor of the taxi that looked like mini bar stools, that folded back into the floor when we got out; of watching the meter run, trying to calculate how much the fare would be. I mostly associate these trips with visits to the dentist.
The dentist’s office was a cold, unfriendly, dismal place, located across the street from Woolworth’s. Once inside the waiting room, there were uncomfortable mix matched chairs, with a few magazines like Redbook for the moms and Highlights for the children. I always enjoyed the Highlights magazines there because that was the only place that I got to read it. My favorite section was trying to find what was different in the two pictures. There is a cat in the tree in this picture but not in the other one. Wish I had a pen so I could circle it. There I was, always minding my own business, enjoying my magazine, all was good, until that dreaded dentist’s door would open up to the waiting room. There was no receptionist or nurse in my dentist’s office. Just him. There he would stand in the doorway, wiping his hands off on a towel, calling his next victim, I mean patient, into his torture chamber. He would smile at my mother and nod as if to say, it’s your daughter’s turn for the slaughter. My mother would politely smile back as if to say, thank you for taking her in, oh great and powerful doctor. Do whatever you wish with her today, doctor. I would begrudgingly put my magazine down, marking the page, (but never getting the chance to return to it). I would say my goodbyes to my mother, giving her a look like please, do I really have to go in there?, never sure if I would make it out of there alive. Upon sitting in the chair, he would flash his reflective mirror thingy on his forehead into my mouth, all the time I would be counting the nose hairs he had sticking out of his nose. In those days they didn’t wear masks, or rubber gloves for that matter. I could feel his breath on me. I remember the absolute glee on his face when his dental instrument would detect a small crevice in one of my teeth. He would pick at it and pick at it until it would hit a nerve. Once I jumped or squirmed, he knew he had hit pay dirt. I swear, once I saw actual dollar signs in his eyes during one of my examinations. I tried telling my mother but she just shrugged it off. Oh Sharon, she would say. My cue to let it go.
Dr. Phillips would open the door to his waiting room to inform my mother that I had a cavity. Giving an approving nod, she would indicate to him to “go ahead and fill it” which brought a smile to his face, acknowledgement that he was indeed going to be able to pay his rent that month. That was the ONLY thing that ever brought a smile to that man’s face. There was no tv to watch, like my daughter’s dentist has. No Novocain to alleviate the pain, matter of fact, the more pain the better. (Sadistic #$%^!) If there was Novocain offered, the way in which those older dentists administered shots was more painful than the drilling. So I always passed on the shot. There were no stickers handed out for doing a good job. Instead, if you didn’t stay still while he drilled and drilled and drilled into every nerve that existed in that tooth, you would get punished. Good old Dr. Phillips only charged $7 for a filling which was a bargain, or so thought my mother. It would be an issue if we had to find another dentist who charged possibly $10 per filling. So behave yourself, Sharon, and just let the man do his job.
I swear there were times he had his knee on my chest to keep me in position to stop me from writhing from pain. I can still imagine the taste of metal in my mouth, the smell of burning enamel from the drilling; the sound of the drill boring a hole in my tooth. ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZzzzzzzz…(foot off the pedal for a second)…ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ. Spit. Then filling my tooth with what looked like solder and packing it into my tooth. Rinse. Spit. “You’re done.” “But Dr Phillips, it feels funny.” “You’ll get use to it.” “But…” Washing his hands and reaching for the towel he had used to dry his hands when he called me in his office, he opens the door for his next unsuspecting victim. “Mrs. Smith? Come on in.”
But hey, he was family. He was the brother of my aunt’s husband’s sister. Surely he wouldn’t do anything to ruin THAT relationship. He was a complete stranger in my book. A mean stranger at that. And not such a good dentist. Every one of the fillings he did eventually fell out. Solder doesn’t last forever you know! I’ve had to have them all replaced. Nobody back then questioned doctors or dentists. Nobody asked to see an x-ray. I bet I never even had one cavity. Who would know any different? People in the medical profession that had a certificate in a frame hanging on the wall in their office were just believed to know what was best in those days. We’ve come a long way baby on that! (Remember the cigarette ads?)
Anyway, after the dentist appointment, my mother would take me across the street to Woolworth’s. Woolworth’s had a food service counter and we would always order the same thing. My mother would order a cup of tea and I would order a coke. You know, coke, to make some more cavities because the experience was so enjoyable. We both would order an apple dumpling, served piping hot, which came with vanilla sauce on top that was to die for. I have never been able to recreate that dessert nor has my mother. Both our recollections of the Woolworth’s apple dumplings were something neither of us could or wanted to recreate because it was best left in the past as a fond memory. I can still see us sitting at the counter, on swivel stools, a memory I will always cherish. Upon finishing, they would call us a cab and we would return home.
How rough of a childhood did I have that one of my fondest memories was going to the dentist in a cab? While most of you were taking vacations to Disneyland, little did you know the really good time was in downtown Norwich at Woolworth's!
Another place in downtown Norwich was a record store called Gaffney's. Gaffney's had the only soundproof booth in town. One could pick out an album (for the younger readers, an album is a round circular disc made of vinyl that had music that only a needle would make audible. Some of us had record players at home so that when you bought an album or 45 (smaller version of an album but only had one song on either side of it, known as the A and B side, or the flip side), you could play it on your phonograph. There wasn’t a Rhapsody.com or Itunes back then, kids!) To listen for free you had to go to a store like Gaffney’s and they would let you listen to a record to see if you liked it before buying it. After buying a record or two, we would go next door to the Beverly Tea Room. I’m not sure why it was called that. I never bought tea there. But I did have a coke or two there, putting a dime in the jukebox to hear 3 songs, and just talk with my friends. It was similar to a Friendly’s before Friendly’s opened up on the west side. Booths, ice cream. A hang out for kids with nothing better to do. That was us.
Once that excitement was done, one could head over to the amusement park in downtown Norwich. Don’t tell me you don’t remember the amusement park right there next to the Otis Library? Come on. Really? Oh wait, you probably know it by its official title - Reid and Hughes. Reid and Hughes was a department store that had an elevator, people! A real live elevator! It went up 3 floors and down 3 floors. Nothing like Mr. Bigs, which didn’t have a second floor at all! I remember going to R & H with my friend and riding the elevator for hours, pressing all the buttons, like it was our own private amusement park ride. We didn’t have an amusement park within 50 miles of our house. No roller coasters or flume rides. The only thing we had in comparison was the St Mary’s Carnival which consisted of booths and a maximum of 6 rides tops, if that. Whatever rides they could fit in the parking lot of the school. The Ferris wheel and Round Up were the big thrills. But that only stayed in town for a few days a year. Back to the excitement at Reid and Hughes. One day, the manager of the store caught on to our little antics of getting free thrills on the elevator and asked us to leave and never come back. Needless to say, when my father took me there to go shopping for my mother for Mother’s day, I was sweating bullets, hoping the store manager wouldn’t recognize me and tell my father that I was banned from the store. Hey, we made our own good times.
Oh sure, times weren’t always that bad. Sometimes as a family we would venture out of town to go shopping. By venturing out I mean we would leave Norwich. And I don’t mean we would go to New York or anything as preposterous as that. Back then if you had four kids in your family and only one income, New York may as well have been in Australia. No, when we ventured out to go shopping, I mean we would all pile in the Oldsmobile and drive to New London to go to Two Guys Department Store. Two Guys was similar to Walmart but not as big. Eventually Two Guys was bought out and became BradLees. To this day I’m not sure how that was pronounced. Was it like Brad Lees? Or was it more like Bradleys. Either way, we would go there for pre-school shopping. That store turned hands many times, turning into O’Malley’s in the early 80’s and then eventually being torn down completely to have a plaza be put in its place.
Sometimes we shopped locally and went to Grants which was in Norwichtown. Or Barkers which was on the other side of town. I vaguely remember Grants but do remember that the Norwichtown Mall was built to connect to Grants, but then Grants turned into Caldors. Caldors, was like an Ames. Oh, you don’t know what a Grants/Barkers/Caldors/Ames is? Ok. It’s like a Target I guess, but smaller I think. It was great having a mall finally in Norwich. Although, no more long excursions to New London for us! The Mall had everything you would want. Paperback Booksmith, Rexall Pharmacy, a stationery store, a pet shop with real live puppies and kittens, a place for Santa and the Easter Bunny to come to. What else did Norwich people want or need? We had it all!
In a subdivision of Norwich called Taftville, the streets were named after the alphabet like North A Street. Similarly, Greenville, another sub-section of Norwich, had streets that were all on a grid in blocks, but used the number system. There was 2nd Street all the way through 14th Street. (Hey, don't ask me what happened to 1st Street. Maybe the person that developed the grid scheme couldn't count. But there definitely wasn't a 1st Street. I lived next to 4th Street and it's only now that I am realizing that there wasn't a 1st Street. SO I'm going to cut that guy some slack for this one since I never even noticed it was missing either. We Greenville folk were smaht.) Those streets intersected with North Main Street, Central Avenue and Prospect Street. I grew up in Greenville. I remember Rudy’s Barber shop where my father and both brothers got their haircuts. From what I’m told he is still there cutting hair today; Central Soda Shoppe, where my older sister hung around, got in trouble, so I was never allowed to go there; Pooza’s (sp. Puza's?) was like a general store but had penny candy like candy wax lips, candy cigarettes, teaberry gum and blackjack gum. My favorite candy to buy from Pooza’s was shoestring licorice. I would tie it in multiple knots, then put the whole thing in my mouth, reducing it to strawberry goodness that still makes my mouth water. If you grew up in Greenville, you got your drugs from Rexall Pharmacy. Let me clarify, prescription drugs, that is. Ironically, if you go to Greenville today you can buy all the drugs you want and not have to go to Rexall’s. It’s become the drug zone for Norwich. Sad. Anyway, back in the day, Greenville was a nice place to live. Huge houses and none of them were alike, not like a subdivision. We had local stores that one could walk to. I loved walking down 4th Street to Pillar's Market to buy double stick lime Popsicles and banana Fudgsicles from the deep freezer case. At the end of Central Avenue, was Alex’s Flea Market. I never went there but there were always the most interesting things outside there when we drove by. Antiques, stage coaches, mirrors, old antique cars. The place always looked like it was rat infested. As long as it was there, I don’t think I ever stepped one foot inside the place, but remember it vividly.
In that same area of town, there was a natural spring. Every Sunday my father would load us kids in the car, taking our empty containers to go to the spring, and fill up on spring water. It was nothing fancy, just a rusty drain pipe sticking out of the ground with water coming out of it. Was it ever tested for bacteria? I doubt it. But we filled up our jugs and drank it anyway. Right around the corner from there was Tiki Gardens.
When we used to ask our dad what Tiki Gardens was, he never gave us a straight answer....hmmm never figured that out. HAHAHA!!!! – Sandra Davis Hill
I never knew what it was either nor did I know anyone that went in there to ask. So what WAS going on in that Tiki Gardens? Anyone?
Fine Dining in Norwich. Seriously?
When we were kids, we didn’t have the fast food choices we have today. I remember when the McDonalds Restaurant (yes, restaurant it is called) opened up in front of the mall in Norwichtown. It had a big sign in front that kept track of the number of people served. “3,543 people served”, two years later, “125,444 people served” to what it states now “Millions and millions served.” Back in the day, there weren’t “kid’s meals” that came with a toy. We were happy with the hamburger and french fries themselves. That was a treat in and of itself! We didn’t need no stinking toys. We could play with the environmentally-unfriendly Styrofoam box that the Big Mac came in. And who didn’t know the jingle, “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.” I say that now and my daughters look at me like I’m nuts. Just order, Mom.
McDonalds was the best. We never had french fries like that until McDonald’s came to town. But THEN…Burger King opened up across town. THEY served tomatoes on THEIR burgers! Had Onion rings! And Dr. Pepper! It was nuts. Real food had arrived in Norwich. Real burgers that had real black charbroil lines on them that tasted like they were cooking them on a real charcoal grill in the back. Or at least looked that way with those black lines. Insanely good! And to boot, they did it your way, however you wanted it. “I want the cheese underneath the tomato not on top of it.’ “Yes, ma’am! Have it your way!” My brother who hated onions but could never get McDonalds to take them off, thought we had died and went to heaven.
And then, and then, and then, Wendy’s came to town. SQUARE hamburgers? It’s a world gone mad! Who would ever eat a square burger? Wait. These aren’t too bad. And they’re juicy! But what about McDonalds and Burger King? We have three choices now? Whatever are we to do?! Norwich people aren’t used to having choices. Then Dairy Queen opened up in Taftville with their spin on the burger, the Brazier. The rest is history.
Do you remember First National grocery shopping. They used to give you numbers and [Put your groceries in carrying] carts [that they would roll out to you outside, that you would collect off the conveyor belt made of rollers.] 6 kids in a station wagon on Thurs nights this was the highlight of the week. Oh I'm wrong. Kellys hamburgers were the best time.... - Sandra Davis Hill
I could go on and on, so maybe there will be a Part two to this blog. But for My Kaneclusion this week, I will be stealing sentiment from one of my favorite prolific writers:
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends, I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I've loved them all.
- John Lennon