I drove up Main Street in Carbondale on a recent Saturday night. It was like a ghost town; nothing like I remember as a child growing up in the Pioneer City.
In the late thirties and early forties Saturday night downtown was a big thing. Whole families, most dressed to “beat the band,” congregated in the blocks between Salem and Seventh Avenues. Woolworth’s Corner at Salem and Main was the real hot spot.
In those days there were three five and dime stores in a row. Woolworth’s and Newberry’s both had entrances on Main and Salem; Kresge’s was tucked in between the two. (When Kresge’s closed, the space was occupied by a J.C. Penney store.)
As I recall it, Newberry’s was sort of the flag ship. It was the largest and had a soda fountain and big candy department. At Easter time it even sold baby chicks which were kept in a wire pen in the basement.
Across the main drag, next to Mills’ hardware, was Bert Collins’ cigar store, home of the weekly cash pool. The drawing to select the winner took place on Saturday night and posting of the winner’s name in the window always drew a crowd.
Another thing that drew attention was posting of winners of the weekly suit club drawings in Rommelmeyer’s, Lewsley’s and McCann’s clothing stores.
The Rogers family frequently went to town on Saturday nights. Dad liked to dress up in his three piece suit with a gold chain stretched between the two pockets of his vest. On one end was his pocket watch and on the other a small basketball.
He was easily recognizable, even in a crowd, because he was one of the last two Carbondale men to wear a classic black derby on his head during the colder nights of the year. After Straw Hat Day, May 15, he switched to a boater-style straw hat.
Mom and Dad had my younger brother, Dean, and me in tow as they made their way through the throngs around Woolworth’s. Sometimes it was necessary to step off the curb and into the street to head toward city hall.
Dean had a habit of breaking loose, a problem that was solved by fitting him with a harness and leash.
In those days, the downtown had just about everything a family needed. There were no supermarkets as we know them today; groceries generally came from neighborhood stores of which there were many.
Starting in 1927, the Home Cut Glass and China Co. was the place to go for household items. Mom got her “good china” there, piece by piece.
Thanks to the pioneering electronics wizardry of Leon Helk, that store operated Carbondale’s first radio station, WNBW, in the late 1920’s.
The “Cut Glass” originally was at the rear of Salem Avenue near Church Street. Later, the owners, George F Schiessler and Maude E. Stephens, moved to Main Street next to the M&M Bank. Regrettably, the store and its radio station didn’t survive the Depression.
The Boston Fish Market on Salem Avenue near the river had fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables; Allie Watters’ deli on Church Street featured wonderful salads, and there were a couple of convenience stores such as Joe Modad’s and Dante Bigoni’s.
Barbour’s Bakery on Salem Avenue and Atno’s on Church Street featured some of the best baked goods. My favorite at Barbour’s, which is still there, were the big butter buns. Among other things, Atno’s made Cornish saffron bread with its pungent aroma and yellow hue.
For the women there was the Globe Fashion Shop and a number of smaller apparel stores. Shoes were available at Kinney’s, Treadeasy, J.S. Raub’s and Endicott Johnson. If you needed your watch repaired or a very special gift there were Birkett’s, Ely’s and Jonas Stone’s jewelry stores.
There are three downtown places I can’t forget:
• The Carawana where John Demoris lined them up on his arm and made the best Texas wieners you could find anywhere.
• Tralles’ where Frank Tralles made the most delicious homemade ice cream and candy.
• The Arcade, home of the best Boston cream pie we ever tasted.
The Rogers family returned home most Saturday nights without tasting any of the above. If we were lucky, we shared a bag of candy from Newberry’s. In those days you got a lot for a dime.
Ed E. Rogers is a native of Carbondale and retired after a newspaper career that began in 1944 as sports editor of the former Carbondale News Leader. He subsequently worked for The Scranton Tribune and then spent 64 years as a reporter and editor at The Scranton Times. He frequently shares memories of his home town with Advantage readers.