The Neighborhood Candy Store

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These blog posts are not excerpts from my pending book, Baby Boomer Reflections, but rather additional memories I’m having after writing the book. If you like these posts, please share them with your FaceBook friends.

Also, if you have any ideas for future posts, or you’d like to contribute a post of your own, please send me your thoughts directly to fred@babyboomerreflections.com.

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As I recall, and it’s getting increasingly more difficult to do that every day, getting candy became a frequent experience in elementary school. My parents would send me to school with a few cents in my lunch bucket. Sometime around noon, a teacher would accompany us, as so that we could cross the street in front of the school, to go into a house that had a store attached to it. I’m sure that store sold other things, but for sure, it sold “penny candy.” Penny candy meant you could generally buy one piece of candy for one cent. The term is still in vogue, and it applies to individually wrapped candy with a history of at least fifty years. The same candy is certainly a whole lot more expensive today.

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The first of these individually wrapped by-the-piece candies were Tootsie Rolls in the late 1800s. Following quickly thereafter were Necco Wafer’s “Sweethearts,” and Hershey Kisses, chocolate’s first entry in the game. Next, came bottle caps, licorice, candy corn, bubble gum and jawbreakers.

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In addition to the neighborhood “Mom and Pop” stores, candy had been sold for years by small pharmacies, markets and special ice cream and candy stores. The F.W. Woolworth five and dime store had its own candy aisle, and that marketing ploy had a tremendous impact in putting candy on every main street in America.

Please enjoy my photomontage of the candy that was enjoyed and coveted by baby boomers and their families, and, please add your comments for everyone to read.

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Let’s go shopping

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Like many of my posts, this one started off in one simple direction and wound up with a profound memory.

In the ‘50s and 60’s we didn’t go to the mall. We didn’t even know what a mall was. Most stores were mom and pop operations, and they weren’t large. There were catalogue stores, like J.C. Penny and Sears, with local storefronts in smaller towns, and there were department stores, also known as “five and dime” stores, throughout the country.

Depending on where you grew up, there were regional stores that didn’t have national reach. My formative years were in the northeast, specifically, Pennsylvania, and that’s where my familiarity lies. Our department stores were J.J. Newberry’s, F.W. Woolworth’s, and W.T. Grant’s. And yes … there was also E.J. Korvette’s.

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W.T. Grant opened his twenty-five cent store in Lynn, MA in 1906. By 1972, when “W.T.” died, his chain of stores had grown to over 1,200. Shortly after, in 1976, as a result of extending credit to customers with no related investigation to determine whether that customer could actually pay for purchases, the company became infamous as the then-second largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

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J.J. Newberry’s started in East Stroudsburg, PA in 1911. By 1918, there were seven stores in the chain and seventeen stores by 1919. When “J.J.” died in 1954, there were 475 stores, and by 1961, 565 sported the recognizable gold letters on a red background. The chain was eventually purchased by McCrory stores that ultimately entered into bankruptcy. The last Newberry store closed in 2001.

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I’m going to move out of sequence for a moment to speak about E.J. Korvettes. Founded in 1948 in New York City, it was the first store to challenge the “suggested retail pricing” commonly in practice. By so doing, Korvettes displaced the earlier “five and dime” stores and preceded discount stores and warehouse clubs. Korvettes was a “membership store” and it was quite easy to become a “member.” The membership concept legally skirted fair-trade laws. There were a lot of competitor lawsuits, and while they did not cause Korvettes’ demise, the company went bankrupt in 1980.

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And then there was F.W. Woolworth’s. It was started in Utica, NY in 1878 as “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store.” That store failed, but a second identical store opened a year later in Lancaster, PA. It became an international company and grew to be one of the largest retail chains in the world before going out of business in 1997.

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Woolworth’s eventually incorporated lunch counters into their stores.

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One of those lunch counters became quite infamous, and that’s where the profound portion of this post is. It was the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC where on February 1, 1960, four students from all-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College walked in with the intention of ordering lunch. The students stayed until closing and came back the next day with fifteen other students. On day three, there were 300 and then 1,000. The Greensboro Woolworth sit-in was not the first in the Civil Rights Movement, but it did play a significant part of similar actions that spread across the country. That Woolworth store is now the location of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

Here are some other department stores you might recognize.

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Have you ever met a hero?

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I just did. I hadn’t planned on it, but it happened.  That’s the best way to meet heroes.

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I went to visit a toy store to gather material for a subsequent blog post. There are lots of toy stores all over the place, but this one was different. This toy store has been in operation for nearly 70 years and in its present location since 1956.  It might be the oldest continually operating toy store in the United States.

Kip’s Toyland is in the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market. The person who started it is Irvin “Kip” Kipper. He is the hero!

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I met with Kip’s son, Don, shortly before the toy store opened on Saturday, March 7th 2015. Don is also a leading edge baby boomer, and he now owns Kip’s Toyland that he operates with his daughter, Lily.

I was going to ask Don about the toys he carried and the store, but chose to first politely ask about his dad. Then I listened.

Irvin’s family moved from Texas to the Los Angeles area in the early 1920s. As a youngster, Kip remembers the interesting mechanized displays that were set up in the department stores during the Christmas season. The toys, that were so prominent in the windows, weren’t featured that way during the rest of the year.

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When America entered World War II, Kip became a B17 pilot. That airplane, a four-engine bomber with six defensive gun locations, was nicknamed the “Flying Fortress.” The B17 was unheated and unpressurized, so its crew needed oxygen and electrically heated flying suits to keep warm at altitude. B17s had a range of about thirteen hundred miles and flew at about two hundred miles per hour. B17s flew in tight group formations so that the combined firepower from all the formation’s guns might ward off the enemy fighter aircraft that regularly attacked the slow flying Fortresses. The phrase, “the whole nine yards” referred to the fifty- caliber ammunition that was linked together to be fed through its fifty caliber Browning machine guns.

On one particular bombing mission, Kip’s B17 was shot down over Italy. Kip was captured and became a Prisoner of War. He was held by the German army until being rescued and freed by soldiers commanded by General Patton.  In a curious coincidence, my father-in-law, another hero, was serving with General Patton and was the commanding officer of one of the soldiers that General Patton slapped in Sicily.  My father-in-law was seriously wounded in Italy, and he might have been nearby when Kip was rescued.

Kip told his family that he had determined to do something to make people happy when he was able.

When he returned to Los Angeles, Kip opened his store in 1945. It sold flags. The flag store was located directly across the street from where Kip’s Toyland presently stands. Following the end of WWII rationing, commodities otherwise unavailable to civilians, including rubber, permitted new products to be reintroduced, and Kip started to sell balloons. Kip’s young son, Don, tied strings to the balloons. Flags led to balloons, balloons led to toys, and the rest is history.

As I already said, Kip’s son, Don, is a leading edge baby boomer. On Don’s tenth birthday, in September 1956, Don celebrated by helping his father lay the new linoleum floor before Kip’s Toyland opened in its new location. It is still there, at 6333 W. 3rd St.

Don’s brother, Robert, brings their father to the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning to have breakfast with both sons and to meet customers. My wife and I coincidentally had eaten breakfast that morning at the Farmer’s Market with our son, daughter-in-law and grandson. I wanted my family to meet Don so we had walked back to the toy store at exactly the moment that Kip arrived.

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I got to meet a hero, shake his hand and thank him for his service.

What a great day!

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Amusement Park Games a/k/a the “Penny Arcade”

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I’ve previously written about amusement parks, focusing on the rides. The rides were only part of the fun times baby boomers and their families had at the park. In addition to the amazing food (almost exclusively junk, but the best tasting junk on earth) some parks also had swimming pools to enjoy. My parents liked playing bingo, but it was a little slow for me. I liked spending time in the penny arcade even though nothing ever cost a penny.

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There’s not a lot of research published about the penny arcade games that provided anything more than we already knew. I did however discover that Americans consume seven billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions provided that information.

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Amusement park games were “pay per play ” games of chance (not skill?). They cost between from a nickel to a quarter to play depending on the game. Most offered a small prize or tickets that could be accumulated to win larger prizes. The first popular arcade games were shooting galleries, ball toss games, and early coin-operated machines, like fortune-tellers and mechanical music players.

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As I reported in my earlier blog, the parks were in decline at the end of the 1940s due to the cumulative effects of the Great Depression and World War II. When we baby boomers exploded on the scene, the remaining amusement parks rode the boomer wave, and the arcade games kept pace.

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There were two terrific amusement parks near where I grew up in central Pennsylvania, and sadly, only one is still operating. About four years ago, I stumbled into an antique store in Duncannon, PA that occupied a two block long factory where Lightening Glider sleds were produced starting in 1904. Sled production ended in 1988 and the factory officially closed in late 1990. In April 1991, the buildings reopened as the Old Sled Works with 125 antique and craft vendors, a sled museum and a working penny arcade with many of the same games that I played at Knoebel’s Grove or Rolling Green.

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My “helpers,” Judi and Judy, visited that arcade to escape from the February snow, and took the photos I’m sharing in this blog. Please enjoy Judy’s photographic artistry with the games we played.

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“I’m late, but dinner won’t be”

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“Comforting thoughts for a hurried housewife” says the ad copy on a 1950’s Swanson TV dinner, but which came first, the TV or the dinner?

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According to a variety of sources, TV wins that battle, with a patent being awarded in 1884. In contrast, what ultimately became known as the TV dinner was possibly created in the early ‘40s by a company that produced ready to eat frozen meals, consisting of meat, a potato and a vegetable in a plastic container, to be reheated and served to airline passengers. Near the end of that decade, a Pittsburgh area company developed a similar meal but in an aluminum tray.

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In 1953, Swanson Foods created the product that actually earned the moniker, TV dinner, when it was stuck with a huge surplus of turkeys after poor Thanksgiving sales. Swanson packaged its leftover turkey with cornbread dressing, frozen peas and sweet potatoes in an aluminum tray that could be heated directly in the oven for twenty-five minutes at four hundred twenty five degrees, and then consumed from the same tray. It was sold in grocery stores and cost ninety-eight cents. There is some disagreement about how many of those meals were sold during the first year. Published figures range from ten to twenty-five million. I’m going to report that lots were sold. According to some, Swanson anticipated selling only five thousand. I wonder if they fired the analyst?

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Supposedly, TV dinners were named such because of the shape of its container, which resembled the 1950s television, with a screen and smaller panels underneath (depending on how the container was placed in front of its eater). Its size was perfect to fit on the TV trays that were starting to flood the marketplace. One of the containers was actually placed in the Smithsonian Institution in 1987.

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So families could now save time cooking dinners, and that meant more time for watching television. Most American families were consuming at least one of these meals every week. The TV dinner gave housewives, who were the family cooks, more free time for activities, both leisure and work, while at the same time, allowing them to give their families a hot meal.

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By the end of the 50s, Americans were spending nearly three billion dollars on frozen food and about one-sixth of that was spent on pre-prepared meals. Its popularity continued well into the 60s when concerns for health and fast-food restaurants caused the TV dinner market to taper.

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Let’s Go To The Amusement Park

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Amusement parks in America have been around since about the end of the 19th century. Following the world’s fair in Chicago, Illinois, the first permanent enclosed entertainment area was founded in Coney Island in 1895. Coney Island was one of the first to charge admission to get into the park and to sell tickets for rides.

Prior to its opening, America’s first carousel was built in the 1870s followed by the first roller coaster in 1894.

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By the early 1900s, hundreds of amusement parks operated throughout the United States. In 1925, San Antonio’s original Kiddie Park opened and it’s still in operation today. After World War II, kiddie parks became a popular addition to the established amusement parks.

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Before World War II and following the Great Depression, the amusement park industry started to decline for a number of reasons, and the land, once filled with happy families, was converted to suburban housing and commercial development. One of America’s most influential amusement parks, Steeplechase Park, in the Coney Island area of Brooklyn, closed in 1964 after sixty-seven years of operation. There are other older parks that continue to thrive today including, Kennywood Amusement Park (opened in 1898) near Pittsburgh, Cedar Point opened in 1870), near Cleveland and Hershey Park (opened in 1906) in central Pennsylvania.

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Since I’m from central Pennsylvania, I wanted to mention a few of my family’s favorite parks. Those would be Knoebel’s Grove, Hansons, Rolling Green and Dorney Park. Rolling Green closed abruptly in 1972 after Hurricane Agnes extensively damaged its facilities. Perhaps the most prominent feature of Rolling Green was its dance pavilion, especially the crystal ball that hung above that pavilion. Big bands, including Tommy Dorsey, Buddy Rogers and Fletcher Henderson, appeared in that pavilion.  We baby boomers used to go there during the summer for teenage dances.

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I found an interesting organization, the National Amusement Park Historical Association (NAPHA) that is dedicated to the preservation the heritage and traditions of America’s amusement parks. In the state of Pennsylvania alone, there once were 128 amusement parks. Sadly, only eight appear to be still open today.

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A subsequent post will speak about some of the arcade games we played at those parks.

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Hair Nation

People have inquired whether these posts are actual excerpts from my book, “Baby Boomer Reflections: Eighteen Special Years Between 1946 and 1964.”  They aren’t.  The book is scheduled for release in May 2015.  It is an actual story.  These posts are fun memories I believe we need to share.  If you agree, please share them as well with your FaceBook friends.

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The post-war ‘50s were times filled with relative affluence following the sacrifice and rationing of the preceding decade. It was time for people to experiment with glamour and change. Hairstyles were a perfect to try something new and different.

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Influenced by movie and rock and roll stars, American teenagers led the charge, and were imitated throughout the world, especially in Europe. Long hair was in vogue for teenage girls, who frequently sported their hair worn back in a ponytail. Teenage boys drifted between flat tops and crew cuts to a long-haired “greaser” look, that required the boys to carry a comb in their back pocket so they could keep their hair managed all day. The ultimate was the ducktail a/k/a the D.A. Can you remember Edd Byrnes, who played “Kookie” in 77 Sunset Strip. He actually recorded “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb.” Now that was a classic!

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In order to support these new tonsorial trends, the fashion industry produced a variety of hair-styling products for both genders, including sprays, oils, creams, and my two personal favorites, Dippity Do and Butch Wax. The well-coiffed teen also certainly needed brushes, dryers, rollers, and a whole host of other gimmicks, and they were available as well.

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The ‘60s brought the bouffant or the “bubble,” and The Beatles brought long hair and a new style of British rock. Black rock stars, like Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder and Chubby Checker, however, continued to maintain their own identities. By the mid-‘60s, ultra long hair was in vogue, possibly in support of the parallel women’s movement, but also possibly to imitate the fledgling hippie movement. As you can see from a few of the photos, some black women apparently wanted straight hair and some white women apparently wanted curly hair. The fashion industry brought forth a myriad of products and tools to help accommodate those needs and wants.

I’m including a photomontage of both movie and rock stars to show how they wore their hair in the ‘50s and ‘60s. See how many of them you can name.

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