Over Easy: When All Shopping Was Local

  • Bigger and better than ever is the description of the new A&P Supermarket in White River Junction, Vt., at its new location on the corner of Gates and South Main Street. On hand for the September 23, 1964, Grand Opening were A&P officials with Hartford Town Manager Ralph Lehman, shown center, cutting the ribbon. Minutes before the 9 a.m. opening, shoppers crowded the sidewalk to take advantage of the many sale specials and to get a first hand look at the store's up-to-date facilities. (Valley News - Larry McDonald) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kurt Boland, of Hartland, Vt., owner of Boland Custom Home Improvement, does demolition work at what used to be Aubuchon Hardware in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ralph McCoy, of Hartford, Vt., recently purchased Ed's Shoetorium on the Mall in Lebanon, N.H., and has changed the name of the store to The Shoetorium. A grand opening celebration is being planned for March 24, 1971. McCoy plans to carry a complete line of family foot-wear. (Valley News photograph) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dan Rutledge tidies up a mattress showroom at Bridgman's Furniture on Friday, May 12, 2017, in Lebanon, N.H. Bridgman's Furniture owner Steve Rutledge is retiring and selling his stake to his brother Dan, who will take over day-to-day operations. "I wear a lot of hats around here," Dan Rutledge said. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

For the Valley News
Friday, July 13, 2018

I’m not much of a shopper, really, but I still feel a pang of regret when a local store with loads of history closes the book on it.

It could be that I’m always in the market for nostalgia. And so, maybe a little, maybe more, I will miss the venerable Bridgman’s Furniture on the Miracle Mile in Lebanon — closed after more than a century in business. We used to stop in now and then to tempt ourselves. My credit card was practically aquiver when I checked out the “Stressless’’ lounge chairs — could one really soothe my jangled nerves? My heart said yes; my wallet said let’s just sit on it for awhile.

I was saddened to read that the end is near for Twin State Typewriter, although I haven’t wielded a typewriter in anger since around 1977. I was stationed in front of an Underwood during my first two years in the newspaper business. They were tough as Army Jeeps. Pounding on them made the work seem serious and real — no news alerts about the Kardashians popped up, ever.

Businesses can anchor memories long after they’re gone. When our kids were little, I often worked Friday nights. On one of them, my wife, Dede, took Adam and Laura to the orange-roofed Howard Johnson’s in White River Junction for ice cream sundaes. “We haven’t had supper!” they objected. “This is our supper tonight,” she proclaimed, and they giggled with delight that the world had turned upside down. The story is still told at family gatherings.

When local history groups post an online photo of a business that’s faded away, nostalgia bubbles up in the comments. “I had my first job there,” someone writes about a near-forgotten Dairy Queen. A photo of a former nightclub brings up memories of good times and broken curfews.

Recently I looked at a Valley News from October 1982 to measure the passage of time in newsprint. A few businesses in the ads are still chugging along: Joe’s Equipment, Gilberte’s, Valley Tire and Gateway Motors, which bragged then that it had been “satisfying customers for 55 years.” But many more are gone: First National Bank of Lebanon, Johnson’s Home Center, the Shoetorium, Honey Gardens Natural Foods — all of them just in Lebanon.

Dartmouth Savings Bank in Hanover was offering 11 percent certificates of deposits back when inflation was running wild. Voice and Vision on Main Street in West Lebanon sold a video player-recorder for a princely $1,095. On the other end of the scale, the A&W on Route 12A offered a “chicken in a basket” special for $2.95. A 95-cent deposit reserved a portrait special at King’s Department Store on the Miracle Mile. It was a pleasure to revisit those long-gone places, even if just on yellowed paper.

We moved to the Upper Valley that year. In 1982, there was a Woolworth’s with a humble lunch counter in Lebanon and a small Newberry’s department store in White River Junction. You could walk through them to pass some time, let the kids check out the goldfish in the gurgling tank. It feels like it was another world.

It was. These days, the stores are bigger, less likely to be locally owned. In my West Lebanon neighborhood, delivery trucks scurry about every day, bringing items from a company where the only voice you hear is Alexa, a simulated human. A recent New York Times column said the trend toward disembodied shopping is almost unstoppable, because convenience is a powerful driver of human behavior. I believe it. It won’t be long before I ask Alexa to read stories like that one aloud to me, so I won’t even have to move my eyeballs.

But mostly I am out of step with retail trends. I was in a big box store recently and thought how being there is kind of a drag. Many of the staff look beleaguered or bored. The sheer mass of stuff from which to choose makes my mind weary. Beyond that, the floors seem unnaturally hard and they make my legs ache. If there is music, it is too loud and features “today’s hot mix” of songs that all sound the same. (Yeah, yeah, I know such complaints go back to when a young Frank Sinatra made bobby soxers squeal.)

When I was a kid, one of my uncles made a living selling TVs — radios, too, I suppose — for a downtown department store. As far as I could tell, it was a decent career. He owned a house, sent his kids to college (in-state, inexpensive), had a couple of shiny antique cars for a hobby. Of course, goods are cheaper now after adjustment for inflation, with prices pushed down along with retail wages. I can get a dress shirt from Bangladesh for $10.99 on sale. A button pops loose before you know it. I can buy another $10.99 shirt from Bangladesh, but something about life, and not just shirts, feels cheapened.

I don’t know that there’s anything to be done about these sorts of changes. They come, fast or slow, whether we welcome them or not. I wonder if some brave little city or town might try to help small retail businesses with tax breaks or subsidized rentals. If it works, I’d love to hear about it.

Deep in my memory files is something someone said to me years ago. I think it was a staffer at the delightfully behind the times Colodny’s “Surprise Department Store,” which closed in White River Junction almost 30 years ago, although it could have been a worker at the H.W. Carter and Sons factory in Lebanon. As a coda to decades in business, a woman said, “Progress goes on, don’t it?” It surely does, but I wouldn’t mind if it didn’t go on like a steamroller.

The big stores and online services offer shoppers unlimited delights — every man and woman a sultan! But sometimes all you need in the moment is a ball of string or a batch of clothespins. There was a time when you knew exactly where to find them.

Dan Mackie is a retired editor and writer who spent much of his career at theValley News. He lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.