Five and dime stores in New England sadly seem to be a dying breed. Once a retail staple of our neighborhoods, these locally-owned stores sold a wide variety of inexpensive merchandise within modestly-sized confines, although five and dime national chain stores like Woolworth’s were quite large in size. These type of stores originally sold merchandise for five or 10 cents (thus the name), and items you couldn’t find anywhere else. The former is no longer a reality, but the latter still exists, to an extent, as you can find some truly unique, one-of-a-kind items at these stores.
I only know of two five-and-dime stores: the West Concord 5 and 10 in West Concord, Mass., and Balich 5 and 10 in Arlington, Mass. Both stores embody the spirit of the five and dime stores with great customer service, an old-fashioned look and a general feeling of being in another era.
Let’s take a little break from our current “Shop Local, Buy Local” theme to share some memories of local New England stores that are no longer with us:
Zayre — This locally-owned department store with myriad stores throughout New England was out of the Walmart mode, selling everything under one roof. They also featured local comedian Norm Crosby as a spokesperson (his beloved schtick was using big words incorrectly) and the surefire joy of riding the motorized horse in front of the store (for the record, I was a kid then, not an adult). Local radio legend Eddie Andelman — who hosted the Sports Huddle radio show — had a great spoof on Zayre called Zaire ( a region in Africa!). The clothing we bought seemed to last as long as the malted milk balls purchased at the front counter.
Belden and Snow, Arlington, Mass. A traditional clothing store that prided itself on attentive, expert customer service and high quality merchandise. There was something nice about coming here and being treated like a king. Quite a difference from the impersonal clothing chains where you’re on your own — but, in fairness, where you get some great discount prices.
Samtron, Somerville, Mass. The best place to buy Grundig shortwave radios in Somerville. Come to think of it, Samtron was the only place to buy Grundig shortwave radios in Somerville.
Grover Cronin’s Department Store, Waltham, Mass. Unbearable as a kid, as we spent so many hours in one given day shopping for clothing. Now I miss this store like crazy because Grover Cronin’s had, in retrospect, a friendly neighborhood feel where you always come away with what you were looking for. Are there any stores left with that combination of neighborly relations and great merchandise?
Dunham’s Book Store, Bedford, Mass. A lovely couple — who always seemed elderly even when they were young — owned this tiny downtown Bedford book store (at two locations) for many, many years. They made us feel right at home, always encouraged us to read, and impressed us with knowing where every book was located in their store — despite having thousands of books packed to the ceiling. Will always remember the Sporting News Baseball Registers bought here.
Eric Fuchs Model Railroad Store, Boston – This Tremont St. store resonated with so much fun with all the live Lionel and HO scale train displays and accessories that could have been used to create a whole mini-city. When I think of this store, I think of Tom Hanks in the movie “Big,” having a ball at the toy store. So much fun and so greatly missed –specially for my Dad who eventually turned our modest train display into a gargantuan dining room (or former dining room) attraction.
Bowen’s, Bedford, Mass. A household name to local families, Bowen’s provided a wonderland of colorful holiday merchandise, including unique and exciting model ships that replicated the U.S.S. Constitution, Sancta Maria and other historical icons. Television favorites like Bugs Bunny, Fat Albert, Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Monkees, Magilla Gorilla, Sherman and Peabody and even Tennessee Tuxedo and Chumley showed up on merchandise as puppets, dolls and in books. A real toy store run by owners that loved their store and passed along that enthusiasm to their faithful, dedicated clientele.
Please feel free to share your locally-owned Boston area stores memories by posting comments here!
For many, Joan’s Beach and Gift is as much a part of the York Beach, Maine, coastal summertime experience as the beach itself.
Located right off Short Sands Beach, this friendly, seasonal gift shop with narrows isles packs a crowd of people and merchandise that never fail to find each other. More on the classy side rather than tacky, Joan’s Beach and Gift features some wonderful regional gifts, including York Beach and other Maine-theme clothing, lighthouse lamps and clocks, throws, and other home furnishings. With a sweet light candle aroma permeating the modest-sized store and a super friendly staff that returns year after year, Joan’s Beach and Gift is like a good old friend that always offers us something to bring home that will bring back fond memories of our York Beach summer vacations. Additionally, unlike other gift shops that take advantage of a traveler’s wallet, the merchandise at Joan’s Beach and Gift is amazingly affordable. I’ve bought sweatshirts and spring/fall jackets for around $20.00!
Joan’s Beach and Gifts definitely makes our “A” list of New England places to “Shop Local, Buy Local!”
Joan’s Beach and Gift, Short Sands Beach, York Beach, Maine. Tel. 207-363-4622