Friday, March 24, 2006

Remembering Mrs. Lenore's - Old Neighborhood Candy Stores

I think everyone who's been around for a while remembers the old candy stores or variety stores we used to have here, and there were many. Before the days of 7-11s hitting South Philly, there were numerous little stores that sold candy, ice cream, cigarettes, newspapers, and a few other items. Not a tremendous selection, but good enough for the proprietors to make a living and to keep us satisfied.

The one I remember most is the store owned by Mrs. Lenore on Oregon Avenue, between Chadwick and Bancroft Streets. Doughterty Financial and Insurance now sits where her
store and Martin Real Estate used to be. Mrs. Lenore was a nice old lady. She ran the store Monday through Saturday until she got too old to do it anymore. She always smiled, and was always nice to her customers. One of the memories I have of her is when our ducks got loose from our yard (a gift from my brother's godmother at Easter) and made it to her store. She ran out hysterically, heading for our house because she knew they were ours. Fortunately, she and the ducks survived. Although she retired in the early 70's, I still remember her. Nothing lasts forever. I remember she bowed out in the early part of that decade, and Ed Kane, our neighbor up the street bought her out. He never got the respect that Mrs. L got from everyone, and most of the kids harrassed him.

Thinking back to her store, this was back when you got a choice of maybe eight flavors of Dolly Madison ice cream, no Baskin Robbins job where you got a selection of 48 flavors you'll probably never want. Eight was enough, and we were happy. The Evening Bulletin was still published, and was probably still a nickel at that time. You could still get candy for a penny each - remember "Grade A's", strips of candy buttons, and loose shoe-string licorice? Soda was sold in glass bottles with painted-on labels (10 oz, 16 oz, and quarts - no 2 liter bottles then). I still remember the red Coca-Cola cooler chest she had too with the built-in bottle opener. Back in the day when there was style and character, before the days of the True refrigerator cases where the logo of the soda manufaturer appears over the doors and a label on the glass said that only their products could be displayed in that case. Back before Mello Yellow, energy drinks, Cherry Coke, or Vanilla Coke. Tab was the main diet soda of the day, and it tasted like...well, it was nasty. Frank's was the local favorite for Cream, Black Cherry Wishniak, etc. Coke and 7-Up (remember their slogan "You like it, it likes you!"?) were the biggest sellers. There were no Altoids then, you'd most likely grab a pack of Sen-Sen if you had smoker's breath.

If you're from this neighborhood, you'll remember other stores that were similar, but not quite the same as Mrs. Lenore's....

...Rudy's - Bancroft & Shunk Streets (until late 70's)
...Richie's Variety - 16th & Oregon Ave. (Mid to late 70's)
...Harry's - (16th & Shunk Sts.) What did he sell anyhow?
...Fay's - (until late 70's, later Angel's) - Mole & Shunk Streets. In
contention with Richie's as maybe the most complete variety store around at the time.
...Ray's - aka "Elephant Joe's" - Bouvier & Wolf Sts. (until early 80's). Bare-bones, actually made Mrs. Lenore's look like a super store.
...Mike's - (until mid 70's) - 17th & Wolf Streets.
...The "monkey" store (until early 70's) - 16th & Wolf Sts. The owner actually had a pet monkey that would jump on your shoulders while you were in the store.

And that's by no means a complete list. These stores were all over the place, and all of them thrived. For you neighborhood folks, you'll probably remember others as you review.

If you'll notice, all the stores carried the owner's first name (except Mrs. Lenore's, I don't know if we ever knew her first name). And when you went in, Rudy would be Rudy, not some guy who bought the name Rudy, came from outside the neighborhood, and knew no one.

South Philly merchants have changed. The old ways are gone, but the memories remain.

Photo from

Coming soon: Luncheonettes, Drug Stores, and much more.

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