Nothing is so missing from small town and big city America today than the corner candy store.
Sure, we have our 7-11s and Starbucks abound. But when I started to work in New York City after graduating from college in the 80s, you still had the last vestiges of the local lunch counters and candy stores with soda fountains in Manhattan – places like Woolworth’s with their ubiquitous lunch counter and the waitresses in their crisp uniforms with their names sewed on the pocket’s of their blouses.
I recall one Woolworth’s on 23rd Street not far from Union Square very well. Today, if you go to that same neighborhood, you will see very hip and tony bistros but no soda fountains or lunch counters, and that truly is very sad. I much preferred being served by the waitress with her name stitched onto her blouse that had a real New York City attitude and accent to boot that spoke of a colorful part of Manhattan’s not too distant past.
Though interesting as that may be, why mention our nearby metropolis of New York, when this is an archive piece about Fort Lee?
Well, in preparation for a 2013 Fort Lee Museum exhibit on the neighborhoods of our borough, I started a Facebook page called Coytesville Coytesvillers.
The name and suggestion comes from a friend and fellow Fort Lee Historical Society member Patrick “Paddy-O” Hammer. Patrick has been a proud resident of Coytesville for many moons indeed, and he, being a poet, has a keen appreciation for the eccentricities of this particular neighborhood of Fort Lee.
Patrick’s advice has proven a goldmine as once created, both myself and Fort Lee Historical Society Vice President and Coytesville resident Lou Azzollini began to populate the site with rare photos of the neighborhood courtesy of our Fort Lee Historical Society archival photo collection.
Most of the photos we have placed on this Facebook page were taken by former Fort Lee Historical Society President and retired Fort Lee police officer Bob Boylan. In 1967 Boylan toured Fort Lee with his camera and took wonderful still B&W photos of Main Street and other areas of town, including Washington Avenue west of Lemoine Avenue – 9W in Coytesville. Bob’s wife, Mary, was born and raised on Sixth Street in Coytesville so this may have been the impetus for Bob to venture into the “Frozen North” of Fort Lee in the winter of 1967.
Having grown up as a Coytesville kid in the 60s and 70s, I am very familiar with the photos posted, but once posted, the stories that flowed from our 70 members of our Coytesville Coytesvilleers facebook page served to remind me of the uniqueness of this time and place via the memories conjured up by a few of the photos.
Let’s start with Jim’s candy store, a small wooden building on Washington Avenue near the corner of Third Street, where Washington West Townhouse sits today. As a student at nearby Holy Trinity Parochial School on Third Street, my boon companions and I would race from class once our principal Sister Kathleen manually rang the school bell to end our working day.
Like sailors on shore leave, we would race with book bags flying up Third Street and bust into Jim’s dropping our book bags by the old railing at the entrance. We crossed through an empty waiting room in this old wooden building – truth be told, no one had been waiting much in this section of the building since 1938 when the trolleys stopped running, as this was once a trolley station.
Once past the dormant trolley stop waiting room, we entered Jim’s inner sanctum – the soda fountain counter and candy store. Here, we had all any kid could dream of – racks of our favorite comic books, packages of the balsa wood planes, gliders and propeller jobs with the rubber bands included and stools for us to climb up on and order our sodas for a dime each.
As we quaffed our carbonated concoctions or egg creams and grabbed comic books and shouted at each other, little did we know those great times were soon to end, for as the 1960s rolled into the early 1970s, Jim’s would fade away – one day closed and soon after bulldozed into an empty lot.
That is, until now – for Jim’s has been resurrected on Facebook by a community of Coytesville kids who are now adults and live all over this nation. All have in a sense come back to our communal home of memory and have been generous in rebuilding this small little wooden framed candy store – built not out of nails and plywood this time but of cherished memories of a shared childhood that no developer or bulldozer can ever destroy.
Another Mary, this one from Third Street, recalls that Jim’s, prior to 1949, was McFarland’s, and her grandparents ran the place – Mary’s mom, Betty, was known to all as the secretary at Holy Trinity Rectory. In 1949 Jim began his reign, and his kingdom was kids, comic books, whiffle balls and egg creams.
Kevin recalls leashing his dog to the old iron rail at the entrance to Jim's to the consternation of the poor kids who had dropped their book bags there, as that very dog would leave his mark, so to speak, on those bags and the enclosed homework assignments. Laura remembers walking through the woods to get to Jim's, and she is correct, as in those days, woods abound in this little neighborhood, only broken up by small cottages and some grand Victorians with lemonade porches.
Across an unpaved road on the western side of Jim’s Candy Store was the El Rancho Saloon. This building looked like it was plopped into Coytesville straight out of Dodge City. Here, there was at one time a bowling alley and bar. I vividly remember the decal on the closed front door window facing Washington Avenue. It was of an open hand, and the wording warned people about the dangers of alcohol.
On the front door of a saloon?
Through the wonders of Photoshop, Lou Azzollini combined the photos of Jim’s and the El Rancho to recreate how they looked, and it is dead on accurate – this is an image none of us have seen in at least 40 years, and it has come back to life as part of this new Facebook page.
As Fort Lee evolves and changes over the decades, it is a great resource to have all of those who grew up in the neighborhoods of this borough share their memories and rebuild these communities of the past so Fort Lee, as it grows in the 21st century, can preserve its past via photos and memories.
Einstein was onto something in his theory of relativity when he said the past, present and future exist simultaneously. Thanks to Facebook, Jim's is alive again with the voices and memories of the kids of Coytesville.