Many decades ago during the Great Depression of the 1930’s a crooner sang our troubles away as a nation and his name was Bing Crosby. One of Bing’s greatest tunes of the 1930’s was “I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a Five and Ten Cent Store". If you like, use this link and listen to this wonderful tune as you read this article and travel back in time to a Main Street in Fort Lee that exists today in only our collective memories - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpzT0Nq7AbQ.
For those of you who are too young to recall Fort Lee’s Five and Ten Cent Store, or for that matter any 5&10, these stores existed in every city, town and village in America for nearly a hundred years. They were more than the current dollar store fad. These stores were like the bar in the TV show Cheers, everyone knew your name and your needs. If they didn't have it you didn't need it.
Fort Lee’s most famous Five and Ten Cent Store was run by Mr. Feiler and his lovely wife and his son Michael. The Atlas Five and Ten was originally operated by Helmut and Clementine Marchand who sold the store to Helmut Feiler in the 1950s. I recall my days as a kid in Fort Lee in the 1960s and 1970s and truth be told many of those days revolved around our trips to see Mr. Feiler at the Five and Ten. We would ride our Schwinn bikes from the wilds of Coytesville to Main Street and we would park said bikes in front of the great display windows of the Five and Ten. Here the windows would come alive most especially around Halloween and Christmas full of toys and the stuff that dreams are made of. We would enter the store through the entrance on the right of the display window and walk down the aisle where on the right hand side would be all the toys. From the front where the big little books and cap guns were on display to the back end with the Aurora monster models and stickball and whiffle ball bats, we would spend our time browsing over the wondrous selection. Sometimes when in the store with our mothers or grandmothers we were forced to the western side of the emporium with the yarn, kitchen goods and other boring items. At the first opportunity we would swim like salmon up the aisle back to the toys.
The visit to the Five and Ten wasn’t complete until we stood at the cash register and said hi to Mr. Feiler. He was such a sweet and kind man who took time to speak to all his customers, young and old alike. He never forgot your name or what you bought and would always leave you with a smile. The Feiler family employed generations of Fort Lee kids in that store and for the rest of us he provided memories that we will take from this life into the next. In many ways Mr. Feiler was like Jimmy Stewart's character in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” for like George Bailey, Mr. Feiler was the richest man in town due to the many friends he made and kept.
The Five and Ten closed up for good several years ago but the building remained intact and in its latest life was a high-end boutique. I would often pass that store and peer into the windows and imagine the Five and Ten still there and Mr. Feiler at the counter waiting to say hi.
Today, October 1st, 2013 reality set in for our beloved Five and Ten building was demolished to make way for new development. I took photos of the remnants of the building today to post with this article. Soon there will be new businesses on this land and new memories will be made with new generations of Fort Lee residents and that is a good thing. But it is important for all of us to share our memories of a Fort Lee and a Main Street that was, and through those memories keep Mr. Feiler and the Five and Ten alive in our hearts.