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Archive for June, 2017

A long, long time ago, before the dramatic emergence of shopping malls – or even shopping centers – was the local business district. For many of us who lived in the Somerset section of Franklin Township, this consisted of businesses that lined Hamilton Street.

Memory doesn’t recall everything that was featured along that abbreviated strip, but a few stand out in my mind. There was John & Al’s grocery store (later sold and renamed, U-Shop) that was a prototype of the old neighborhood food markets. Compared to the supermarkets that would soon emerge and replace it and its kin, John & Al’s carried all the basics – bread, milk, cereal, canned foods, soaps and detergents. I still remember Ivory Snow detergent and its “99 and 94/100ths percent pure” motto. Why they couldn’t achieve 100 percent purity, I’ll never know.

My favorite part of John & Al’s was the meat department. None of the pre-wrapped, pre-cut meats we see today in every supermarket. When you bought meat there – ground beef, sausage, steaks, chops, lunch meat, chicken, or whatever – you talked with the butcher, told him what you wanted and how much, and he cut and wrapped it right there on the spot. In paper wrapping, not cellophane (as we called it then) or plastic wrap. The meaty aromas emanating from that section offered promise that dinnertime would be a special treat.

Next door to John & Al’s (or at least close by, on the same side of the street) was George’s Pizzeria, an establishment where my mother worked for a time as a waitress. The pies made there, from scratch, didn’t feature pepperoni, which is the most common pizza topping these days. No, along with the handmade dough and fresh cheese, we were served genuine sliced Italian sausage, all prepared by a baker named Tony, a native of somewhere in Italy. Boasting a genuine Italian accent, he took pride in his work – and we took pride in eating the pies Tony had baked.

Maybe the most fascinating little store, a bit farther down Hamilton Street, was Lorraine’s variety store, owned for many years by a lady named Lorraine. Hence the name. It was called a “variety store,” because that’s what they sold – gizmos and gadgets and doo-dads and what-nots – along with an assortment of toys, crayons and coloring books, cheap jewelry, and other items that were good for browsing eyes. It might have been called a 5&10-cent store, but hardly on the scale of Newberry’s and Woolworth’s, located in New Brunswick just a couple of miles away.

When I returned to Somerset in 2016 for my 50th high school reunion, Lorraine’s was still there, but they were selling T-shirts, uniforms and different kinds of embroidery. I didn’t stop in, but it appeared all the stuff that was fun for kids was gone.

One other attraction along Hamilton Street I recall was the Dari-Delite ice cream shop, one of the small, old-style walk-up establishments where you could buy soft-serve ice cream on cones or in dishes, and if you had been extra good, maybe dipped in chocolate topping and/or sprinkles. Hot fudge or butterscotch sundaes, with wet nuts, whipped cream and a bright red cherry, generally were reserved for special occasions.

Not sure whether this was a precursor of the Dairy Queen franchises, but it was a magnet for us on hot summer evenings. My family and I didn’t go there often, maybe once a week or so – but that’s what made it special. It wasn’t part of a regular routine, and wasn’t expected. A trip to Dari-Delite, even though it was a short drive, was a trip to sweet-tooth heaven.

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