The Corner Store
The corner store of my youth was probably the quintessential mom-and-pop store.
Do you remember the corner store? When I was growing up, there were corner stores everywhere. Sometimes they were called spas or variety stores. Almost everyone had one just a short walk from home. It was a small store, often on a corner, where people would go to pick up some bread or milk when they ran out of it between weekly supermarket trips.
It was also a great place for us kids to get some tasty treats. I could get a Hershey's bar, or maybe some Yodels or Twinkies, for five cents. For a penny, I could get a piece of Bazooka bubble gum, complete with a Bazooka Joe comic strip inside. (I’m not sure why I enjoyed chewing that hard pink rectangle; it certainly wasn’t to blow bubbles, as I was never able to master that art.)
The owner of the store was always behind the counter, and the store often came to be known by his name. George’s was the store closest to me. It was among the block of stores on Mt. Auburn Street between Chauncey and Winthrop Streets. If the store had an actual name, which it likely did, I don’t think I was aware of it because everyone called it George’s. I remember feeling so grown up when my mother first let me go to the store by myself to get something she needed. It was just two short blocks away and I didn’t have to cross any big streets to get there. One time I was given too much change and my mother made me go right back to the store to return it.
On the corner of School and Laurel Streets was John’s, later called Eddie’s (after John sold it to Eddie). I think the actual name of the store might have been School Street Spa. I was probably a little bit older before I was allowed to go there by myself because School Street was a fairly busy street to cross.
We did call a couple of corner stores by their actual names, though I’m not sure why. These were Victoria Spa in Coolidge Square and Dexter Spa at the corner of Dexter and Nichols Avenues. I went to those with my mother when we happened to be in those areas. We’d sometimes go shopping in Coolidge Square, and we’d always pass by Dexter Spa on the way to my grandmother’s house.
Though there were corner stores throughout the town, of course when we were kids we were only familiar with the ones closest to home. When I got to high school, I became acquainted with Frank’s, located a block from Watertown High on Common Street. And my friends and I often went to Barca’s Spa in Watertown Square, where we would each get a can of tonic and perhaps something to eat. (This is the Boston area, and around here it is tonic, not soda! My preference at that time was Mountain Dew.)
George’s and John’s are long gone. Victoria Spa is a few doors down from its original location and Dexter Spa is still around, but the last time I was there several years ago it looked more like a keno parlor than a store. There’s a store called Handy Variety where Frank’s was and Barca’s is still there, though I don’t think it is still owned by the Barca family. Since I haven’t been in those stores in recent years, I don’t know what they’re like now.
Today, convenience stores, particularly chains such as 7-Eleven and Tedeschi’s, play the role that corner stores once filled. There are also some independent convenience stores, which are smaller than the chains but generally bigger than the old corner stores. For many of these stores, lottery tickets seem to be their biggest seller.
Corner stores may no longer be common in the landscape, but they are still fondly remembered by those of us who grew up with them. As a matter of fact, I know a man who opened a store in the North End in recent years that he named “The Connah Store.”