(This is the fourth in a series of growing up in Lewisburg, West Virginia, perhaps the greatest town and in the best time to grow up that a young man could ever ask for.)
Downtown Lewisburg was a living portrait out of a Norman Rockwell collection of nostalgia. There was main street and that was about it. Small stores in brick buildings lined Washington Street, the main thoroughfare through Lewisburg. These were Mom and Pop shops, one and all. The only thing resembling a chain store was Leggett’s, part of the old Belk-Leggett chain. Nelson Daniel was the store manager. He knew everyone in town and what size shoes they wore. Nelson’s wife, Phyllis, taught me the fundamentals of golf.
There were two drug stores on Washington Street – Coleman’s and Pioneer. Coleman’s didn’t have a soda fountain, so we spent most of our time at Pioneer. Their Cherry Cokes and Vanilla Sodas were first rate. There were also two car dealerships, Bill Lewis Chevrolet and a local Ford dealer.
The Yarid family had three stores, a ladies shop, a ladies shoe shop and a men’s shop. It was unusual to have three such high quality stores in a small town, but folks from miles around came to Yarid’s to shop and buy. Two of the smallest stores on Washington Street were among my favorites. There was Ben Ellen’s Donut Shop. If we had a spare nickel in our pockets, we stopped at Ben Ellen’s and took a napkin-wrapped cinnamon-laced donut down the street. The other small store was Shaver’s Music Shop. Burr Shaver, a noted local musician, ran that shop and kept all the top ten records in stock – songs like I’m All Shook Up, Silhouette’s On the Shade, Honky Tonk, Johnny B. Goode, Wake Up Little Suzie and all the other great oldies. If there was a record you wanted, not in stock, Mr. Shaver would have it in within the week.
Greenbrier Valley Bank was the only bank in town – this was at a time you didn’t need to fill out a credit app to buy a car. A handshake with the bank president was good enough. Another Mom and Pop shop was Bee Jewelry. Bee’s husband, Arthur Gladwell, also the town’s mayor, was a jeweler who could repair any watch in any condition. He stocked Longines, Gruen, Elgin, Hamilton, Wittnauer and Bulova – only the finest in timepieces.
Two other stores we visited on almost a daily basis were Ralph Barr’s Five and Dime and Zelda’s Grocery. Both carried baseball cards and we checked them daily to see if any new shipments had arrived.
There were several hardware stores in town carrying everything from fertilizer to farm equipment. The best of the lot was Caldwell’s Hardware. I bought my shotgun shells there– one at a time. They were ten cents apiece. Who could afford a whole box?
We had a florist on Washington Street, two barbershops, a post office, a bar, a savings and loan and an Esso gas station.
My fondest memories include Christmas shopping on Washington Street on Christmas Eve with sparkling lights in all the storefronts. On New Year’s Day, everyone lined up along the main street to see the Shang Hai Parade – not to be confused with the Rose Bowl Parade. We had one band, sometimes, maybe a horse pulled cart, a tractor or two and a couple of vintage autos. That was it.
But this was a simpler time, a time of innocence, when kids walked home from the movie theater on a Friday night at 9 without a worry in the world. No one locked their car doors. There were no security alarms. The local police spent more time chatting with passers-by than they did chasing criminals. There were no drugs in school and if you acted up in class, you received two heaping helpings of discipline – first, from the principal and then and worse, from your parents.
Lewisburg was quite a town and the 50’s was the best of all times for a kid to be a kid.