Remembering Royal Oak's 'Little Stores'

Columnist Gerry Boylan remembers how a few pennies could buy a lifetime of sweet memories.

Tales of the 'Little Stores'

Yet another great memory of yesteryear was the so-called “little stores” that dotted Royal Oak and our surrounding communities. The little stores were a subset of the “party stores” that still abound in our area in spite of 7-Elevens. 

I’m pretty sure "party store" is a regional colloquialism, sort of like we say “pop” and everybody else says “soda.” Or we say “Vernors,” and everyone else says “ginger ale.”  I could go on—Fords as opposed to Ford, Saunders instead of Sanders, and don’t get me started on street names, such as Lahser that for some unknown reason is pronounced Lasher by locals like me.

I suppose the origin of party store came from the fact that all the key ingredients necessary for a shindig could be found at these stores, such as beer, wine, chips, dip and napkins. In my youth, I can’t remember much of anything else being served at a party.

Lincoln Party Store, Rosina’s and Camus’s

In my south Royal Oak neighborhood, we had a party store and a little store within a block and a half of our house in opposite directions. 

In one direction was the Lincoln Party Store, aptly named for its location on Lincoln facing Kayser Street. Back in the day, it was next door to a very small Sinclair gas station, complete with the dinosaur on the sign. The store is still there and providing the same products as it has for decades.

A few blocks east on Lincoln, in the strip of stores before reaching the Boys Club (not yet including girls), was Rosina’s, another party store that not only sold all the typical party store wares but had the best submarine sandwiches within biking distance. Oh man, I can still smell the aroma of those subs coming out of the oven and see Mr. Rosina glaring at me to make sure I didn’t even think of pulling off a five-finger discount!

Our little store was exactly one block north on Kayser and Sixth Street, right across the street from Grant School where Miss Davidson taught kindergarten for enough years that she taught all six Boylan kids from 1952 through 1970.  I had to call my brother Mike, whom we refer to as "Mike the Elder" for his oldest sibling status, to remind me how to spell the name of the little store—Camus’s.  The front part of the small frame building was the store, and Mrs. Camus lived in the back.

If we remember correctly, Mrs. Camus was the mother of Mrs. Hermann, married to Mr. Hermann, of course, who was one of the members of the iconic Hermann’s Bakery family in Royal Oak. 

Squirrels, Tootsie Rolls, Mary Janes

The uniqueness of the little stores is not only were they little, but the offerings of goods were very little, too. My recollection of Camus’s was there a glass candy counter that offered lots of penny candy and a few selections of full-size nickel candy bars. I wish I could remember the names of the candy, but Squirrels, small Tootsie Rolls, Mary Janes, Smarties and individual caramels come to mind. Oh, and there were also Dots, the tiny round chalklike candies stuck symmetrically on long piece of white paper.

A few cents would purchase a number of chewy sweet and sour treats, and Mrs. Camus would deposit them in very small paper bag, which was placed into a very small hand.

Mrs. Camus was a nice, grandmotherly lady who never rushed a decision or the inevitable change of mind that most 7-year-olds would make. 

Other than candy, I remember a cooler with bread and milk and an individual red Coca-Cola cooler with a limited assortment of soft drinks, all in glass returnable bottles. That was about it.

Striped T-shirts, summer shorts, bandaged knees

I don’t think there were many better moments than sitting on the broad concrete steps in front of Camus’s in a striped T-shirt, summer shorts, with a Band-Aid covering a scraped knee, pulling the treats out of my bag and filling my mouth like a squirrel with autumn nuts.

The beauty of that capsulated moment was that as little kids, we were allowed to walk to the little store with 3 cents earned from chores and make the treasured transaction—and all alone, too!

One other little store was brought back to memory by a reader. It's the store that sat on the northeast corner of Washington and Lincoln, across the street from Washington School, which is now the site of the Oakland Community College parking structure. This store was on the way home from St. Mary’s Elementary and kitty-corner from Hagelstein’s Bakery. It required a youthful economic decision on whether to spend limited change on penny candy, a cream-topped nutty lunch stick pastry or bargain day-old doughnuts.

I’m guessing there was a strong correlation between a little store’s location and the proximity to elementary schools because that’s where the little people with little sums of money were.

It sure was a different time when a store could survive on such tiny transactions, and eventually, they didn’t. But I do enjoy remembering the taste and sensation of a Tootsie Roll dissolving in my mouth!

Share your memories

I’d be interested in reader’s recollections of their little or party store and maybe the names of some of those bygone penny candies. Post a comment if you can, please.

It’s Monday: Let’s go!

Gerry Boylan is the author of the novel Getting There and the short story collection Gerry Tales. Both can be found at Amazon or at the Yellow Door on 12 Mile in Berkley.

Bill Sullivan February 20, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Hi Gerry, going way back.. Farnsworth Drug Store on W. Eleven Mile Rd next to Willis Meat Market, east of the YMCA on same side of street were familiar. There was also a little store with a lot of candy on Crooks Rd. near Northwood School. Can't recall the name.. Bill S.
Bill Sullivan February 20, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Lots of bygone stores..check out Royal Oak Historical Museum.
Raven Dad February 20, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Walnettos were a favorite penny candy of mine.
Ernie Mahar February 20, 2012 at 05:13 PM
How about Garlands over on Washington and was it Harrison? Mrs. Garland in the back behind the curtain playing cards and Joanne Zell(sp?) behind the counter.
Marie Howell February 21, 2012 at 12:37 AM
When we first moved to R.O. (1955) there was a little store on the corner of Wyandotte & Dondero called Dick's (proprietor, who lived above the store) If cash was a little short, he would extend credit for a week - kept track in a little notebook. The neighborhood kids returned bottles in exchange for penny candy.
Janet Payne February 21, 2012 at 01:47 AM
I grew up in Clawson so most of my childhood memories are there. Remember a mom and pop store on 15mile rd. and Main called Renauds. They also had a glass case filled with penny candy. I would look for loose change on the ground or discarded bottles and cans to cash in and by a treasure trove of candy to share. There were squirels,maryjane,blackjack candy buttons on strips of paper,candy necklaces,necco,wax lips,sweet drink in wax bottles. I could go on with the list of memorable candies that were a childs reward and simple pleasure from days long gone.
Carolyn Matthews February 21, 2012 at 01:56 AM
I have no idea how we found it, but being ten, and not being allowed to cross Woodward, we Pleasant Ridge kids found our little stores too. There was a store of the exact ilk of which you write, on the edge of PR, but I believe it was in fact in Oak Park. Believe it or not, I recall it's name being, " The Little Store " ! Same exact inventory, a smattering of penny candy, pop, napkins and some sort of paper and canned goods. I imagine they had beer, but can't say that I noticed, at ten years of age. We'd ride our bikes, or walk, easily a mile or more, round trip, to spend our allowances on squirrels, Carmel creams, or tootsie rolls. Ah...the good old days. Can you imagine a kid being allowed to do that today? Wish I had a squirrel right now.
Cynthia Welsh February 21, 2012 at 02:09 AM
For me, it was the Starr Market at 13 & Devon. It's still there but it's more a liquor store now, rather than a kid friendly party store. The owner know all the kids by name and even knew what you liked to buy.
Jan Smith February 21, 2012 at 02:48 AM
We went to Johnson's Milk Depot for goodies in the early 60s. It was on the SE corner of Woodward & Normandy. I feel kind of sad for the kids who will never know the kind of childhood we had. All moms were home, there were dozens of kids on every Royal Oak street and we played outside from morning until streetlight came on. Yard games like hide-and-seek, stoop tag, kick the can were happening every day. Good times:)
Bill Shaw February 21, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Lets try to go way back...Washington and Park St. the last name was Koster's Party store. Used to go there as a kid (1951+). Dixon's candy store 11 mile and Sherman Drive stopped on the way home from Longfellow Elem. School circa. 1949. Of course we must remember the Candy and Ice Cream shop on the corner of Washington and Willis. Got all the goodies there as a kid and then worked there as the Dairy Delight 1957-1959. Great years...
Rick Kerre February 21, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Hi Gerry, you forgot the mom & pop place two doors down from Rosina's. Robinson's was a great little store and if you recall had a great layout of hot dogs, donuts and cider on Halloween. They also gave away little loaves of Wonder bread on Halloween.
Gerry Boylan February 22, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Great memories of littles sores and more! I remember many of these stores....after all your promptings! Thanks for the comments and memories...this is fun!
Barb (Garlak) Lloyd February 22, 2012 at 05:55 PM
I grew up near 11 mile and Campbell and we had Frank's Party Store where I would go for penny candy and Pawnee Joe's. I remember going to Pawnee Joe's to get my mom and dad cigarettes and we just "charged it" which I think they kept on a list on a piece of paper. Love all your Royal Oak memories,Gerry!
Elizabeth Richards Schurg March 21, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Gerry, you opened a flood gate of memories with this article. I remember going to Fred's Ice Cream Hut on Main Street avcross from where Holiday Market is now. They sold penny candy too. I must have been partial to ice cream. My Grandpa Toepfer used to take us over to Brown's Creamery on Washington (where the beauty school is now) and buy us 'jumbo cones'. Of course, that was only if we did our chores at home and more over at HIS house. I lived near 10 Mile and Campbell. Just across 10 Mile there were a group of little stores. (Not the Helm & Lilly side) I would walk over with my little brothers and buy penny candy. They always wanted the 'black jacks' or the 'candy pills'. I don't really know the name, but it was paper strips, like adding machine paper, with cany dots on them. They liked the merangue ice cream cones that were covered in sugar too, and the little wax bottles that had a flavored liquid in them. Of course, who could forget the candy wax mustaches and lips ? Most of the time, we ended up getting 'Hydes". They were red, coin-shaped chewy candy that had the name hyde imprinted on them. They kind of tasted like swedish fish. Those were the best deal at the 'old man's store.' You got THREE for a penny! Thank you for this wonderful article! Today memories are washing over me like a sudden spring downpour! It's refreshing!
John Roberts May 01, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Grew up going to Franklin Elementary so Dick's, Rosina's, and Johnson's which at one point was on the corner of Lincoln and S. Rembrandt were favorite spots. We used to cross "dangerous" 10 Mile Rd. to go to Bob's Market also. As we got older and went to Keller Jr. High, I can remember Pawnee Joe's also on 11 Mile.
Rosanne Miziko Turcsanyi May 15, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Hi, I just stumbled onto this site (or would fumbled be more appropriate since I used my fingers?). I grew up on S. Blair street and really miss the taste of Rosina's pizza. Does anyone make THAT pizza anymore? Maybe my taste buds have just aged out. Next door to Rosina's to the east, was Robinson's Market. I remember they used to give out mini loaves of Wonder bread on Halloween.
Barbara (Robinson) McDonald August 24, 2012 at 11:29 PM
My grandfather (Howard Robinson) sisters name was Vina and she married Lewis Hagelstein and they owned Hagelsteins bakery. There was also a Robinson's store nearby which was owned by another of my grandfather's reatives.
Charles Culton October 08, 2012 at 09:29 PM
My Dad was the owner of Freds Ice Cream Hut and I grew up there. All our ice cream was made by us on site, hand dipped at 12 cents a dip. I no longer live in Royal Oak but have lots of great memories of the small stores there. I lived at 13 mile and Rochester Rd and I remember Kars candy store and soda shop. A nickle would buy lots of penny candy. Charlie Culton
Nancy Joey Leigh April 11, 2014 at 02:43 PM
Anna's at the corner of 4th & Kenwood. They had all the best penny candy and we spent many dimes in that little store. Anna lived next door with her daughter, Miss Pentesco, who was my 1st grade teacher until she married and had a baby. The store still stands but under another owner and name.


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