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.