Do you remember ...
That's the beginning of the lyrics from an old Earth, Wind and Fire song that I was trying to recollect. I Googled the lyric of the song and more than a dozen titles came up reminding me that a powerful part of the human condition is looking back.
Why are we a nostalgic species? What is it that makes us look back and seek that happy glow of our individual and collective pasts? I don’t think it’s just us older folks either. Classmates at their five- and 10-year reunions are waxing achingly about their long-lost kindergarten love or the beer pong game for the ages in East Lansing, Kalamazoo, Allendale or Mt. Pleasant. Heck, my nearly 2-year-old grandson was being a melancholy baby about the good old days when he could just crawl and burble!
I don’t have a clue as to why we are so wistful, but let’s have some fun with it. , my fellow columnist and daughter, and I will start things off with our recollections from our good old days, which are decidedly different generations. It’s just good clean fun to revisit Royal Oak’s past and try to remember which stores were where. I can still taste the day old nutty lunchsticks with vanilla crème topping from Hagelstein’s Bakery and that was 1962!
My encyclopedic memory of Royal Oak in the 1960s and '70s has faded badly so I’ll need some help. We’re going to start with downtown Royal Oak, which we once called Uptown Royal Oak. When did that change? My first jobs were Uptown at Neisners Five and Dime and at Bi-Lo Supermarket. I just remembered a head-shaking story of how I set my brand new coat on fire while trying to impress some girls in Neisners. But I’ll save that for the next column!
Here’s Shannon’s first installment of, Do you Remember?
We moved to Royal Oak in 1980 when I was 2 years old. As a child I walked down the streets of Royal Oak with a sense of wonder. I never noticed the empty storefronts and we always felt like we were the only people in the stores; of course, sometimes we were. We would stop into the Busy Oak for a hot chocolate on a rainy day where they always gave me too much whipped cream (what can I say, I was a weird kid).
Down the street was Patti Smith’s in one of the many storefronts it occupied over the years. We would stop there to shop and visit with Mary and her grey Shar Pei, the most beautiful dog I had ever seen. At Patti Smith’s, mom could whisper her wish list to Mary and my dad had the perfect gift for every birthday, anniversary and Christmas. I try to fill the same role now, but it will never be as special and secret as it was back then.
Next door to Patti Smith’s (at different points in time) were two stores that led to my love of collecting Klebba’s and Dave’s Comics. At Klebba’s, you could join the sticker club and once a month, you could go in and get a free sticker. The orange building on the corner of Washington and Fourth filled my sticker book. I’m still using those stickers on my stationery today, but my second collection filled my bookshelves. Archie comic books at Dave’s Comics made my life complete. As a child I wanted to be a combination of Betty and Veronica – I wanted Betty’s sweet smile with Veronica’s sense of style and long dark hair. I spent a family vacation at Yellowstone and Wyoming ensconced between the back bench seats of the minivan reading the stash of Archie’s adventures I had brought along, ignoring the Grand Tetons and wildlife viewable from the windows.
If we got A’s on our report card at Mark Twain Elementary School or , we got dinner at the R&J café. I would get a cherry Coke (a regular Coca-Cola with cherry syrup added), a grilled cheese and French fries. It was my perfect meal – I followed it with a Sander’s Hot Fudge Cream Puff – it was one of the only places you could get one back then. Our favorite waiter was Brian and my younger sister had a crush on him.
Those stores are now gone, but luckily our city is still a haven for small independent stores.
Some great clothing stores dot the streets from on Washington to on Main. As I’ve gotten older though, I must admit, I get the same special store love I felt as a child at Patti Smith’s, when I visit one of the amazing jewelers in Royal Oak. You can tell the folks at , or what you’re wishing for, and they will be sure to let your special someone in on the secret.
I can stop at if I have a hankering for some stickers or to pick up a unique baby shower gift. It only sits a few doors down from where Klebba’s used to be.
R&J has been replaced by . You can now get a version of a cream puff at more than one restaurant in the area (I’ve mentioned before that makes a killer one). If you want a great diner where you feel like a part of the family and they still greet your child with a smile, you have to try on Lincoln and Woodward. My heart was stolen when they brought my son Asher a small fruit bowl just as he was starting to crank out during a recent lunch.
Today, I take my son past many of the same storefronts. Although they may have different names I still enjoy the new vibrancy of the city that I have always loved and called home. I complain about how hard it is to park, just like every Royal Oaker, but who cares about walking a little farther when you’re wearing a pair of killer boots you bought just down the street.
That’s the really cool part of Royal Oak: I can walk into a store or a restaurant that has been around my entire life or it may be a completely different shop and I’ll likely have a great memory of the old and new.
We’ll be back next week with more, but please share your favorite Uptown/downtown Royal Oak stores and memories and we will run with them.
It’s Monday, let’s go!
Gerry Boylan is the author of two books, Getting There, a novel, and Gerry Tales, a collection of short stories. Both books are available at Amazon.com. In addition, they are available for download for Kindle and Nook at Smashwords.com, Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com. You can also pick up both books at the Yellow Door Art Market in Berkley.