The Way it Was: Some tales about old-time businesses

by john straka Published:

If a person who had been away from their hometown for a long time was to come back and look around, they would see many changes have been made while they were gone. One of those changes would be the many stores that would be missing. When I look back in time, I see those changes here in Maple Heights, but that must surely happen in every city or town. What follows are some stories about the businesses I grew up with that no longer exist.

At one time or another, there was a Fisher Foods store, an A&P (short for Atlantic and Pacific), Bi-Rite, Workingmen's and Pick 'n Pay. And a few small Mom and Pop stores like Punky's, Sykora's, Galaska's, Pekarek's, and a butcher shop on Stanley Avenue with a small smokehouse in back. When the aroma of smoked sausages spread through the neighborhood, customers would stand in line to get freshly smoked Slovenian sausages. Pick 'n Pay was among the first stores that allowed customers to PICK what they wanted to buy and then PAY for it at a checkout counter. Before that, customers told a clerk what they wanted and the clerk would get it for them.

Sykora's sold newspapers to people on their way home after Sunday Mass. The store also sold, among other things, homemade dill pickles, fresh right out of the jar, and bulk (bring your own container) kerosene for lamps, lanterns and cleaning paint brushes. Customers didn't seem to mind if their pickles smelled like coal oil, which was the common name for kerosene.

Many stores sold only one product. There was a bakery on Libby near Theodore where I worked nights for 10 cents an hour. Peter's was another very popular bakery and I remember their fresh (still warm from the oven) long or round rye bread. At certain times of the year, I would splurge and buy a huge cream puff for maybe 18 cents.

There were two dry goods stores, Kralicek's and Vacha's. Frank Vacha was the city's police and fire chief. Both families had daughters who were members of my high school class of 1935. There also were two shoe stores, Sanda's and Faflik's. The first on Broadway at Friend and the other in Southgate Shopping Center. Sanda's second floor apartment is where the famous Henry Mancini lived for at least the first four years of his life. Little kids didn't mind at all having to go for new shoes at Fafliks because there was a live monkey in a cage at the back of the store.

Shoes, especially for children, didn't last very long. There were at least two repair shops, one on Broadway near Libby and the other in a garage on Theodore Street. I enjoyed the aroma of fresh leather and shoe polish that perfumed both shops.

Soika's Dairy on Libby was special to me. The family included a daughter who was also one of my classmates. The dairy was just a short distance through the empty fields from our house. On a hot summer day, it was a marvelous pleasure to go there with a pitcher and have it filled with cold, fresh buttermilk for maybe 10 cents. Yummy!

Woolworth and Kresge both had 5 and 10 cent stores in Maple Heights. It may be hard to believe today, but a store could actually make a profit selling every item of their inventory for a dime or less. What did they sell? Items like needles, thread, costume jewelry, cosmetics, shoe polish, sheet music and goldfish. Some had a lunch counter and sold hot coffee or cold root beer for a nickle.

When the first sales tax was charged, sales of 10 cents or less were exempt. So, if a customer bought two hankies at a dime each, the 20-cent total was taxed, but, if the customer bought them one at a time, there was no tax.

I remember two florist shops, both small stores in the front yard of the house where the owner lived. One was on Broadway and the other on Lee Road. They did a good business providing corsages for Easter, flower arrangements for funerals, weddings, and other occasions and bouquets for wives or sweethearts on special occasions. I haven't seen a woman wearing a gardenia in her hair since I don't know when.

Honest John's restaurant was very popular. I was in there one time when it was so crowded there were tables right up to the front door. The building was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt.

There was also, for a short time, a live theater supper club known as the Mar Key.

Punky sold beer, pop and a variety of other items. He would just glance at the bottles you were returning for their refundable deposit, and the full bottles, both large and small you were buying and have the total calculated instantly. His store was known for the sign out front that read, "Don't go somewhere else and get cheated, come here."

All of the above went out of business for a variety of reasons and their buildings have either been demolished or put to some other use.

Editor's note: Straka can be reached via email at wenceslas88plus@gmail.com.

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