Sunday, May 5, 2013

Poor Boys, Penny Candy, and Magazines!

by Nicholas J. Vocca

Ashtabula's Harbor Days, Harbor Nights, Harbor Memories!  Each one all so memorable!

When in the Harbor, there was only one place to find these deliciously enticing sandwiches back in the day:  Inside the then-vogue black and white interior of the Isaly Dairy Store of the former T.I.T plaza on the northwest corner of West 6th Street and Lake Avenue.

T.I.T. plaza?  Yep!  First coined by a then very-juvenile Chuck "Hucky" Doyle, it stood for Turner's Drug Store, Isaly's Dairy, and Thompson's Five and Dime.  Whether heading south on Lake Avenue from Walnut Boulevard, or north towards Walnut, it spelled T.I.T., and this plaza for decades was an iconic Harbor hang out for young and old alike where you could meet in person or find the whereabouts of just about anyone hours after school, or catch up on the latest neighborhood news, gossip, and sometimes live show.

Owned and operated by the late George Turner, this drug store was the one where most Harbor residents went for expert advice on their prescribed medications, and that good, old-fashioned friendly service which has long ago eroded into near oblivion due to the generic landscape of today's retail world where chain stores and franchises have gobbled up many of the personalized services those "Mom and Pop" stores who make up the bulk of American business once lived by.

While his always cheerful voice, keen sense of humor and energetic demeanor helped endear him to all who knew him, the one quality that drew people to both like and love the man was in his genuine concern and compassion for the welfare of those who were sick, injured, or ailing in some way.

Be it the need to get a prescription filled moments before he closed, the wee hours of the morning, or even a holiday, everyone had his home phone number, and everyone knew George would be there for them.  Customer-oriented?  George even knew who your family physician was, and left with them his number to call when prescribing a medicine so he could head to his shop and have it ready for immediate pick up.

Coming down with mumps and a severe case of the flu on Christmas Eve in 1960 was no fun!  Neither was my late father's harping about how only a loser would get so sick at such a time, and how I ruined the family being able to attend to the traditional Christmas Day festivities planned at the home of his parents.  But, when my mother returned some twenty-minutes after calling George, things pepped up.  His expertise in knowing what to give me was, as always, right on the money, and so were the free true story comic books he sent because he knew I liked "to read."

As for horsing around in his shop, or carrying on foolishly, George had a very firm but courteous way of defusing such.  So, if you wanted to get mischievous or "rowdy", you took it outside.

I remember very well the night that one Bob Stranmann, a former Harbor High All-Star, was standing near the curb on the sidewalk in front of Turner's Drug Store talking with a female classmate, and how some man in his mid-30's made a very scathing and derogatory comment about that girl as he passed by.  No one present actually saw Stranmann make his move, but the ear-shattering pop of his fist making a crushing impact into the man's chest, the woosh of that man sailing some twenty or more feet into Turner's front door, and his deep moans and gasps for more oxygen as his eyes tumbled like marbles in a paint shaker, probably brought him to an immediate understanding why the coaches of opposing schools always had a twenty-mule-team, two armored divisions, and every available trauma expert in reserve as precautions when Bob stepped onto the field. And everyone got the message loud and clear when Stramann calmly told the man that "nobody talks to a woman like that in my presence!"

Originally managed and later owned by Norman and Marge Rose several years before World War II and nearly two-decades past the Vietnam Conflict, this was the center of T.I.T. plaza, and surely one for the books where many Harbor High students built lasting friendships and memories during the lunch hour, or after school, as they huddled in the booths or congregated outside to chat or discuss the latest topics of the day such as who was going steady with who, who got in trouble for what, or who was upset with who.

This couple, who got out of bed one morning to go to work and never stopped, were perhaps some of the most well-liked and best protected Harbor celebrities that area of our city ever knew.

From the days of Big Band legends like Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Arte Shaw and Bunny Berrigan, through the likes of Buddy Holly, Elvis and Fats Domino, and years after The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Iron Butterfly, this awesome couple swung, twisted, and be-bopped around the small, elongated confines of this Harbor Haven for kids and grown ups doing the dance they knew best, that of giving the best quality service to customers any ever could.

While I never met former city resident Richard Allen, a man who reigns eternally as the King of Lunch Counter Cuisine, I am sure he will agree that the food served inside this modest establishment's decor of the then-trendy black and white decor was some of the finest repast one could ever savor in a single sitting.

Though called by many different names across the country, such as grinders, heroes, torpedoes, and hoagies, the name Poor Boy always rings with warm memories of Harbor Islay's!

A generous portion of various meats and cheeses, topped with a hearty amount of freshly shredded lettuce and tomatoes, these sandwiches, and a large Cherry Phosphate soda accompanied by a respectable sized bag of Wise potato chips were a must for an energy boost at lunch hour, or after a hard day at school. 

Islay's!  The place where I ensured I always had a quarter in my pocket.  Charlene Potti would walk in, and I would immediately slide my George Coin into whatever individual juke box machine I happened to be seated next to, and hit C-3, "Hello I Love You," by The Doors.  Months later when I found out she was interested in one of the school's popular ball players, my fingers would hit D-9, "Love Is Blue," but she still sucked the breath out of me!  Oh, well!  Human nature!  The beautiful always go for their own!

Islay's!  Though my mom left there in '67 to manage the former Saybrook Islay's in '67 and took my aunt Clara with her, the Harbor Islay's shall always remain that warm, cozy, little Harbor Haven where you could kick back, relax, and enjoy the days of your youth!

Thanks for the memories, Marge and Norm!

Moving next door, we make the last stop on our little visit to T.I.T.plaza, a place mixed with just as many fond memories as Turner's and Islay's.

An endless ocean of delectable confectionery treats and and candies seldom found elsewhere, this store had it all! 

Little chocolate Lunch Bars, three-cents a piece!  Nickel-sized cinnamon-flavored gummy candies three for a penny!  Those refreshing, bite-sized Ice Cubes, or an inviting licorice stick for only one red-cent each.

Though they knew kids well and always stood guard over this table, Mister Thompson and his employees never had any qualms about giving you a sly wink, and chucking in an extra piece, or two, to help "make your day."

Need one of those intensely tedious-to-install spring-loaded tubes to re-attach your watch band to its bezel?  Thompson's!  Need a stem to replace the one from your mother's coffee percolator that you destroyed using it as a temporary funnel to pour motor oil through?  Thompson's!  Need a needle threader to help you sew a button back on your favorite shirt?  Thompson's had one!  One guilt trip because you mistook Sherry's tea strainer she brought when settling here from England as a kitty toy, and flung it outside?  Yep!  Thompson's had one!

Back then, the Harbor it all!  It had everything, and anything, that anyone could want!  Will it ever be that way again?  Yes, but only if we choose such!

Regardless of where you live in the borders of this 3.5 square-miles city, your willingness to step forward and give your best, your desires to have better for you and your family, and your individual contributions to improve the overall quality of life for others, no matter how small they appear to be, can be highly inspirational tools that will only lead others to follow! 

Be the leader you meant to be, one who can make a difference, and do that today!

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