Jim Bishop | S’cuse Me, Mr. Wolfe, I Can Go Home Again
“I took a little trip to my hometown,
I only stopped just to look around …”
– Paul Anka (1960)
The morning air was nippy, the sky royal blue, traffic surprisingly light, and while not yet mid-morning, sidewalks were full of people hustling to wherever they might be headed.
Wife Anna, daughter Sara 3-year-old twin grandkids Grant and Megan and I should have been in church at this hour, but knowing we needed to be on the road for a grueling southbound trip in several hours, we decided to pry open a narrow window of opportunity and walk around my old stompin’ grounds.
Yes, it was the same place that I frequented while growing up on the outskirts of Doylestown, county seat of Bucks County, Pa. But, in many ways it’s not the same anymore…
Only two downtown businesses appear to remain from childhood days. The County Theater, its facade beautifully restored to its original art deco styling, now features first-run artsy, independent films – similar to The Visualite in Staunton. However, I doubt whether admission is still 25 cents for a Saturday afternoon double feature with a popcorn machine in the lobby that popped up a white paper bag of popcorn for 10 cents.
One retail outlet appears to be going strong after all these years – Rutherford’s Camera Shop, where I took film from my Anscoflex camera for processing. The store is closed Sunday morning, but we pause, appropriately enough, for a picture.
We walk a stretch of East State Street to a storefront on the intersection with Pine Street. That’s where two lady barbers – we didn’t call them hairstylists then, and no appointments, either – took turns giving me a crew cut, until seventh grade when I opted for a “flattop” and needed to find a tonsorial artist who could keep things on the level.
West State Street takes the traveler to another gladsome childhood hot spot. But, W.J. Nyce Shoe Store is now an antiques shop. How often – too often – in our younger days did we Bishop siblings stick our tootsies into their X-ray machine, wiggle our toes and delight in seeing skeletal bones moving before we perched on small chairs on an elevated platform to be fitted for new Buster Brown shoes. It’s a miracle we’re not hobbling around on crutches today – or worse. We could always count on receiving helium-filled balloons at the checkout counter.
Another long-gone favorite haunt – the Rexall Drug Store that served up chocolate ice cream sodas in tall glass containers (we Bishop siblings could look forward to downing this frothy delight as a reward for behaving ourselves following six-month checkups to nearby dentist Dr. Lutz).
J. Carroll Molloy Realtors now occupies another popular place – Pearlman’s Music, where I could “try out” one 45 rpm disc after another and never felt like a nuisance even when I’d leave without making a purchase. I still have the first record I bought there in 1956, Buchanan & Goodman’s “Flying Saucer.” Every Monday after school, I’d ride my bike to Pearlman’s to pick up free copies of the WIBG radio top 99 music survey to distribute to classmates, whether they wanted them or not.
Other outstanding outlets that more recently disappeared – Kennys News Agency and Foster’s Toy Store, the latter my childhood seventh heaven where one could move slowly up and down the aisles and drool and store personnel would never tell you to vamoose.
Several commercial establishments that remain if I extend the parameters a bit – Young & Bowman plumbing and heating contractors, Paul B. Moyer & Sons (automotive, generators, small motors), Dutch Maid Laundry, Histand Brothers Roofing and Happ Contractors. However, Ely’s Clothiers (where Mom took us to buy Sunday go-to-meetin’ attire), Musselmans Department Store, Weisbard Drug Store, Gardy’s Stationers, Gehmans Sporting Goods, Hornbergers Bakery and Bargers (with its delectable rotisserie chicken) are but gentle memories.
It appears that the heart of Doylestown still has a strong rhythm and steady pulse, continuing to thrive despite the fact that downtown competed early on with one of the first real “shopping malls” on the East Coast – the Cross Keys Shopping Center that developed in the late 1950s. It included a spacious bowling alley with automatic pin spotters and offered three games for a dollar.
Time soon arrived to press on, and we reluctantly head back to the car, armed with several books purchased at a cozy Main Street bookstore, about where Clymer’s Department Store once stood. The Woolworth 5 & 10 – where you really could purchase items for a nickel or dime, including fountain soft drinks – was right across the street, peaceful co-existence personified.
As our car pulls off Interstate 81 and we anticipate the final few miles to our Belmont Estates destination, I realize anew that Doylestown is my hometown, and still holds an important place in my memory, but my home is here, in Rockingham County, the focal point of my life for nearly 38 years.
This small segment of God’s little acre in the central Shenandoah Valley is scenic, peaceful, welcoming and serviceable, the opportune place for my family and me to live long and prosper.
– Column by Jim Bishop