I don’t much like to shop unless I’m buying groceries, beer or guitars.
I’m willing to visit a store from the past, though, in the name of family history.
So pack your charge card and we’ll go:
I have a few retail memories from my visits to Stamford, even though I didn’t like shopping as a kid any more than I like it as an adult.
I remember going to a Caldor discount store, probably in the early ’80s sometime. It was located in a shopping center where you could see Long Island Sound from the top floor of the parking deck. That made an impression on me.
I remember Stew Leonard’s, the grocery store with the petting farm; and another local grocer called Bongiorno’s — my maternal grandma called it “Bonji’s” and used to buy Italian sausage there.
Maybe five years ago, I was in Stamford for a cousin’s wedding, and the front-page lead story in the newspaper that day was the closing of Bongiorno’s. I hadn’t thought of the place in years, and there it was in the news. It was like they’d waited to close down until I got to town, just to poke me in the memory bank.
Then, as a teenager, there was a visit to a place called United House Wrecking, which sold all manner of windows, doors, frames and other items salvaged from old houses. That, I actually thought was kinda cool.
I have no memories of ever going to an E.J. Korvette store. And I probably never did: According to Wikipedia, the discount department chain closed in 1980, when I was seven years old.
Clearly my grandparents went there, though. I’m guessing they must have special-ordered something, since they apparently went to “Korvetts” after receiving some sort of telephone notification.
(Has anyone ever analyzed people’s curious tendency to attach the possessive to the names of retail businesses? I still think of Caldor as “Caldor’s” even though that name has no basis in reality. I’ve even heard people refer to “Burger King’s.”)
According to Wikipedia, E.J. Korvette stores offered a scattershot lineup of goods for sale — everything from pets to tires to clothing to to furniture to high-end stereo equipment. No way to guess, then, what my grandparents might have bought.
At its peak, E.J. Korvette was a discount retail groundbreaker, so much so that co-founder and visionary Eugene Ferkauf landed on the cover of Time magazine and was extensively featured in Fortune magazine, both in 1962.
By 1970, the company had merged with another retailer, and Ferkauf had been removed from management. And ten years later, during the Christmas season, Korvette was gone. Retail is a tough business: You either change or die, and sometimes, you change and die anyway.
This blog post tells a little more of the company’s story. (The comments are as interesting as the post itself.)
It also shows some images of what Korvette stores used to look like. From the sound of it, the New York suburbs were Korvette’s core market, so Stamford would have been a natural place for the company to do business.
I suppose you can tell a lot about a person by where he shops. My grandparents were frugal people, and I guess my grandpa’s mention of E.J. Korvette just shows that.
Now, if Tiffany’s had been on the calendar. that would have been a story worth telling …