I had some time after my last book tour stop in Ohio and before my flight back to North Carolina, so I decided to take a sentimental journey to some of the obscure places I used to visit with my family back when I was a kid. Actually the whole tour was something of a sentimental journey, with stops at the Toledo Zoo, Put-In-Bay and the Ida Rupp Public Library, but this last drive hit some very specific and unusual spots that I have a special emotional connection to.
The first stop was Toft's Dairy in Sandusky. Toft's has dozens of dairy bar locations now throughout Northwest Ohio, but back in the 70s if you wanted their ice cream you either had to buy it at the grocery store or stop by their main location on Monroe Street. I wasn't surprised to find that they have built a brand new facility a couple of miles away on Venice Road--the original location was showing its age even was I was a kid--but was pleased that the old building is still standing. We would drive over there on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, park in the lot across the street, get banana splits and eat them in the car. It was a big treat! The building is inhabited now by a company called Patina Creek, which sells upscale vintage and repurposed goods. Of course, I also stopped at the new Toft's and had some ice cream. I would have liked to get the banana split, but I had already eaten VERY poorly on the trip and just couldn't afford the 1,200 calorie sugar bomb, so I had a small cup of the Lake Erie Cookie Monster. I think Dad would have approved!
My next stop was a few miles down Venice Road at what I knew as Mr. Wiggs as a kid. The structure was a sort of proto-mall which included several different retail spaces, including a barber shop where Dad and I sometimes got our hair cut. There was also a grocery store in the building, although I forget which one, as Mom didn't like it and we rarely ever went in. In the late 70s, Mr. Wiggs became Heck's and then another one opened in Port Clinton, making the 20 minute drive to Sandusky unnecessary. I'm not sure when the Sandusky Heck's closed, but I recall it being open as late as the mid-80s. The building looks mostly empty now, but a part of it houses K&K Home Furnishings, which offers stylish home furnishings and accessories.
A few more miles down the road, adjacent to Sandusky High School, another retail plaza my family frequented is doing better. Back in the day, it was a discount store called Ontario and a Foodtown grocery store. In the late 70s, Ontario changed its name to Cook's. Now, the part that was the Ontario is a Tractor Supply and the part that was the Foodtown is a Sav-A-Lot. The plaza has also expanded, with a Family Dollar and a couple of smaller shops having been added at some point over the past 30 years.
The last stop in my sentimental journey was the Sandusky Mall. When that mall opened in the mid-70s it was THE place to be. Like most malls in small town America, though, it has seen better days. Of the three anchor stores, only the JCPenney, where I worked as a management intern in the summer of 1985, is still open. The movie theater, where I saw great films like Back to the Future and Stripes, has moved to a stand-alone building and none of the smaller shops of my day, like Spencers and Musicland, are still around. (The lyrics that open this post are from the Night Ranger album Sven Wishes, which I bought at Musicland in 1985.) Honestly it was the most depressing of the stops because it was just so empty and pitiful, while the area around it is booming with big box stores.
So how about you? What has become of the stores where you shopped as a kid?