On the Thursday after Labor Day, the Columbiana Street Fair begins its 3 day run. It’s been that way for years and for every kid who’s every begun a school year there, Street Fair took the edge off the otherwise difficult end of summer.
I wrote this piece for a church paper in 2004. But I’ve been thinking about Street Fair starting and wishing I could be there, so this will get me a little bit closer for now..
I found this post card on line the other day. Now, the post card itself looks to be bout ten years older than I am, but it is a view of Columbiana, Ohio, looking south- a view that is sealed in my memory. Take away those wonderful old cars, and this is the town I saw almost every day of my life between the ages of four and seventeen.
Isaly’s is the business closest, on the right. It was a dairy store, with a long counter and fountain area. There was a mean old waitress in there named “Dot.” At least I thought she was mean- she fussed at me once for trying over and over again to roll a quarter down the length of the counter. Actually, she was probably about as mean as she was old; as I think back, she was probably all of 40 or 45. I know for sure her name was “Dot” though- she had a badge that said so, pinned over a stiff, lacy handerchief. My children pointed out years later that almost every restaurant we ever went into had a waitress named “Dot.”
The second gabled building to the south on the right, was Tidd’s. It was a “5 & 10”, a merchandising concept which I’m sure continues to exist nowhere. It was named in the days when the store was full of merchandise that cost 5 or 10 cents. Tidd’s was also a central shopping place for the Mennonite population of the area because they carried an array of calico cloth. It burned down in the winter of 1956 and that was of great concern to us second and third graders because Tidd’s had one wall that was banked with fish tanks. Our imaginations ran wild over the imagined fates of those hundreds of little fish.
Directly across the street from Tidd’s was the A&P. Some of you know that was a grocery store even before I identify it as such, because A&P was one of the very first huge chain stores in America. The Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company had its roots in the 18th century, and by the 1950s it was one of the country’s largest corporations. By the 1980s, it had begun to be trampled into obscurity by Kroger and Safeway and the upstart Walmart. I don’t know if A&P exists anywhere anymore, besides in the minds of some of us.
Right beside the A&P, next door to the south in fact, was Ryan’s Bookstore. I guess they sold books in there somewhere, but what I remember best was the rows of pulp magazines and comic books. The pulp covers always showed very mean men (usually Nazis) putting pretty blonde women with torn dresses in some sort of danger. It would have been a bit too daring for a kid in the 50s to actually pick one of those magazines up and leaf through it, so we moved quickly the racks of 10 cent Superman and Wonder Woman comics. And every kid then had a pile of those comics at home, and every kid who had a pile of those comics at home also had a mom who threw them all away when the kid finally left for college. Little did all those moms know that they were throwing out valuable stuff that could have been sold, and the money could have been used to buy Microsoft ot Home Depot or McDonald’s stock and we all could have been millionaires by the time we were 40, or billionaires by the time we were 50. But Mom needed that table cleared off! Oh, well..
The street to the left is Park Avenue, which will take you to Firestone Park, donated to the town by Harvey Firestone in the 1930s (Columbiana was his birthplace). The Park was, and I hope it still is, the town’s heartbeat. It’s where the swimming pool, the football field, and almost 30 acres of tended and tranquil space existed. It was the sight of school gatherings, church picnics, and patriotic holiday festivities. The 117 members of the class of 1967 sat between the football field’s 40 yard lines the night we graduated, which was also the night the Baby Boom was spiking all across America. 1967 remains, for most small towns, the largest graduating class they ever had, before or since.
To the right in the picture is Route 344 to Leetonia and Route 46 to Lisbon. The road forked at a building called the Pattern Works, which I think made patterns on steel for the National Rubber Company, which made forms for building tires, which was the industry that everything else in northeast Ohio at that time revolved around. Leetonia, five miles down down the north fork, was where sixteen and seventeen year olds could buy beer..I’ve been told. Lisbon, ten miles to the southwest, is the County Seat of Columbiana County, and Roy Rogers was born somewhere near there, too.
I love looking at this post card. The memories it gives rise to are full and silly and important and touching and all those things that describe and color memories. Little did I know then that one day I’d keep on driving down Main Street to the south, never to return as a resident. Columbiana is still there in my rear view mirror, but it’s got a nice hold my heart as well.