Monday, August 27, 2018

Memory Bank: Newberry's Department Store

Today I want to remember another cherished location/store from my youth: Newberry's Department Store.

Founded by John Newberry in 1911 (1877-1954), Newberry's Department Store thrived in the 20th century.  In 1919, there were 17 stores in the nation; by 1954 there were 475 such stores in states including Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, and North Dakota.

And of course, we had a Newberry's store in New Jersey, where I grew up.  

The store was colloquially known as a "Five and Dime" store, and the Newberry's I went to innumerable times was located in Cedar Grove, N.J. (near Verona), in the same shopping strip where I saw Star Wars (1977) at least once, at Cinema 23.

I can still see the layout of Newberry's in my mind's eye.  

Customers would enter through the glass doors to find themselves at the jewelry and perfume kiosks. 

At the back of the store was this huge area where fabric was cut to specifications, and sold to consumers.  

I often went to the store in the seventies so that my mother could buy fabric for our clothes. That's another sign of time's passage, I suppose. Back in the seventies, my mother sewed the clothes for everyone in our family.  I have many memories of standing next to this huge flat table in Newberry's, and watching a store employee cut cloth from bolts of fabric for several consumers, including my mother.

But I recall best what was on the left hand side of the store, at least from the entrance.  

First, there was a book kiosk that had young readers books for Scooby Doo and Valley of the Dinosaurs.  I loved reading those books. I had several of them.

Then, beyond the book kiosk, there was a long lunch and soda fountain, and I remember at least two occasions in which my Mom bought me and my sister ice cream sodas there.

Then, there was an opening to the garden center and my favorite spot: the toy department.  I will never forget, in 1975 or 1976, seeing a huge display -- right there at the entrance of the department -- for Star Trek and Space:1999 jigsaw puzzles.

The toy department itself was great, and I loved it. In fact, I remember being very happy, at age 6 or 7, when my Mom would let me peruse the toy department alone while she was buying fabric.  

It was there, I believe, that I first saw for sale the giant Mattel Eagle from Space:1999.

And it was there, as late as 1980, that I purchased several Mattel Flash Gordon figures for the ridiculous price of one dollar a piece.  I remember begging my Mom to go to Newberry's so I could get as many of those figures as possible. 

To this day, I still have my Newberry's Flash, Ming, Lizard Woman and Dr. Zarkov.  (If only they had sold Thun, the Lion Man there...).

Sadly, Newberry's filed for bankruptcy in 1997.  I'm sure I didn't visit the store much after I moved to Virginia to attend the University of Richmond in 1988.  

But to this day, I can see the entire layout of this particular Five and Dime when I close my eyes. I also remember the thrill of being a kid, going into the store those glass doors, and heading straight for the awesome toy department.


  1. I have many similar memories.

    Back in the day, nearly all serious shopping in Madison, WI was downtown around the square where the state capitol is. The Woolworth's there was similar as you describe, except that the lunch counter was nearer the front, and the toys were on a separate lower level in the back.

    I most recall Moselys, a book store next to the Strand Theater. The first floor was all books, but the second floor was full of the sorts of toys that weren't anywhere else (and that I seldom received).

    For intensive toy shopping, one had to go to Westgate and into Uncle Paul's Toy Store.

  2. John, wonderful memories!


  3. Anonymous9:45 AM

    I've commented here before a couple of times on these local memories, as I grew up in Glen Ridge around the same time you did (70s/early 80s). I moved to Verona in 1985, and this very Newberry's was within walking distance from my house. I even bought one of my pet parakeets there! That whole "Pilgrim" shopping center, movie theater and the Pilgrim Diner was a real haunt for me and my friends back then. As for cloth shopping, it was actually the fabric store in Montclair that my mom used to drag me to.