August 6, 2012

Part 1 - Levittown's Mays shopping center was a focal point for our community way back when




Click on photos to enlarge

By FRANK BARNING

Early Levittown did not have a real downtown. It was pure suburban sprawl and as great as Levitt and Sons' planning had been, one item that was omitted was a shopping area such as were found at the time in previously developed communities such as Hempstead and even nearby Hicksville.

We pioneers made the shopping center anchored by the Mays department store our downtown. Some of us lived nearby and had an easy walk, while others were not so fortunate. For many, distance was compensated for by heading to "the stores" after school at Division Avenue junior and senior high schools. The shopping center was 10 minutes at most from school. The kids who attended Levittown Memorial High School were less fortunate.

The variety of stores was impressive, at least to us, and I rarely heard complaints. The merchants in the 1950s, for example, were fairly tolerant when it come to allowing us to hang around. There wasn't much of a police or security presence. Ours was not a particularly threatening crowd.

Among the things remembered by some of my Facebook friends about our shopping center was buying scout uniforms at Lobel's and later JC Penney, the lunch counter at Woolworth's, shoes at Thom McAn, Whalen's drug store, first jobs, buying 45 records and a bakery that in some memories has never been topped . . . Peter Pan.

I have asked frequent blog contributor Toni Crescenzo Gelfer, class of 1968, to provide her memories.

By TONI CRESCENZO GELFER

The shopping center on Hempstead Turnpike that included Mays has left many indelible marks in my memory. These thoughts can be pulled from every stage of my life, from being a very young child until when I first became a mother. My earliest recollections are the sweetest.

My mother never learned to drive and was an avid walker till her mid 80's. Although she and I did take the bus to the stores in Hicksville and Hempstead, the strolls through Levittown to arrive at that strip of stores on Hempstead Turnpike was an adventure for a four year old.

With my older siblings in school, I had my mom all to myself. At the stores we'd peruse an amazing array of items, resting here and there, if I tired. There was always a stop to eat and regroup with bags in hand. Going home I'd usually end up with a small toy from Woolworth's and a large lollipop. Sometimes it would start to rain or mom would get an extraordinary sale on bananas and we'd have to take a taxi cab.

These were the best of times, the cavernous back seat, parcels crinkling and little me perched on a small round disc like seat which magically appeared out of the floor. And always there was mom talking and smiling all the way home. This was heaven.

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