Dear Editor: If you are a long-time resident of Corner Brook and are about my age (which, I undauntedly confess, is 68) or older, you can probably remember when the most spectacular and compelling images of Broadway here in the city were major fires that seemed to destroy numerous businesses on that street with disquieting regularity in the 1950s.
Once word spread that a fire was in progress on Broadway, hundreds of persons, young and old, would gather to watch the captivating scene in an excited if semi-sadistic way. (Much to the credit of the merchants who owned the razed stores, they would usually rebuild in a year or less, unfrightened by the possibility of the repeated erasure of their source of livelihood within a relatively short time.)
However, my favourite memories of Broadway are much more natural and civil than raging flames. They begin with the year 1950, when I started school and did the first of five grades at the venerable building called simply “Broadway School.” I quickly made friends with many other children at that time, and one of our favourite activities during our spare time at school was buying items at what now would seem utterly ridiculous prices. I recall buying coke at Herritt’s Store on Broadway for five cents, bananas at the Green Lantern for one cent and chocolate bars for a maximum of 10 cents. Once 1956 came, I was old enough to take an active interest in baseball and hockey, and I began intense literary exploration by buying The Hockey News for about 25 cents. This practice, of course, also reminds me of collecting hockey cards, which started with bubble gum purchases on Broadway and which many of us 11-year-olds did with deep devotion and ongoing excitement.
Other venues that were the center of attention and regular endeavours were the theatres on Broadway, called the Palace and the Regent. I remember that my ultra-conservative parents would permit me to attend a movie only once a week, and that day was usually the prime focus of my expectations for any given seven-day period. I was most rivetingly interested in western movies and in the Tarzan films, and it was considered in our social circles to be extremely hip if one would absorb a western or a “jungle” movie that was even minimally popular elsewhere.
About 1960, there was a barber shop on Broadway owned by a man by the name of Conn Hall who charged only 50 cents for a minor’s haircut but who used to throw pure dread into my mind by his oft-repeated direction to himself that “I think I’ll thin out your hair a nice bit.”
I sometimes had visions of eliminating Mr. Hall from the face of the earth after looking in the mirror following the imposition of such a devitalized hairstyle.
A lot of readers who shopped on Broadway in the 1950s and 1960s should remember Steadman’s Store, also located on upper Broadway.
This business used to attract a lot of youths because of the variety of goods sold there at low prices. The store, however, was vulnerable to shoplifting kids who recklessly and lawlessly picked up the habit of taking whatever object struck their fancy without undergoing the highly desirable step of paying for the items, which were rather easily hidden in their clothes.
A couple of other stores that flourished in the 1970s and 1980s. Kearsey’s store featured what for me was probably the most appealing men’s clothing in Corner Brook, because of its low prices and distinctive — sometimes pioneering — styles.
Another of my favourite shopping stops on Broadway in later years was the Family Shoe Store, which actually sold mainly boots. For some partially obscure reason, I became enamored of the idea of wearing exclusively boots in the 1980s, and I must have contributed appreciably to the store’s positive bottom line as I used to purchase enough boots in one year to last for a decade or more. This business, like so many of its predecessors of the 1950s, was struck by fire about 1990 and it never reopened.
Perhaps no remembrance of the commercial and social life of Broadway would be complete without a mention of the Knobb chipstand, located at the corner of Broadway and Caribou Road.
The chips served there were unanimously acclaimed by patrons as unsurpassably, and even ineffably, delicious. As late as the mid-1960s, their prices were an astounding 25 cents for a large plate of french fries, and business was still remarkably healthy there.
Broadway at present is a mere skeleton of its robust and dynamic former self, and I would judge that its past vitality has waned in nearly every way for people of all ages and stripes. But I will always remember how it helped shape my earlier life in particular, and provided a springboard for so much diverse and adventurous socialization before the large shopping malls came to dominate our economic and social affairs.
Lloyd Bonnell, Corner Brook