The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Michele Bender

June 22, 2013

When downtown was young

— Downtown … downtown …”

  Petula Clark sang about it in 1965, the enchantment of downtown.

From 1949 to 1952, my dad and uncle shared a red-brick duplex, 329 Lincoln St., in Johnstown.

My parents and I, plus my uncle and his family, occupied the apartments above the medical offices.

The circle behind the former Lee Hospital marks the exact location today.

The duplex sat on the corner of Lincoln and the alley that separated the hospital from the Fort Stanwix, Johns­town’s ritziest hotel.

The hospital and the hotel both fronted on Main Street.

Mom, a city girl, missed bustling Philadelphia, but discovered a mini-metropolis a block away.

Linderman’s Candy Store made the best cherry Cokes on the planet. Yee’s Laundry kept us tidy. The Cookie Jar bakery offered irresistible, mouth-watering pastries.

Stella, recently emigrated from Greece, ruled “The Seafood” (Johnstown Seafood Restaurant) with an iron fist. No shenanigans were ever served with the fries ’n’ gravy.

Across the street, Morley’s Dog guarded a tiny patch of grass. Kline’s window displayed the latest fashions.

For teen gals, obtaining a DeRoy’s Junior Charge Card served as a rite of passage to adulthood.

I turned 14 in 1963.

City Hall stood impressively on Main Street, its landmark clock ensuring that commerce ran on time.

The City Hall restrooms were clean and safe! We’d hop off the transit bus and dash down the cement steps to touch up lipstick or tease another handful of hair.

After all, “Mr. Right” (or “Mr. Right Now”) might be standing across the street, gazing at a guitar or drums in the Weisor’s Music Store window.

Health problems forced my dad to reduce his office hours in the late ’60s. I served as his receptionist Tuesday nights and Saturday afternoons. He insisted I wear a white uniform (ugh!).

But that never stopped me from bolting out the door at 3:01 to meet friends and catch a matinee at the Cambria (across from the Stanwix), the State (between the Stanwix and Stella) or the Embassy by the park.

Main Street stores held treasures … patterns to sew at Grant’s (think “Betsy McCall” … or not), trendy shoes at Paul’s and acres of cosmetics at Woolworth’s.

Mix well with fresh-roasted peanuts from Glosser Bros., and you had a recipe for

the kind of safe, carefree environment we fondly remember.

Where are Mr. Peabody, his “pet boy” Sherman and the Wayback Machine when you need them?

People dressed more discerningly. Men wore hats and tipped them to ladies.

Kids offered seats to grannies on crowded buses. (Now, there’s a concept: a crowded bus!)

I’d journey back to the warmth and security of Main Street. I’d join the crowd gathered at noon to hear Joe Cavanaugh’s “Man on the Street” radio show. Then I’d toss a penny in the Central Park fountain.

“The lights are much brighter there, you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, and go downtown …”

Indeed, everything’s waiting for you.

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johns­town resident and a member of The Tribune-Democrat’s Readership Advisory Committee.

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Michele Bender
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