Hammonton things that aren’t there anymore
Back in 1993, WHYY (Channel 12) televised a documentary called “Things That Aren’t There Anymore” about Philadelphia landmarks that had vanished from the scene, like Connie Mack Stadium (Shibe Park), Horn and Hardart Automats and the John Wanamaker store in Center City near Philadelphia City Hall. In 1990, there was a similar documentary about long-gone Pittsburgh landmarks like Forbes Field, the Dips Roller Coaster at West View Park and more, also shown on public television.
Maybe the winter months make me nostalgic, but for some reason I was thinking about those old shows. We had the Philadelphia one on VHS (that’s a video tape for people under a certain age) and I must have watched it a dozen times during the years.
This past weekend, the memory of the show made me think about Hammonton things that aren’t there anymore. Just a few came to mind. If you have any local things that aren’t there anymore you want to send me, email me at email@example.com and I will put them in a follow-up column.
Spiros Tailor Shop was located three blocks away from the shoe repair shop, but on Bellevue Avenue, near Horton Street. Spiros Kontodimas made bespoke suits from bolts of fabric you selected from his shelves. They fit beautifully and looked like you paid far more than he charged. I always thought it was amazing to have a tailor who did such excellent work located less than a half a block from where The Gazette offices were in the 1990s into the 2010s.
Some years before that era, back in the 1980s, Augie’s Country House was serving breakfast and lunch on the White Horse Pike in the Elm section of Winslow Twp., just outside of Hammonton. It was right across the pike from the (now-eradicated from existence) Silver Fox Inn. Augie Sorrentino wore a paper hat that was the shape of the ones people wear in the military and wielded a cast iron frying pan in what would now be referred to as an “open kitchen.” His homefries were legendary. Augie, his wife Rose and his daughter JoAnn all worked together there.
My family would take a table by the cigarette machine, right in front of where he was cooking. I always got the same thing: A grilled ham and cheese sandwich, a bag of Herr’s potato chips in the Herr’s red, white and light blue coloring and a glass of chocolate milk.
Augie was the only person I knew who always called my father “Frankie.” He had known him since my dad was a kid.
If you were lucky enough, you ate at Toni’s Custard, ran by Toni and Eddie Marinelli, out on Route 54 on the way to Folsom, just off the exit for the Atlantic City Expressway. Everything was outstanding, just excellent. You would wait for the delicious custard while the bug zapper did its job zapping bugs behind you in line. Inside, it didn’t matter if it was their fried chicken, cheeseburgers, spaghetti and meatballs or anything else on the menu—you would never leave Toni’s Custard hungry.
Certain places have a magic in them. They aren’t just stores or restaurants. They are places that touch the heart, so that even the mere mention of them long after they aren’t there anymore still brings a smile.
Close your eyes and remember: Chateau Bilaz at the corner of the White Horse Pike and Fairview Avenue and its salad; The Central Café at the corner of N. Egg Harbor Road and Orchard Street and its pizza; the Rice Hardware Co. on Bellevue Avenue and Toppy Ricci sitting at her desk; Joe Boy’s arcade and custard at the corner of Third Street and Fairview Avenue and its arcade games; W.E. Crane Lumber at the corner of Orchard and Tilton Streets and the sound of the sawmill; the Circus Drive-In on the White Horse Pike and the movies it played; and locally-run institutions First Federal Savings and Loan and Empire Savings operating within a block of each other on Bellevue Avenue and the people who worked at each of them.
I remember most, if not of all these things from when I was growing up and into adulthood in the Hammonton of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. I’m not a person who thinks everything was better years ago. A lot was not—and we’ve chronicled that on these pages. I will say that there were many things that aren’t there anymore that were good. They contributed a lot to Hammonton.
And we miss them.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.