Getting together to remember the Newark that used to be
In late March, 30 people -- many of them strangers -- gathered at the Deer Park on Main Street to remember the Newark of the past. As members of a Facebook page called Memories of Newark, they were meeting face to face to share stories, enjoy some snacks, and find out how connected they all really were.
Suzanne Herel, who grew up in Newark, organized the event after she moved back to the area in 2012, joined the Facebook group and reconnected with people who shared her affection for the town's history. "When I came back, I wanted to get involved in Newark again and make some friends, so I joined the group and asked if anybody ever got together. They hadn't, so I organized this. I feel kind of like a carpetbagger," Herel said, laughing, as she welcomed people to the party and gave out nametags.
Herel grew up in the Binns neighborhood off of Elkton Road, went to Holy Angels School, Padua Academy and the University of Delaware, but has lived away from Newark for 20 years. "I started missing home, and it's changed so much here over the years. It's fun to say, 'Do you remember this?'
"I'm 47, so I was a kid in the '70s and '80s. Main Street is mostly what I remember. My girlfriends and I would bike up to Main Street and buy Smurf figurines at the Nook, and go to Friendly's," she said, laughing. "Rhodes Pharmacy, of course, and Happy Harry's. I worked at Happy Harry's for a very short time during college."
Herel also recalled the high-school ritual of cruising down Main Street in somebody's car. "There was a police rule that you couldn't go down twice within an hour," she said. "Oh, I wrote a letter to the editor about that when I was in high school. But you just had to wait up at the Newark Shopping Center for the time to go by," she added, laughing.
As people mingled and found common ground in nostalgia, Herel noted that, "Dated, mated or related -- that's the way it is for everybody in Delaware."
Herel's sister Kathie was at Nostalgia Fest and was passing around a petition to block the construction of homes and stores on the site of the Cavaliers Country Club Golf Course near the Christiana Mall. "I live in that area, and for me there's a direct impact, but if you go to the hospital, go to the mall, go to Del Tech -- any place in that area, you'll run into more congestion, more traffic, more noise," she said. "It's a quality of life issue."
She got plenty of petition signatures from people at the event, all of whom recalled places that aren't around anymore.
The list of altered or disappeared businesses in Newark is a long one, and it was easier to list the few places that remain from the 1960s and 1970s, including Wonderland Records, Abbott's Shoe Repair, Bing's Bakery, Minster's Jewelers, and the National 5 and 10 store.
Dave "Bobby" Dean, a 1968 Newark High School graduate, was philosophical about the changes. "Oh, everything changes," he said. "I don't have a problem with change. I cherish the old stuff, the memories, and that's why this group is so good. You can see the old pictures and remember the way things used to be. You can't live in the past."
As a teen, Dean worked at Bob Walstrom's Atlantic gas station on Kirkwood Highway, which is still a gas station, Dean said. "I grew up in Roseville Park, along Kirkwood Highway, close to Red Mill Road. I remember playing on Polly Drummond Road when it was two lanes. When it snowed, they didn't plow. Everybody rode on top of the snow and packed it down, or put chains on their tires. But after it was packed down, we could sled from the top of Polly Drummond all the way to the highway."
Anne Groo is a 1965 Newark High School graduate, and said she's "a born and bred Newarker, about 62 years. I grew up on Orchard Road for the bulk of my life. I still live in Newark, on Apple Road."
Groo recalled shopping at Bing's Bakery and Abbott's Shoe Repair, but also being dazzled by the high-tech pneumatic tubes that used to whisk receipts and money between the floors of the Newark Department Store.
"I was sad to see the State Theater go," she said. "And I don't like the idea of people coming into town and building apartments everywhere. We don't need more apartments."
In the glow of nostalgia, even places that were rather ordinary -- such as the Acme market at the Park & Shop shopping center on Elkton Road -- become magical memories. Several people at Nostalgia Fest recalled shopping there with their parents. The Paint Pot, a hybrid pet store and hardware store, used to be part of the Park & Shop center as well. Pilnick's sold shoes to generations of kids. Newark Farm and Home had everything from hardware and paint to huge lots of surplus items that changed every week. And many people recalled the Rhodes drug store on Main Street, which offered kid-favorite ice cream treats.
Ted Caddell, who now lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., took a train to Newark to see his second grandchild, and came to the Nostalgia Fest to see some old friends. "I took a cab from the train station and came up Main Street. I didn't recognize much," Caddell said. "I've been here once in a decade, I guess. I see Bing's Bakery is still there. My mother worked at Bing's."
Caddell worked as a reporter at the Newark bureau of the News Journal, where his desk was next to the wall separating the office from the Newark Cinema. "I'd hear the same movies playing over and over and over and over," he said, laughing. "'Grease' was one of them. I can sing along to it now."
In a room full of people with common roots in what was once a very small town, trivia is bound to come out. Someone mentioned the Burchards, who owned the barbershop that used to be in the building where Klondike Kate's is now. Their names were Thelma and Ed, in case you were wondering.
The Nostalgia Fest was streamed live on the internet for far-flung ex-Newarkers who couldn't attend. There was some good-natured joking between people who knew each other before the Memories of Newark group -- one man greeted a new arrival by saying, "I didn't recognize you from that Facebook picture you took 20 years ago" -- but the mood was one of warm remembrances and new acquaintances with people who normally would only interact on Facebook.
As the event was unfolding, the Memories of Newark group logged its 3,000th member, and the number increases every week. While the page's originator, Patty Feeney, couldn't attend Nostalgia Fest, she offered her thanks to everyone who did show up. There are plans to do another get-together soon, because, after all, there are more stories to be told.
For more information, visit Facebook and search for "Memories of Newark, Delaware."