When I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Scarsdale was a thriving commercial hub. My parents shopped for all our basic needs in local mom and pop stores — groceries, clothing, school supplies, books, house wares and tools, home furnishings and linens, art supplies, newspapers and magazines, all at reasonable prices.
Back in the day, Young Vogue was the place to go for party dresses and Easter bonnets, Brownie uniforms and leotards for Steffi Nossen modern dance classes in the Harwood Building. My mother bought T-shirts and Cub Scout uniforms for my brother at County Boys and Men’s and skirts for herself at Mary Rothman. Today’s clothing stories are more boutique-y, relatively more expensive and likely to be chains, like LF, Mixology and Great Stuff.
We had our feet measured for new shoes on Spencer Place and got old ones repaired at Vaccaro’s, which flooded the Harwood Building arcade with the intoxicating smell of shoe polish.
I remember going to Scarsdale Hardware, then on Boniface Circle, on a Saturday to help my dad pick out paint and then with him to Zachys on East Parkway — much smaller then — where he stocked up on Canadian Club and I looked for the little plastic white horses tied around the necks of whiskey bottles and surreptitiously put one in my pocket. My parents, like all grown-ups I knew, drank whiskey before dinner, not wine.
On the corner of Harwood Court and Chase Road was the Scarsdale Travel Agency that arranged my family’s first trip to Europe the summer I turned 18. Across the street was Mead’s Department Store, where my mother went to get chairs reupholstered, and Lillian Watts, where I got my first bra.
There were three grocery stores in the village — besides Shopwell, Gristedes and Wright and Irish. There was another, Sagamore, on Garth Road in Eastchester, where my family shopped, but I don’t believe there was any place to get take-out. Moms were at home cooking dinner, not out in offices. There weren’t many restaurants back then either — though the Parkway Café was always busy and remains so, and children loved to go to Nielsen’s on Scarsdale Avenue to eat ice cream sundaes surrounded by whimsical elf murals.
These and other memories resurfaced as I prepared to lead 25 of my classmates from Scarsdale High School’s Class of 1964 on a 55th reunion tour of the downtown Saturday, Aug. 10. Organized by Ivan Dubbs and Jeffrey Rodman, it was a continuation of weekend festivities that began Friday night at Scarsdale Golf Club.
After a picnic at Chase Park, we began on the most altered block in the village, Christie Place, attracting curious stares from shoppers unaccustomed to seeing flocks of tourists on Scarsdale sidewalks. In 1964, the north side of Christie Place was a long garage and open parking lot, anchored by Robison’s service station on the East Parkway end. The other side of the street housed Mimi Cleaners (now Embassy), Scarsdale Art and Frame (now PopoJito) and Daitch Shopwell (now DeCicco Family Markets).
I pointed out the entrance to the street-level garage on Christie and told my classmates that parking has been a problem in the village for more than 60 years. A 1954 survey found that 3,614 cars competed for 983 spaces in the village daily. Additional spaces were carved out here and there and meters were installed, but improvements were minor at best. In the late ’50s, a study recommended turning Chase Park into a parking lot. Merchants supported it, residents did not, and the idea was dropped. In the 1970s Freightway Garage provided some relief, mainly for permit-holding commuters. It is now the subject of new mixed used proposals that include the Freightway open lot.
My classmates remembered O’Farrell’s Pharmacy on East Parkway, where one of them had his first job, and marveled at the reconfigured East Parkway and the expanded Popham Road Bridge. Different opinions were aired on the precise location of Pierce & Schiller, the old newspaper and school supply store.
In 1964 Popham Road housed real estate offices and it still does, though there are many more agents today working in many fewer companies, and the companies are national or even international rather than locally owned. (One home-grown agency from the 1950s, Julia B. Fee, survives, albeit as part of Berkshire Hathaway.) As we rounded the corner onto Chase Road, one classmate asked what had happened to the Scarsdale Inn on School Lane, where he once worked as a waiter. I told him it had been Hoff-Barthelson Music School since 1970.
As we turned onto Harwood Court, a good-natured dispute erupted on where we girls bought our detested gym suits, Mead’s or Lillian Watts? A classmate recalled volunteering for the Nixon campaign in a storefront that had been a Republican headquarters. Another former teenager said he bought his first camera at the shop on the corner of Spencer Place, now housing optometrist Michael Rosen, the son of one of our classmates. Someone said that Henry’s Barber Shop on Spencer Place, now on Scarsdale Avenue, was famous for having all the best comic books. A woman said she had fond memories of birthday excursions to Wilson & Son to buy charms for her charm bracelet. With third-generation owners, Wilson’s is still going strong on Chase Road.
As we returned to Chase Park, the SHS alums summed up their impressions of Scarsdale 2019: more jewelry stores, eateries and banks; fewer gas stations, no places for newspapers or magazines. Despite some vacancies, the village seems to be holding its own against the temptations of Amazon.
The ’64-ers were pleased to see that Scarsdale’s Tudor charm has been maintained, especially the gorgeous former gas stations on Chase and Popham roads, now a real estate office and a bank, respectively. And last but not least, they were happy to hear that another home-grown business in the Harwood Building is still providing village residents with a vital product fondly remembered from the 1960s — The Scarsdale Inquirer.