By Fran Wood
I imagine most people driving around Morristown today – or even just passing through it – are impressed with its appearance. All the new construction, the town’s many restaurants – many with outdoor dining at this time of year, curbside trees in full leaf and flower-filled planters render the central downtown easy on the eyes.
Me, I drive around looking for signs of the old Morristown. I have nothing against the new Morristown, mind you. But having lived here all my life (okay, not IN Morristown all that time, but never farther than five miles from the hospital where I was born), I have memories in which the Morristown of today has no role.
I was thinking about this the other day after getting off the phone with my granddaughter, who called to thank me for the new backpack her grandfather and I sent her for her birthday. Her birthday isn’t until the end of September, but we sent it early, knowing she’d want to use it for the first day of school.
Ah, the first day of school, when everything was new. New clothes, new shoes, new school supplies – even new underwear and socks. It was as though our mothers were reinventing us, changing us into something definitively respectable, distinctively different from the summertime children we’d been for the previous two and a half months.
In the weeks before school started, we’d embark on two or even three shopping trips – one to buy clothes, another to buy shoes, a third to buy school supplies.
Clothing would never be purchased in one store. Not in a town with three – count ’em, three – department stores. Our mothers would buy some items at Epstein’s, others at Oppenheim-Collins (whose entrance was where the Scotti’s Record Shop door is), still others at Bamberger’s (now home of Century 21).
We’d visit Lobell’s on the north side of the Green (now occupied by Bank of America) for Brownie and Cub Scout uniforms and ballet shoes, and Salny’s (now occupied by Citibank) for boys’ sports jackets.
All those stores carried shoes, but the first stop on our shoe-buying expedition was always Walk-Well (now occupied by the restaurant Provesi). Mom would brook no argument about what was proper footwear, but she’d take the edge off our annual disappointment at having bought the next size up in the decidedly unglamorous brown leather “school shoes” by taking us next to Fitzgerald’s, a sporting goods store now occupied by the French-Thai restaurant Origin, to get gym sneakers, gym socks and uniforms if our school required them. Lastly, we’d visit Miles Shoes (a store or two west of Lobell’s) to buy dress shoes for Sunday school and parties.
Morristown had two five-and-tens in those days – Kresge’s, on the north side of the Green (the premises now occupied by Chase Bank), and Woolworth’s (not long ago occupied by Foot Locker, now featuring a string of new eateries).
On all those trips, Morristown’s sidewalks would be teeming with families on similar missions.
I see no evidence of that Morristown as I drive through. I remain hopeful, however, that the new Morristown will draw back that variety of retail business. That’s something a truly viable town needs – regardless of how many banks and restaurants it boasts.
Fran Wood has never lived more than five miles from the Morristown hospital where she was born. A columnist for New Jersey newspapers for more than 30 years, she retired from The Star-Ledger at the end of 2008. She periodically blogs at www.njvoices.com.