On the Friday night in late November 1952 following Thanksgiving (it was not called “Black Friday” in those days), I ate supper with my grandmother, grandfather, and Uncle Tom at the kitchen table in our house on Maxwell Street. We always had supper at precisely 5:30 p.m. I finished eating supper at 6 p.m. and immediately turned on the four-poster Stewart Warner radio in our living room and listened to an episode of “One Man’s Family,” the longest running American soap opera (1932 to 1959).
At 6:30 p.m. I walked downtown via Maple Park on the diagonal sidewalk that ran from the northwest corner to the southeast corner through the park. When I got to the downtown it was full of people walking up and down in the 700 block of Main Street and the 200 block of Broad Street on both sides of the street. Even though most people in Lake Geneva still worked on Saturday, Friday night was the night to be out and about in the city. The Lake Geneva High School football season under the Friday Night Lights at Dunn Field was over and the LGHS basketball season had not yet begun.
When I got to the southeast corner of Broad and Main streets, I saw my Uncle Bill’s new dark green 1952 Buick parked, as it always was on Friday nights, in front of the Schultz Brothers Variety store just to the east of the Hotel Clair (today’s Landmark Center). In the back seat of the Buick, I saw my Aunt Fran chatting with her father (my grandfather who had beat me downtown) and in the front seat I saw my two cousins, Billy (age 9) and Betty (age 7).
I knew that my Uncle Bill would be drinking beer with his buddies inside the Terres Gardens bar. The bar was owned by Ethel Douglas Terres but was run by Doug Chase. Lake Geneva residents of German ancestry tended to drink in the Terres Gardens while those of Irish ancestry preferred to drink in O’Brien’s tavern a few doors to the east, and residents of English ancestry gathered at Basil Rafter’s tavern on the west side of the 500 block of Broad Street. The three bars were frequented almost exclusively by men.
I waved to my aunt, grandfather, and cousins and then entered the Schultz Brother’s Variety store, or, as we all called it, the dime store, which was run by John Brandley, the father of one of my fifth grade classmates of the same name. I spent the first hour of every Friday night in the dime store, walking the aisles and perusing the shelves to see what new toys had arrived. I bought a nickel’s worth of candy corn and candy pumpkins and paged through the new issues of “Batman” and “Superman” comics that were on the comic book racks.
After I was sure that I had seen all the new toys and new comics, bored, I left the dime store and walked east on Main Street, gazing into the windows of the Kohn and Allen’s men’s clothing store, looking into Louie Millas’s restaurant to see who was eating there, and walking by the stores that were already closed, including McClellen’s Electric store and Trinke and Raup’s law offices. When I reached Campbell’s women’s clothing store, I went inside to look at the shelves of Cub Scout and Boy Scout paraphernalia that were on display to see what was new.
I then crossed Main Street and began walking west on the north side of the street past Norman Gill’s jewelry store and the Smart Shop women’s clothing store. When I reached Bittner’s Bakery, I was sorely tempted by the smell of fresh baked goods emanating from the bakery and could almost taste the long johns and cream horns, but I knew I did not have enough money to buy any of them. I had no interest in Frank Janowak’s or John Power’s grocery stores nor in Harold Mercer’s Ben Franklin variety store, which I knew was smaller and less well-stocked than the Schultz Brothers dime store.
The sidewalk was still crowded with people going in and out of stores. I glanced in the windows of Moore’s Hardware store, but I was always too intimidated to go inside because it always seemed to be such a grownup place, full of adult customers. I finally reached Hammersley’s Drug Store, went inside, sat at the counter and ordered a Green River. Only a few people sat at the counter. One was drinking an ice cream soda, which I craved, but knew I did not have enough money to buy one.
After finishing the Green River, I left Hammersley’s, walked a few doors west to Arnold’s Drug Store, entered it and sat down on a stool at the counter. Arnold’s was much more crowded than Hammersley’s. To my good fortune, I saw two of my buddies sitting at the end of the counter and joined them. I ordered a cherry Coke and the three of us chatted for some time.
Finally, we all got up, left Arnold’s, and walked east to the corner, crossed Broad Street and went into Cobb’s Hardware store at the northwest corner of Broad and Main streets. I was not intimidated by Cobb’s as it always seemed to be a much friendlier place than Moore’s. I was mesmerized by the huge barrels filled with nails and screws and marveled at the hammers, pliers, and screwdrivers hanging on the walls, which I hoped to be able to buy when I grew up.
The three of us eventually left Cobb’s and walked north on the west side of Broad Street past Bucknall’s Dry goods store. There were only women shopping in it. We reached the “show” (the Geneva Theater) just as a movie ended and people were pouring out of the theater. My two buddies and I went next door to Frediani’s, sat on stools at the counter, and ordered Cokes. One of my buddies put a nickel in the juke box and played a song. When I paid my bill, I saw that I had exhausted my funds.
After we finished our cokes, we left Frediani’s and walked back to the southeast corner of Broad and Main streets and went downstairs into Lazzaroni’s bowling alley, which was crowded with bowlers and people watching them bowl. As each ball rolled down the alley and demolished the pins set up at the end of the alley, older boys who were pin setters would jump down from their perches and set the pins up that had been knocked down. I thought that these older boys had the best job in the world.
When the three of us became bored watching the bowling, we went back upstairs. I saw by the clock hanging from the second floor of the Wisconsin Power and Light building across the street that it was almost 9 p.m. A wave of panic consumed me. I knew that my grandmother would give me a good tanning if I arrived home after 9 p.m. Most stores on Main Street had closed and much of the crowd that had been on the streets had disappeared. My Uncle Bill’s Buick was gone. I said good bye to my two buddies and ran all of the way home fearing the worst.
When I got home, my grandmother was sitting in a chair in the living room intently reading a mystery. She barely glanced up as I entered the house. I had dodged the bullet. And, just as important, I had had a thoroughly enjoyable Friday night in Lake Geneva.
Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is the University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.
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