A couple months ago, I wrote about Plummer’s drugstore located in the Hepler building along Broad Street in New Bethlehem, a storefront now occupied by Vern Hilyer’s Rest Assured. It was a favorite teen hangout, but if conditions were too crowded or you just wanted to avoid the same people you had spent the day with at school, your feet took you somewhere else.
For some reason, my group of friends and I tended to stay on the creek side of Broad Street for the most part. As a result, I don’t think I ever stepped foot inside Costan’s Candy Kitchen, and I feel a little deprived as a result. On the other hand, we did our part in keeping several other restaurants and lunch counters in business.
I wish I could recall the specialties of each place. Unfortunately, I am not Bullwinkle the Moose and can’t remember everything I’ve ever eaten. As a result, I’m just going to hit the high points from 45 or 50 years ago.
Honestly, I never tried one of those cans of Campbell’s turtle soup that you could order at Plummer’s lunch counter. Turtles weren’t something that appeared on the table at home, and I stuck to familiar fare as a teen. And, let’s face it, you can’t eat something that a lot of people keep as a pet.
Clam strips were in another category. Anyone who ever ate at a Howard Johnson’s in the 1960s and 1970s had probably encountered them at least once. So, if you stopped at the Village Dairy Store for an afterschool snack, a basket of clam strips and fries was acceptable.
Dinner was only an hour or so in the future, but if you were 17, walked nearly everywhere, had gym class, participated in a sport or had a part-time job, food was vital fuel. We ate like that all the time, and you seldom saw an overweight kid on the street. Nobody was worried about the dangers of transfats, either.
If we felt like having something a little lighter, we stopped at Newbie News for a pink lady or a cherry Coke. Those were the days of the countertop Jet Stream beverage coolers that bubbled and swirled with neon-yellow Lemon Blennd, a fake sugary substitute for lemonade that didn’t remotely resemble the real thing. I guess the extra “n” in the name was supposed to lend the beverage an air of space-age coolness.
My part-time job at GC Murphy’s meant working nearly every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. I didn’t mind carrying a brown-bag lunch most of the time, but a little change is good for you. Those were the days when my teen co-workers and I would hit the nearest drugstore lunch counter when the dairy store was too busy.
I may have eaten at the small one in Reinsel’s drugstore a few times. It was only a couple doors away from Murphy’s, so I could grab a quick club sandwich before heading down the street to burn through some of my hard-earned cash at Dolinda’s.
More often, I wandered across the street and up the block to Ross’s drugstore for a BLT and a look at the coffee-club members’ handpainted mugs standing on the shelves behind the counter. I don’t know why, but I always thought that having your name painted on one of those made you a member of a super-secret and exclusive fraternal organization that operated in the shadows.
There is a lone surviving mug housed in the library’s Heritage Room. It turns out that florist Duke Carl painted the names on the mugs, and the coffee club was more a group of regular customers who met in the early morning. It was more fun thinking of them as a band of assassins.
Kutch’s Pizza was the place to go in the evenings after work or if you were just generally marauding around town with your friends. I’m not sure, but I think that it was a good place to relax and act casual after pulling off Halloween pranks. We ignored the fact that the town cops and everyone else knew what we were up to at any hour of the day or night.
Now, trekking all the way up to Miller’s Hoagies near the post office meant that you were desperate for a bit of variety in your diet. If you walked to Miller’s at lunchtime, the entire hour was devoted to getting there, eating and getting back to the time clock with only moments to spare. On the other hand, eating your first hoagie with oregano sprinkled on top was a revelation.
That was a good experience for someone heading off to college. Just a little touch of something different turned a lot of us into lifelong foodies.
I could go on like this for quite a while, but I’m running out of space this week. I know that I’ve missed some smaller hangouts, but they had their regulars, too.
[Susan Kerr is a semi-retired freelance writer living in her hometown of New Bethlehem. Previously, she was the managing editor of a regional-interest magazine and a business journal in State College.]