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I've lived in Stamford a long time. Long enough to remember when this was a place where independent storefronts could do well, before every mall and shopping center in America became exactly the same.
It was back then that Stamford had two side-by-side shopping centers: Ridgeway and Town and Country. When I was a pre-teen, it was a huge rite of passage to be unleashed on these shopping centers with $10 or $20 of babysitting money burning a hole in your pocket. Eventually, Ridgeway became a more generic strip mall that is identical to those found in every other town across America, with the world's most insane parking lot, and Town and Country was razed to become a hotel.
But anyone who lived in Stamford back then probably has fond memories of a few of the places within these centers—businesses that would be unlikely to thrive in today's consumer climate, with high retail rents that allow only big chain stores into accessible shopping center storefronts instead of a more interesting mix of chain and indie. So let's take a walk down memory lane; a walk that doesn't include having to navigate the currently insane Ridgeway parking lot by car.
What kid or teen in the 70s or early 80s in Stamford didn't have ...
a customized iron-on t-shirt from The T-Tree in 40 Boutiques?
a fringed leather bag from ... that store that sold the fringed leather bags and western-style belts?
a pile of books and records to exchange for another pile of books and records at the Record and Book Exchange?
happy memories of Major the myna bird in the candy store?
a story of getting yelled at for peeking at naughty greeting cards in Pilgrim Stationery?
a steady history of birthday cakes from the Cottage Bake Shop? (These cakes, as far as my sisters and I are concerned, set the gold standard for birthday cakes and have been unmatched since, though we are still searching for an adequate replacement these many years later.)
a job at at least one of the stores? (Me: Waldenbooks, plus a brief gig selling kitchen supplies at a sidewalk sale for the culinary shop that used to be on Sixth Street)
a first Major Embarrassing Purchase at Syl-May?
a thrill upon going in through the turnstile at Discount Records?
a birthday party outfitted by paper goods at Paper Palace? (perhaps stopping for fries at the lunch counter after making the stressful choice of party supply theme)
a feeling of really, truly, actually being in a streetside cafe in New Orleans or even --- gasp! --- Paris! --- while having lunch in the cafe at 40 Boutiques?
a memory of sitting at a wee wooden table at the Union Trust, flipping through Little Golden Books while enjoying a lollipop?
several pairs of shoes (and balloons) from Barry's? (Barry's was the last holdout from the Glory Days of Summer Street shopping, but sadly the store closed in 2007, just before my son was old enough to need his first pair of shoes)
a Halloween pumpkin or a Christmas tree from Franco Gardens?
a deep fascination with the rolling conveyor belt that carried your groceries out of Gran Central Market so you could pick them up out back?
an undying wish to ride the mechanical ponies outside Sears, no matter what your age?
What are your memories? Please share!
All photos courtesy of the Stamford Historical Society.