During the 1960s, on the three blocks of Bryn Mawr Avenue (5600 North) between Kedzie (3200 West) and Bernard (approximately 3430 West) avenues there were two gas stations; an Orthodox synagogue, or shul; an elementary school (Peterson–kindergarten through eighth grade, and still there); Irv’s Barber Shop; a Grocerland and a Jewel Foods that later became a Certified owned by Morrie; a Kosher butcher; a bakery; a florist; a realtor; Miss Carol’s Dance Arts Studio; Lex’s Schwinn bike store; Klein’s Jewelry; a Chinese hand laundry; an electronic parts store; a hardware store owned by a different Morrie; a Jewish deli restaurant; a laundromat; Bon-Shar, a women’s clothing shop; the Hollywood Card shop, where the Peterson School 8th graders bought their autograph books; Beck’s Books and Follett’s Book Store, both (two!) college bookstores serving Northeastern Illinois University (3500 West), which started out as the Chicago Teachers College and changed names every couple years; Plotkin’s Pharmacy; Sandler’s Pharmacy; a Chinese restaurant called Tong’s Tea Garden; Hollywood Toys and Hobbies; Davis Imperial dry cleaners (also still there); Sherry’s Pizza; and C.V’s Snack Shop, which also changed names several times.
I could tell you stories about all these places, but to keep this post short I’ll tell you about the one that mattered most to me. It was called the Hollywood Bowl and it was owned by Joe and Helen. They served lunch and sold penny candy, but in the five hundred or more times I was inside the Hollywood Bowl, I never once ate lunch there.
Peterson School didn’t have a cafeteria. Most kids went home, a few brought lunchboxes, and some ate “out.” Starting around 12:30 p.m., a good number of us drifted towards the Hollywood Bowl and into the mob crowded around the display case. Not everyone got their orders in before Helen cut off candy sales. She must have had a deal with the principal to make sure kids made it across the street and in line by the first bell.
Does anything come in as many varieties as penny candy did? Bull’s eyes; flying saucers; red and black licorice records; giant jawbreakers; Sweet-Tarts, grape gumballs; sourballs; candy lipstick; wax teeth, lips and fangs; wax bottles and wax sticks; pixy stiks; lik-a-maid; marshmallow ice cream cones; Chowards violet candies; Mary Janes; Kits; Tootsie Rolls; Charm Pops; candy buttons; Slo-poks; shoe string licorice; El Bubble Bubble Gum cigars; candy cigarettes; Banana Splits taffy; BB Bats (also taffy); candy necklaces; Smarties; Sugar Daddy and Sugar Babies; Double Bubble, Bazooka and Swell; Topps trading cards–I was a fan of the Batman series; Switzer’s Licorice; Turkish Taffy; Necco wafers; Razzles; Atomic Fire Balls; Boston Baked Beans; Red Hots; Lemonheads; and Jaw Breakers–and that’s leaving out candy bars.
I’m sure my mother never set foot inside the Hollywood Bowl. Few parents did. Kids were on their own, debating their choices and dropping their sweaty pennies and nickels on top of the glass display case. Helen would place the pieces of candy in small brown paper bags, tops sharply folded down.
By the end of second grade I was walking to and from school without adult supervision. I lived eight blocks away, on the northern edge of the school’s boundary. By today’s standards my parents might be judged negligent, but I didn’t walk alone. A small group started out from my block and with each block we picked up more bodies. The trick was getting back in time for the Hollywood Bowl.
Our stretch of Bryn Mawr lies within city limits, but it was a small town Main Street. Some stores were owned by parents or relatives of our Peterson School classmates. I can clearly picture Certified Morrie: always talking, always moving, always carrying a box. And just as clearly, I can see hardware store Morrie looking for a rubber door stop or cutting a duplicate key. Every time we stopped in, my mother spent less than a buck and talked to Morrie for half an hour.
The short string of stores along Bryn Mawr Avenue was an extension of ourselves, not home but not away, either. We considered the major shopping street to the north, Devon Avenue in West Rogers Park, a good, if slightly better off, neighbor. The new suburban shopping mall, Old Orchard–a fair-weather friend. But we knew Bryn Mawr, and it knew us.
Sources: Thanks to Peterson School alums William Tong and Marshall Kravitz for contributing to the list of businesses formerly located on Bryn Mawr Avenue in Hollywood Park.