Having lived in center-city Allentown as a boy, I grew up with the many changes that the merchants of the city made to bring attention to their businesses. I think of the three big stores on Hamilton Street: Hess Brothers, H. Leh’s, and Zollinger-Harned, plus other large stores like Shankweilder and Kuhns Men’s Store, Dobnoff’s, M.S. Young Hardware, Annawalt Hats, Benesches Furniture, Globe Store General Merchandise, American Store (groceries and meats), Regent Market (groceries and meats), to name but a few.
Restaurants included Betsy’s, Superior, Dutch Kitchen, and Penn Fountain. Theaters included the old Rialto, Colonial, Midway, Victory, and many more on the streets off of Hamilton. The main street, Hamilton, was where the action was. I recall when we had two railroad stations on Hamilton, and I remember the day Harry S. Truman stopped at Front and Hamilton. He spoke from the back of the observation car, and the picture appeared in the newspaper. The boulevard lamps that lined the streets had bowls filled with flowers in the summer and pine boughs in the winter time. The streets were lined with colored lights for the holidays — a big attraction for us kids.
Most every kind of business could be found from 5th Street to 12th Street. Just to walk on Hamilton Street during the Christmas season and see all the lights and storefronts decorated to the Nth degree put a smile on everyone’s face as they greeted friends and neighbors. I could not mention all the stores and churches in the city, as it would take too much pen and ink, but perhaps some persons can recall the activity of Center City in the 1930s and 40s. Traffic was so heavy we had policemen directing it. There were sidewalk hawkers selling balloons and trinkets, calling out loudly to get one’s attention.
In those days, mailmen delivered mail with a leather bag hung on their side. Milkmen and bakers delivered their wares to your door, horse-and-buggy style. Hucksters had trucks loaded with fruits and vegetables, and I remember a butcher who had a regular stop on our street once a week. The smell of smoked meats was a treat for all.
Summertime saw the ice cream man come on a horse-drawn white wagon. We kids looked longingly, as 10 cents was a lot of money in those days. Allentown was called the Queen City and the Clean City; we had water trucks with sprayers that washed the streets once a week. Also, we had street sweepers who kept the streets free of litter.
The clean streets and sidewalks outside the homes made an impression on me. Our city was a busy place, with so many things to get your attention. There was never a dull moment. Those days, all stores and gas stations were closed on Sundays. The sound of church bells called the faithful to worship, and as our family walked to church, we greeted folks as they were going to other houses of worship.
Memories of days long gone and the quietness of the city on Sundays fill my mind. That quietness is gone and is just a memory, as Sundays of today are business as usual.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about the past as much as I have enjoyed recalling these fond memories of Allentown.