Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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Sad to get word that Arlington Funeral Home, after 55 years on Fairfax Drive, is closing up shop to make room for modern office and retail development.

It’s unsettling in a season that also brought closings of area Syms, Filene’s Basement and the Georgetown Barnes and Noble. Our commercial landscape forever churns.

 

Arlington’s business history was on my mind when I recently got a sneak peek at some artifacts that provide a snapshot of hometown commerce-from a certain era.
Ali Ganjian, a board member of the Arlington Historical Society, let me examine two fascinating items not yet on display at the Hume School museum.

A pair of wooden card tables, probably hand-made, are emblazoned on their leather surfaces with soft-sell advertisements for local businesses going back to the 1940s or early ‘50s.

They were donated in 2009 by Ray Anderson, the retired founder of H-B Woodlawn Secondary school, who discovered them at the Columbia 285 Masonic Lodge in 2004. One guesses they were fund-raising tools. As a sort of Yellow Pages frozen in time, the tables offer a glimpse of our everyday past neglected by local history books.

The card tables, one for Arlington and the other broadened to include merchants in McLean and Falls Church, date back to pre-zip-code days (before 1963). The phone number prefixes use the old-fashioned Oxford or Jackson. There’s an ad for a Packard dealership, and since Packard’s final model year was 1958, that takes us back even further, to the days when the milkman from Alexandria delivered to Arlington homes. (One ad’s slogan: “Let the smiling Thompson milkman serve you those delicious Honor Dairy products”-Hollin Hall, Va., established 1881).
Because no ads are for war bonds, I’d place the artifacts as post-World War II.

The hub of Arlington’s commerce was clearly the Rosslyn-Clarendon patch, on Washington and Wilson boulevards.

Lots of car lots. You get Kirby’s Sales and Service, Al’s Motors, Arlington Motors, Edmonds Motors, Joyce Motors, and Spurrier Motors (which sold Packards). Some long-gobbled-up banks I recall– Arlington Trust, Old Dominion Bank, and funeral homes–Fitzgerald and Ives.

Also some stores with antiquated themes–Arlington Bootery, The Woolery (“Blanket specialists”). Some popular eateries (the Colonial Kitchen and the Quality Frozen Custard, both on Wilson Blvd.) Long-overtaken hardware stores-Harry W. Cuppett, Columbia Hardware and Appliance, Dale Lumber. And various family merchants: Barnes & Kimel Co. Furniture, Grover E. Payne Insurance, Gamble Bros. Florists.

Falls Church entries include Yeatman’s Hardware; Wallace and Monroe Pharmacy (listed at 438 S. Washington St, now the Bike Club bicycle shop); J.W. Koons and J.V. Birch Falls Church Garage; Bryant’s Restaurant (East Falls Church) and Bethel No. 1 Job’s Daughters (a Masonic youth organization).

A few businesses from this era survive. One ad was for the Public Shoe Store (I’m a customer), which has been on Wilson Blvd. in Clarendon since 1938. (Curiously, no ad from nearby T.L. Sullivan Monuments, even though its sign boasts it’s been on Washington Blvd. since 1885. Nor is there one for Sam Torrey Shoe Repair, cobbling away since 1945.)

But the bulk of these local trade stalwarts now belong to the ages. Some doubtless fell to competition, conglomeration or the march of technology. Each demise doubtless brought some lost investments, some family heartbreak, some loss of local tradition.

Someday, the same may happen to Starbucks.

 

 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at [email protected]