Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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 Vanished Arlington businesses, part II.

The Arlington Historical Society recently gave me a chance to expand on earlier research on the bygone haberdasheries, entertainment venues and hardware emporiums that now exist only in our collective memory.

I was pleased that the crowd of 80-plus at Arlington Central Library accepted my invitation to enrich the presentation with their own recollections.

No matter which nook in the county you occupy, there’s bias toward your own points of orientation. So when I mentioned a long-gone People’s Drugstore or a Howard Johnson’s on Lee Highway, old-timers chimed in with memories of branches on Columbia Pike.

The universal was the nostalgia with which people recall the routine commercial relationships of their past.

To prepare, I spent many happy hours checking vintage issues of Polk’s and Hill’s business directories and the old-fashioned Yellow Pages. But most fun were the e-mail queries I farmed out to friends, whose passions sometimes out-ran their memories’ reliability.

Take Wally’s Aquarium. Major debates over its location in the ’60s. Many recalled buying snakes and tarantulas at Wally’s in the basement on Fairfax Drive and North Glebe Road. But it moved. Some recalled it going southward on Glebe, near Carbone Animal Hospital and Arlington Hobby Crafters (American Service Center’s there now). But in the mid-70s, Wally’s shuffled off to Little River Turnpike, and in 2010 it folded.

My friends were stumped when I demanded the name of the billiard lounge I could picture at Glebe and Lee Highway. It was the Q Ball Club, not Jack and Jill’s, nor Cue and Chalk.

But lots came through with vivid memories, such as the pal who as a high schooler performed home deliveries for Major Bo’s Chicken Delight (a ’60s alternative to pizza located near today’s Metro 29 Diner). Another recalled the specific salesman (a Mr. Hancock) at the old Hahn’s Shoe Store in Clarendon.

From the audience came a man who rekindled a memory of Swiller Brothers Music Store in Clarendon, where my mother bought me my first 45 rpm records. When I mentioned Speedy Gonzales, a popular Tex-Mex restaurant in Ballston of the 1970s, a man testified it was in the home he grew up in.

Nearly all recalled Kann’s Department store, which dominated Virginia Square before the advent of George Mason law school. (Yes, Kann’s had caged live monkeys, but no one can find a photo.)

I inventoried the other beloved shopping mecca, Parkington, the predecessor to Ballston Mall that used its gigantic façade to spell messages like “School’s out. Drive carefully.” Inside was McCrory’s, a five-and-dime with its “Arcadian Garden” and lunch counter that offered banana splits for whichever price tag (as low as a penny) was contained in a balloon you popped.

Many merchants had slogans: Progressive Cleaners claimed “Arlington is progressive, so are we.” And matchbooks used to read “Don’t say Drug Store, say Drug Fair. There’s a big Difference!”

I reported unofficial detail—the old Williamsburg Pharmacy had a fountain counter with an underside lined with wads of chewing gum. The Blue and Gray Market on Quincy Street tempted underage Washington-Lee students in the ’40s and ’50s to buy cigarettes.

Credit an old friend with recalling the most obscure vanished Arlington business: The bait shop and Esso station on the finger of land beside Chain Bridge. I hung out there, too. 

 


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

 

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