2024-06-18 6:39 PM

Our Man in Arlington

The cleverly named Haute Dogs, a tasty-but-caloric meat emporium, just opened a branch near me in the Williamsburg Shopping Center.

I can vouch for its quality chili dogs, burgers, shakes and half-smokes (a regional original), though how about a few veggies? Manager Lionel Holmes says traffic has been “phenomenal, exceeding expectations” since it replaced a struggling barbecue eatery.

His team also enters the annals of a shopping center favored by subdivision neighbors since the 1950s.

Today the strip is beloved for longtime businesses such as Peking Pavilion restaurant, Williamsburg Deli and Jin’s Cleaners and Tailor, a succession of banks, along with Two-the-Moon gift shop and another newcomer, Adil’s hair and body treatment salon.

But the past looms. On Facebook’s “I Grew Up in Arlington, Va.,” a spontaneous reunion of nostalgists played trivia one-upmanship on previous occupants that ranged from the Williamsburg Hardware to High’s (a precursor to the current 7-11 remembered for its baked beans), banks and pizza joints. The memories spilled directly across Sycamore Street, where the current CVS and Calico designs serve as descendants of a Williamsburg Pharmacy (famous for the chewed wads of gum that teens passed under the soda counter), and an Acme SuperMarket.

I contributed by posting an early advertisement, for Acme’s Grand Opening in East Falls Church, from the mid-1950s, at which local music impresario Connie B. Gay (manager of locally based singer Jimmy Dean) provided entertainment below the store’s pink lights. “Grew up just down the street,” recalled one Facebooker. “Mom would send me up to Acme for bread or milk if we ran out before her regular weekly grocery run to Safeway.”

Williamsburg Pharmacy was beloved for its cherry cokes, chocolate shakes and fries.

In the shopping center proper (owned now by Nicholas Kalis Development Corp.), over the decades there was Hunt’s Barber Shop, a Clarendon Trust, a photocopy shop, Jolly Rogers comics and sports collectibles, dentist Dr. Todd and pediatrician Dr. Stallings, the nostalgists recalled. High’s was beloved for its banana popsicles, nickel-a-scoop ice cream cones (brickle!), 99 cent gallons of milk and atomic fireballs.
Williamsburg Hardware, owned by Frank Bruffey, which closed in 1983 when rents rose, had a pleasant smell and a 10-cent table.

By far the favorite eatery was Charlie’s Pizza, run by the Ayoub family and serving squares, steak sandwiches and shaved ice fountain drinks. One contributor recalls in middle school getting paid to hand out Charlie’s fliers in the neighborhood; others were paid to fold boxes for pay or pizza. Another recalled that Yorktown High School auto shop teacher William Beals “would let us take up a collection amongst us students and one guy would pick up at Charlie’s pizza under one condition. As long as he got a piece of pepperoni!” (Charlie’s later moved and flourished in Falls Church).

Finally, a younger guy recalled that a Hollywood crew came in the 1980s and filmed an episode of “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” there. “We Tuckahoe kids thought that was the coolest.”

***

Special family reunion coming at Arlington House April 21-23. For the first time, the Syphax descendants of African Americans enslaved on the site under George Washington Parke Custis and Robert E. Lee will gather with white descendants of Lee.

The “milestone celebration of togetherness, reconciliation and storytelling” was arranged by family historian Steve Hammond, working with the National Park Service, which over the past five years revamped the historic property’s exhibits to focus on the enslaved.

Sarah Fleming, whose fourth-great grandfather, Richard Bland Lee, was Robert E.’s uncle, told Hammond, “I grew up knowing slavery was abhorrent and hearing of the pride my family took in being related to the Lees. We never talked about the space in between–about how the Lees themselves were enslavers. I am honored to have been invited to join the Arlington House Descendants’ Family Circle and to work towards healing the racial harms caused by slavery and by my ancestors.”

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