Levi's was the place everyone went to hang out back in the day. The Best Buy’s are at Levi's, the radio adds claimed. While I’m not certain if that was true or not, judging from the masses that milled around his shop he sure seemed to be doing something right.
There were other choices back then. If memory serves me correct we had at least three other places to shop in this little outport community. While Levi’s was the largest store in town, I believe there were other reasons to shop and hang around.
It was where the men were. On any given day fathers, son’s, brother’s and husband’s could be found just hanging out, yarning and enjoying a beer-yes a beer. In public. Imagine? Worked great for us youngsters for there was no better time or place to hit your old man up for a few bucks than while he enjoyed a cold one with the lively crew at Levi's. Father’s were always in good spirits- leaning on the counter, foot on a beer box, laughing, and lying-at Levis shop. Dad’s-be it the booze or the company they kept-were easily parted with coins for the pinball machine or for a bag of ketchup chips and a birch beer.
As a teen I used to announce to my townie friends that the best b'ys soon stopped by Levis. You didn’t stand alone long before someone to hang with popped in and in no time there were a slew of us laughing and joking or just hanging around the freezers along the side wall. Levi never kicked us out. Perhaps he saw dollar signs, figuring before long our pockets would be empty and out gullets full of candy and our gobs full of frozen bubblegum scooped from the bottom of a Screwball ice cream cup. But it was more than that. Levi was nice. He always had a smile for us youngsters. We always felt welcome. I never heard him complain about the scuffmarks we left on his deep fridges nor did he bark at us when we would chase one another either in, or out of his store.
Women liked Levi's also, for there seemed to be miles and miles of back isle treasures. I explored back there once-sneakers, shoe laces, jeans, work boots, fishing twine, knives, cutlery, clocks, towels, dish clothes, cups, plates and saucers-whatever you could be looking for was there. Somewhere.
My very first experience with the delights of a surprise punch board was at Levi’s shop. You could punch a circled numbered spot on the box and get a gift for a quarter. Once, I got a haircutting kit. I proudly brought it to my aunt who proceeded to try and tame the frizzy locks on the head of her eldest son. It worked-kind of.
As time passed and times grew tough, other stores began to close. Levi held in there, but before long the building was too run down and the locals had dwindled in numbers. I believe his daughter ran it for a while but soon It wasn’t worth the time or money to fix it up. Levi's closed its doors for good.
As I enjoyed my own days here as a local shopkeeper I tried to keep the memory of Levi alive by welcoming the youngsters, but my father-and business partner- felt a little differently. Perhaps lost to him were the memories of Levi and his fiscally smart welcoming of local children and their often loose spending habits or maybe he just didn't have the patience. One evening while I was working my son and his buddies hung out in the store. The sight of a Lifestyle condom box behind the counter got them in the fits. I finally hid the package from view to calm them down a little. “What’s the big deal?!” one young fella challenged me- hand on hip, chin jutted out in youthful defiance. “I sees that kinda stuff ALL the time. My dad has those Lifesavers at our house, you know!”
I didn’t give in. (Though I did have a good ‘ole chuckle.)
With one silly-stimulant removed from view, the boys soon focused on another- the feminine hygiene product shelf. While some of them perched on the deep fridges along the back wall, others tried to reach the somewhat highly hidden boxes of mysterious strangeness.
I couldn’t help but think to my Levi days-back when such products were kept hidden behind the counter and were (questionably) discretely passed out over the counter in a waxy brown paper sack. We would all get the giggles. Couldn’t help ourselves-the same way these young fellas couldn’t control their own case of the sillies.
One customer who visited that evening found it necessary to inform my father of “the goin's on” upon his return. My father was a tad contrary. “Shouldn’t be permitted,” he barked. “Kids don’t belong in a place of business,” he stated. I reminded him of the days when times were different, back in Levi’s day. But he was having none of it.
The same father that used to laugh at the shenanigans of the local youngsters-his own five included-from the other side of the counter- no longer felt a local shop was the place for such foolishness.
Times had changed, he told me a little more kindly. They sure had.
Like so many things in childhood that seemed so much sweeter then than now, hanging out around a local outport store was simply one more thing to add to the list.
I had some things to accept.
The best buys, the best b’ys- and the best times- were at Levi’s.