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The Corner Store

By: onipar

By Anthony J. Rapino

When I talk to friends about childhood memories, invariably discussions meander to a seemingly innocuous mention of The Corner Store. They go by many names. Bodegas, milk bars, five-and-dimes, and even corporate-owned entities like the 7-Eleven. Here's the big secret: These are all corner stores whether or not they actually exist on a corner.

I know; I’m blowing your mind right now. Stick with me.

A “corner store” simply refers to someone’s local shop, no matter the actual moniker. A place that is, preferably, within walking distance or a quick bike ride away. As an adult, this is the store where you stop for eggs after forgetting to buy them at the real supermarket. The shop where you grab a pack of cigarettes or a scratch-off ticket. But as a kid, it was a bastion of junk food, sugary drinks, and magazines. A necessary detour during your summertime travels.

My corner store was called The Milk Inn, and it wasn’t on a corner either. It resided in the dead-center of the block, across the street from my apartment building in Brooklyn. The Milk Inn was a tiny place with day-to-day necessities, an unassuming deli counter, sticky floors, and flies buzzing around the thick summer air. The kind of place you might avoid if not for the vibrant display of movie tie-in products adorning the shelves, and the bargain basement prices. Though even with those low, low prices, we needed cashola.

On any given day, my brother and I would go couch mining. For the uninitiated, couch mining is when you check under the cushions for lost change that happened to fall out people’s pockets. Our parents would usually give us a dollar here or there during the week, but we established the chairs and couch as international waters. We were pirates on the high seas of the living room, and the cushion-cash was our booty.

Once sufficiently weighted with coin, we headed out for our usual summertime rounds. Bike rides, park exertions, games of handball, and fishing over the railing of Shore Parkway were all on the menu. Later we perused the aisles of Quality 1 Video and played a game of Street Fighter II. Maybe we even rented a tape and bought a Slush Puppy while we were there. But whatever the plan was, we always ended the day at our corner store, The Milk Inn.

Imagine a magical place out of time where all of your favorite snack foods still exist. A store that stocks only the best in retro foods and drinks. Now imagine that this mystical shop actually did exist at one time, and we had the privilege of experiencing it without ever knowing how important it would become to our older selves. Without realizing we would relive these memories, remember those foods, and crave them so deeply that we’d sign online petitions to bring them back. That we’d spend an inordinate amount of time and money to purchase limited edition versions of those same items that were plentiful on the shelves of our childhood corner stores.

Now, of course, all we have are the memories, so let’s see what I was plucking off the shelves of my childhood corner store.

For snacks I gravitated to the 25-cent bag chip display. My favorites were Dipsey Doodles, Wise cheese doodles (the crunchy kind), Munchos, and Funyuns.

To wash it down I’d buy a 25-cent drink, also klnown as quarter water. They were vibrantly colored sugar drinks in see-through plastic containers with a foil top. I always got blue raspberry and relished the feeling of pushing my thumb through the foil top. Years later I realized some places had those same drinks, but the plastic containers were shaped like tiny barrels. Whatever I used to purchase must have been knock-off versions, because they were simple, squared off containers. Other possible drink options were Yoo-hoo, various sodas, or if we were feeling particularly fancy, an Orangina.

If I happened to have a windfall at the old mining grounds, I might go for premium options like a Hostess Turtle Pie and an Ecto Cooler. Or maybe a King Cone if I thought the ice cream truck wouldn’t be around that day.

When my sweet tooth was acting up, I reached for a 5th Avenue bar or pack of Bonkers. No matter what, I always bought a 5-cent piece of green apple Bazooka Joe bubble gum. It was cheap, tasty, and came with a mini comic strip.

The best part of the corner store was at the cash register, where they set up display boxes of brand-new items, almost always targeting kids. Like Jurassic Park candy containers. Or packs of Nintendo Power cards. Maybe even a box of Batman pins, or those little fruit shaped containers filled with flavored sugar.

More than the food, I loved the experience of browsing the corner store when the day was winding down and imagination was running thin. People often talk about the experience of perusing a video store in the same way. With the rental store all but extinct, we started yearning for the days when picking up a VHS tape from the video store was an event. The thing is, corner stores still exist, but as we get older and are forced to shop for groceries, the once wonderous and exciting shopping experience loses its luster. We forgot that at one time, we used to walk down the aisles extra slow, pick up every item, and inspect the magazines.

I often revisit those feelings as I walk through the dollar store or corner store in town. Discovering new products, trying something I never had before, curating a perfect assemblage of snacks for movie night. These are things we can always do, even if our perfect retro corner store only resides in our memories. It’d be a shame to one day look up and realize we can no longer enjoy a trip to the corner store, because like the video store before them, they have disappeared. Whether due to the prevalence of online shopping or the takeover of big box stores, this scenario isn’t as unlikely as we might like to think.

In another twenty or thirty years, there’s no telling what we’ll miss. What our new nostalgia will be wrapped in. Let’s not let the present slip away without enjoying every moment of it, because what is plentiful now may be lost to time when we’re older.  

www.anthonyjrapino.com

 

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onipar Posted on Jun 27, 2021 at 05:56 PM

Oh yeah! I forgot to mention the trading cards like Batman. I used to buy those there a lot.

echidna64 Posted on Jun 21, 2021 at 05:34 AM

There were a couple "corner stores" in the town I grew up in Putnam County, New York. One in particular was a local pharmacy that also had a VHS rental area. Some carried collectible card games like Pokemon and Magic:The Gathering Cards
.

vkimo Posted on Jun 17, 2021 at 11:55 PM

That's cool! I live in Bethlehem

onipar Posted on Jun 10, 2021 at 02:38 PM

@vkimo: NEPA, Pocono Mountain region. Yeah, where I moved to is much more sprawled out with nothing super "local" for kids. Not like running across the street in Brooklyn. :-p

@Benjanime, Oof that stinks, sorry to hear it.

Benjanime Posted on Jun 10, 2021 at 04:53 AM

there's a couple of stores like those in chesapeake, virginia but boy howdy is that area of virginia ever a craphole. i've heard since the past couple of decades that many stores had to get closed down due to robberies.

vkimo Posted on Jun 09, 2021 at 11:44 PM

Where in PA do you live? I moved here from California and there's not really any corner stores. Back in Cali we had one right up the street called Frank's - It was always a treat making the 2 block journey to it and scoring some candy.

onipar Posted on Jun 09, 2021 at 01:56 PM

I hear ya. Once I moved the PA, I didn't really have the "Corner Store" experience any more. Town was close to five miles away, which we did attempt on our bikes now and then, but it was a bit of a ride. And there was this tiny shop much closer, but it was on a "couples resort" that we were technically not allowed to patronize...though we did on occasion.

Fun fact, those pictures on the Milk Inn were from moving day in 1993 (from Brooklyn to PA).

That department store sounds amazing though! I kinda missed out on the more "old timey" sorts of stores like that.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jun 08, 2021 at 05:13 PM

I wish I could say I had a "corner store" nearby growing up. But I did not. I lived at the top of a hill on a dead-end road. The only thing nearby was the skating rink.

But after college and a few years of working in the family business, I moved to Rutland and here we had a real, functioning department store. It carried about anything you could want... groceries, tools, had a deli... it was pretty great. It had been open for more than 100 years when it finally closed (thanks to slowing sales and the appearance of not one, but two new dollar stores... Dollar General and Family Dollar). I won't forget that old-timey feel of the interior of the store. I had heard tales of people 40 or 50 years ago bringing in their grocery lists, and clerks going around picking out the items listed for the customer. There was at one time a bank in the store, and the old vault remained there (becoming a little back office of sorts).

And hey... it's where I first found Dutch and Hamato, so... there's that. LOL

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