The other day, I saw kids in the neighborhood running to greet an ice-cream truck as it made its slow way down the street, blaring its rinky-tink calliope tunes.
The kids, lined up at the truck, were clutching dollar bills in their little fists to buy their Sno-Cones, Drumsticks and Popsicles.
I just had to laugh, remembering how we kids, on summer days so long ago, would run off to buy treats clutching our sweaty pennies, nickels and dimes – not greenbacks. Alas, that’s what 50 years of inflation will do: inflate the prices, shrink the products. It was pathetic to see how small were the ice-cream treats those kids were slurping on.
In days of yore, in south St. Cloud, what fun it was to make frequent trips to Hackert’s Grocery Store at the intersection of 9th Avenue S. and 10th Street, just five blocks from my home. Every summer day, my pals and I would walk those hot blocks down elm-lined boulevards, past bright-green lawns, the air filled with sounds of kids playing, dogs barking, sprinklers hissing.
Then we’d enter through the back door of Hackert’s, which opened into its darkish and cool back storage room, leading into the front of the store, flooded with light from its large west windows. Hackert’s was one of those old neighborhood convenience stores, and just about every neighborhood had one. Each had an old-fashioned character of its own, but most of them, like Hackert’s, were very old buildings with high stamped-tin ceilings and creaky wooden floors.
Upon entering the store, we kids would make a dash, like ants at a picnic, to the big glass candy case. We viewed that case as a kind of holy altar from which the sweetest, tastiest treats were dispensed. What’s best is most of it was penny-candy, like licorice sticks, jawbreakers, bubble gum. Candy bars cost 5 cents, but they were big bars, unlike their puny descendants. Snickers, Mounds, Hershey Bars and Mars bars were twice the size of the current ones.
We loved to open the back sliding doors of the candy case and take our sweet time deciding just which treats to choose. I rarely left that store without buying a box of Nibs, which were little “niblet” morsels of black licorice. My buddies and I would also have to buy at least one pack of baseball cards, which contained not only cards but a thin slab of powdery gum along with, for some odd reason, a swatch of red cellophane.
After bringing our stash to the purchase counter, we’d usually make another dash over to the ice-cream cooler where we’d buy one or more Fudgesicles, Dreamsicles (orange or raspberry), Popsicles or Drumsticks. If we had enough nickels or dimes left, we’d also each buy a bottle of Coca Cola and a bag of Old Dutch potato chips.
At the counter, John Hackert, daughter Kathy or Mrs. Finck would count out our piles of small change and put our tasty treasures in penny-candy bags. Then, saying thanks-goodbye, we’d leave the store and walk happily all the way home, gobbling down our treats, our fat little faces stuffed with sweets that would horrify any dentist – and later, did.
Hackert’s Grocery Store is one of my fondest childhood memories. It was also fun to go there even on blizzard days, trudging through knee-high snow to get our treats or to fetch groceries for our parents. No kind of weather – hot, cold or wet – could keep us from our trips to Hackert’s. It’s a shame those old neighborhood stores – most of them, anyway – have disappeared. There are many gas-station-type convenience stores, but they all have that standard same-o look, utterly lacking the character and atmosphere of the creaky wood-floor stores. Current convenience stores still do sell some of the classic ice-cream treats and candy bars – shrunken versions of them. Oh yes, when it comes to candy, we kids – some of us now missing one or all of our teeth – really did have it better once upon a time.