The Heart of Florence for Kids
By Jan Tower
Photos Provided by Jan Tower
This winter I was going through pictures taken, saved and passed on by several relatives in my family, both living and deceased. It was a wonder
ful trip down memory lane. One large manila envelope was full of pictures, taken by my grandmother, Edna McCullough. Many of these pictures of my father’s family I had not seen before and they were especially fun to see. Among them was a picture of McLaughlin’s Store in Florence. My grandmother had written on the back, “J. McLaughlin’s Store in Florence at the underpass of C&PRR.” Unfortunately, there was no date, but as seen in the picture, the roads were unpaved, there are buggies, and Florence was still known as Fowler.
The store was originally a company store for the employees of the Rutland Florence Marble Company. In 1911, Vermont Marble purchased the company and acquired the store along with the purchase. It was run by Vermont Marble until June of 1931 when they sold it to John McLaughlin who had been a clerk at the store. After he passed, his wife, Antoinette McLaughlin, continued to run the store until 1972 or 1973.
I decided it would be a fun image to use as a TBT (Throw Back Thursday) picture on Facebook. Little did I know the response I would get from fellow Florence “natives” who saw my post. I soon realized that McLaughlin’s Store played a very special role in our little corner of Vermont. After all, it was the only place we could walk or ride our bicycles to for those special treats most children crave – CANDY – SODA – ICE CREAM! The comments on Facebook came rolling in.
My cousin, Tom Drew, was the first to respond, writing, “I remember the candy and popsicles well.” He added, “I always thought Mrs. McLaughlin was pretty stern.... Later, when I worked at the store, I found that she was quite nice. The corner store was a big part of Florence in the ‘50s and ‘60s.” Tom later wrote, “My mom
remembers when it was a company store and housed a barber shop and the PO.” I might add that my father, Lloyd McCullough, told of the boys playing basketball upstairs.
Tom’s wife, Joan Kurant Drew, was the next to weigh in, writing, “My favorite memory was getting off the bus there on Wednesdays, quickly getting penny candy and running up the hill to be on time for Catechism.” Joan’s brother, Frank Kurant, Jr. remembers “....buying candy for a penny, popsicles for a nickel and ice cream bars for a dime. I remember the floor was squeaky.”
My longtime good friend, Donna Elnicki Whitman, was more often than not my companion on trips to the store. She shared, “What memories! I remember when we would gather bottles and turn them in for candy. Some even had fish worms inside... she didn’t like that!”
Sue Goulette Markowski showed the picture to her husband David and said she could see the wheels start turning in his head. He said he can even remember the layout of the store. The register was on the left and a big roll of freezer paper on the right. There was a kerosene hand pump in the back room.
Debbie Gould Forrest told of riding her bicycle from her house on Hollister Road, getting a soda at the store and meeting her father there to join him on his walk home from his job at White Pigment.
My memories are much the same. The high point of course for us kids was the candy, soda and ice cream. Often the trip included picking up a loaf of bread or a quart of milk for my mother. In those days Donna Whitman could even buy a pack of Lucky Strikes for her mother. We could also buy a coloring book and crayons if we were desperate. I say that because Mrs. McLaughlin didn’t sell Crayola crayons. Hers were waxy and didn’t color very well and her coloring books weren’t very exciting.
You could buy most anything you might need there, but might want to stay clear of the dried goods, which most often were not fresh.
Mrs. McLaughlin was also a memorable character. I remember her as
a rather large woman with curly white hair. It seems she always wore a dress with an apron over it, thick stockings and heavy black shoes. She was always old to my child’s eyes and just a bit ornery. I can still picture the slanted glass counter full of penny candy – Kits, Mary Janes, waxed lips, bubblegum, jawbreakers, red hots and malted milk balls, to name a few. We children weren’t to lean on the counter or touch it with our dirty fingers. Like Dave Markowski, I can still envision the layout of some of the store (the important parts). Just inside the door on the left was the ice cream/popsicle cooler. My favorites were the ice cream sandwiches, Choco Pops (chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream bars) and occasionally a Fudgsicle or Creamsicle. The soda machine was further in on the right. My favorite was Fanta grape. Sometimes I chose orange soda or root beer.
Mrs. McLaughlin didn’t miss a beat or a spoken word as we chattered while picking out our purchases of the day. I learned that if there was something I might not want my parents to find out about,
I might not want to talk about it in Mrs. McLaughlin’s earshot. Case in point: When we had been playing in the Smith Pond brook, which was off limits to my brother and me at the time, Mrs. McLaughlin reported to my mother, Iola McCullough, that she had heard us speaking of it in the store. “Oh no,” my trusting mother replied, “They surely were talk-ing about the little trickling brook behind our house.” Or there was the time our parents found out about the bonfires we were building with our Drew cousins on Smith Pond in the winter. After all, we needed to warm ourselves and roast our hotdogs while we skated. What wonderful times we had over the years!
Mrs. McLaughlin sold the store to
a family at some point and they converted it into a home. I had left Florence before then so had forgotten that piece of history until my mother reminded me. In 1975 or 76 the buildingwasgoingtobesetonfireasa training exercise by the Pittsford Fire Department, but someone set fire to it the night before that was to happen. My husband, children and
I were visiting my parents during that time, and my father and I were awakened by fire trucks. We walked down the hill to see that what had once been the store was on fire. It seems ironic that I was there to see so many memories go up in smoke.
Jan Tower is a graduate of Champlain College. After working as an administrative assistant for many years she is now retired. She has discovered a newfound enjoyment of writing about things near and dear to her heart.