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New England Remembered photo7Arlington, MA, Memories from the 1960s and 1970s
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By Eric H.

Once known as the nondescript, working-class town between historic Lexington and eclectic Cambridge, MA, Arlington consisted of big hills, pizza places, banks, hair salons and no liquor stores.

Although the hills remain and there are still no signs of liquor stores, Arlington has, over the past several years, transformed into a suburban Boston darling. Specialty

shops and restaurants of virtually every ethnicity have sprung up in a town saturated with intense-looking professionals driving cars that cost the same as homes in parts of Upstate New York. Arlington almost makes Lexington now look like Mayberry RFD in comparison.

Many of the great working class people of this town are now gone and in are people who make big money -- able to spend more than $450K on a basic, move-in condition Cape-style house (my folks paid 28K for a huge Arlington home back in 1967!). Perhaps Arlington's location, six miles away from Boston and with some spectacular views of the city, has become a real estate marketing angle.

Before Starbuck's and a legion of high-caliber stores and restaurants hit Arlington, there was a gentler feel to the town with more down-to-earth, relaxed places to shop and eat. Most establishments had a unique, local flavor, perfectly tailored for the middle-class who lovingly embraced their town. Many fond memories abound, including:

Helen's Bakery -The aromas that came out of this old-fashioned bakery are forever remembered. Nice, old ladies selling comfort food that made us happy -- before we knew it was bad for you. We're still wondering who Helen was, though. I think they were all Helens -- that being a nice, friendly name. The group of Helen's always gave us free samples, fresh out of the kitchen.

Charlie's Donuts - The best donuts, period. Along with Linda's Donuts in Belmont, Charlie's (although not always with friendly help, however) was a wonderful Sunday morning, small-town tradition. We're still wondering who Charlie was, though.

Shattuck's Hardware - Still a fine hardware store in its second location on Mill St., Shattuck's original downtown store was a trip back in time. Old wooden floors sprinkled with sawdust, a big head counter, barely effective fans, heavy smoking employees and the appealing smell of poisonous chemicals within what seemed like 15 square feet make for some very fond memories.

The Front Porch - Short-lived downtown ice cream shop owned by a guy who look like he was straight out of Haight Ashbury. The place smelled like a barn. We suspect they were harboring cows in the back kitchen.

Grant's - The only place in town to buy malted milk balls, corduroy pants and a lunchbox. Sort of like a small Walmart, but with dirty, cracked floors.

Monument Market - Not a great market by any means. Just a great memory. The frustration of not finding what you wanted today has an undeniably peculiar charm.

Zwicker's - Proof that a small, indepedently-owned sporting goods shop could cover the bases as well as the chain stores. I shall forever remember my Boston Bruins cardigan sweater from when I was eight-years-old.

Chicken Delight - Today, Chicken Delight would be a stupid gimmick, just like Kentucky Fried Chicken. As a child, it was a cultural experience seeing the cartoon chicken icon and the dopey hired help in identical uniforms. It was a great introduction to savory, but deadly fried chicken.

Angelo's - No one made better traditional Italian food than Angelo's. No one can even come close, to date. That wrap around dining room with dim lighting and white stucco was a classic. Thirty years later, I can still taste that fresh, cheesy pizza, never, unfortunately, to be duplicated.

Avenue Drug - We miss the locally owned drug stores like Avenue Drug. Jack Oster was a pro unlike the overworked, bleary-eyed, personality-void pharmacy trainees that many times work for the chain drug stores.

Hoffman News - Tremendous variety store supplying us with all the vital childhood needs: Smarties, Necco wafers, baseball cards and Mad Magazines. Mrs. Mooney was an exceedingly nice women who called us "honey" all the time.

Gordon's Furniture - Holds the world record for fewest people present in a large building.

Luigi's - Started out offering the best subs in town -- great sesame seed rolls, quality food and ample portions. The air conditioning in the summer goes down as one of the most effective cooling systems ever known. When Luigi's expanded, its quality slipped greatly. Its initial quality deserves a place in the sub hall of fame.

Melrose Spa - Why aren't there variety stores like this anymore? Terrific inventory, fun staff, excellent deli and a personable touch. Today's variety stores are so bland and generic. Melrose Spa shoud have franchised and introduced the world to how effective a variety store could be.

Related articles:

Arlington Massachusetts' restaurant renaissance

Arlington then and now



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