April 26, 2010
SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. – In the 1940s-1950s, I grew up in this village just northwest of New York City yet a world apart from urbanity. My father was a youngster here in the 1930s. Over the years I have been asked by people raised in much more populated areas how so many ex-Valleyites like myself can have such deep attachment to the community. We do because it was a small, close town, and its businesses and professions were stocked with people we all knew. Everyone was family, including the grouches, the characters, the guiding folk.
In the early 1920s, Spring Valley became the "Hub of Rockland County" because two major state roads had been built, Routes 59 and 45, leading to and from Suffern, Nyack, Pomona and New Jersey. This put the village at a crossroads, and as a result business grew.
Soon, there were hardware stores like K&A, DeBaun, Scharf’s and Call Me Dave. There was the Widmann commercial bakery behind the famous Henry Kulle tire and battery dealer. There was Mellion’s Market, the Plaza Restaurant, Rakow’s, Shapiro’s and Nat Kaplan clothing stores, Burns’ Florist, Stevens’ Florist, the original Spring Valley Theatre, Arvanites’ luncheonette, the Ramapo Trust Co., The Second National Bank, the 5&10, the Briarcraft Smoking Pipe factory where my grandparents, father and mother worked, Consolidated Stamp, Schack’s Glass, Ro-Field Appliances, Brown’s soda shop, Perruna’s and Bartero’s and Cullen restaurants, various barbershops, including Mayor John Balogh’s, and car dealer Driscoll Chevrolet, then located downtown.
Many of these businesses began in the Great Depression, and the fact that they succeeded in the hub of Spring Valley was because they offered valuable services by trusted merchants and others close by for villagers and other Rocklanders. Many business and professional people also lived and toiled above the stores as doctors, dentists and lawyers.
If any of you readers were privileged to grow up in a small community, even you urbanites who lived in neighborhood areas, you can easily sub out the names of the stores and people I’ve mentioned for your own. You get the picture.
These downtown people were dairymen, bakers, lawyers, factory owners, undertakers, grocers, etc., who had such a symbiotic working relationship with each other that they succeeded, In the process, they supported many who could not easily get by. This was America in the tough, a going enterprise.
Today, highway shopping strips and malls have replaced our downtowns, and the closer-knit residential housing is gone, too, in favor of easily anonymous suburban developments and isolated “McMansions” that drive wedges against the opportunity for neighborliness.
In time, with the opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge and the Thruway and Palisades Interstate Parkway, the Rockland suburb grew around Spring Valley and other downtowns, and the old closeness began to disappear as stores were shuttered and the outward population grew so large that it was difficult to link names with the past, with long-time families.
In its age, Spring Valley and Anytown, USA, too, defined people particularly determined to succeed, who sought better lives for their children, who enjoyed the company of friends and neighbors, who reaffirmed and articulated both their gratefulness for a land and village of opportunity and their determination that the children should do even better.
If there can be an American “back to the future,” it might be a return to the downtown.