The ‘Avenue’ of 1965
It’s June and a car radio plays the Rolling Stones new hit, (I Can’t No) Satisfaction. Lyndon Johnson is the president and has just authorized the first ground troops in Vietnam. The memory of marches from Montgomery to Selma is still fresh in the minds of many people. And the times, they are changing. Car companies are engineering long, sleek vehicles such as the Lincoln Continental with its suicide doors—a shiny blue one goes down the ‘Avenue’ and all heads turn.
Dayton’s 600 block of Sixth Street, also referred to as the ‘Avenue,’ is alive with people heading to all sorts of places. It’s market day. Shoppers have a choice between Schaub’s Meats, White’s Food Market and Bezold’s at the other end of the block. Butchers wrap up shadow steaks, city chicken and calves liver, waiting on customers who stand three-deep at their counters. Walter, at White’s, bags fresh tomatoes and mangos—otherwise known as green peppers. Men park their cars and head into Walton’s Café or Bauman’s for a beer and to listen to the Cincinnati Reds, hoping that Jim Maloney can pull out a no-hitter that’s gone into extra innings. At noon, there’s nowhere to sit in the Eagle Chili Parlor, owned by Mrs. Christina Christofeld. The rat-a-tat-tat of the shoe repair machine in Mr. Groh’s shop is a constant reminder of the walkability of the ‘Avenue.’
Kids swarm the streets, park their banana seat bikes in front of the 5 Cent to $1.00 and Apparel Shop with a nickel, a quarter, or maybe even a dollar, earned from a paper route. They swing the door wide and trace their fingers along the wooden cabinets to the aquariums at the back of the store. A parakeet or two hang above the tanks filled with gold fish. Hazel stocks flip flops and beach towels for Tacoma, while Mary, her long hair pulled back severely into an eternal bun, is in charge of the cash register. They seem invisible to the kids who try to figure what they can get with their allowance.
The best place on the ‘Avenue’ for someone who likes sweets, though, sits next to Charlie Thiel’s dentist office. Ling’s Bakery with its whitewashed façade bustles with activity. Walking through the glass door into sweet aromas of chocolate long johns, cinnamon twists, and peanut rolls that scream for buying, the horseshoe of cases presents choices. One might select a cinnamon coffee cake for a Sunday morning breakfast after church services. A loaf of white bread might go home for a pickle loaf sandwich for lunch. Johnny or Suzie could be celebrating a birthday and one of the ready-made cakes behind the glass would quickly be decorated with ‘Happy Birthday.’ By three o’clock the cases are nearly empty, and Mr. Ling’s baker’s hat is cocked to one side. He appears to be exhausted, having started his day 13 hours earlier. Something he’s done since he came home from World War II.
In 2015 people throw words around like: buying local, supporting small business. Looking back on a time before most people owned cars in Dayton, and the only choice for a supermarket was the Kroger’s in the 100 block, it’s easy to see how the ‘Avenue’ could thrive. No one conceived of the idea that there might be any other place to shop, to eat, to get shoes repaired, to dry clean clothing, or to order flowers. One short block housed them all. And yet, the challenges of avenues such as Sixth Street in Dayton, is to define commerce differently. Progress, we are making progress.