Downtown Center Street is enjoying a superb revitalization despite the delay of the anticipated GreenWay Commons condo project. Unlike many communities that have seen business heading to plazas and malls, Southington’s road to recovery from the 1970s and 1980s has been the result of providing what consumers love the most - places to eat and drink.
Our town has an abundance of good establishments and on any weekend evening, Center Street and adjacent parking lots are filled and people are enjoying themselves at outside tables or comfortable dining indoors. Bars and a new craft beer brewery are enjoying a burst of business thanks to smart investors who apparently believe in a solid and profitable future downtown.
There was a brief moment in time when neon lights from several bars were the only illumination for Center Street. The closing of familiar stores and the absence of good restaurants made Queen Street the logical choice to shop, eat and be merry. Presently, more than 60 food establishments in a two-mile stretch make Queen Street one of the most congested retail highways in the state.
Several years ago one of my favorite columns gave tribute to the glory days of downtown’s most popular decade, the 1950s.
Like most small American towns during the 1950s, Southington was providing its citizens a quaint, comfortable and cozy lifestyle. People worked hard all week, gathered with family on weekends and basically enjoyed the benefits of their work by shopping downtown or uptown depending on where you lived.
The 1950s had produced the downtown district into a mecca of small retail shops and businesses owned by numerous local families. Shopping downtown meant seeing friends, window gazing or sitting on a town green bench on a lazy summer evening.
The stores were bustling. Parking meters lined the sidewalk. During the holidays, Christmas lights were strung across Center Street and the cop on the beat traced his footsteps from Liberty to North Main streets. Sales were bountiful and sidewalks crowded on a Friday night. The weekday rhythm of the lower street factories quieted for the restful weekend.
The variety of goods and services were ample. Prices were fair. Employees friendly. Business owners took pride in showcasing their products especially in their windows. Sweeping their front sidewalk was a sign of pride. In spite of talk that Queen Street would soon be a box store jungle; the 1950s was a good decade for America and for Southington. The 1950s and the years that followed set the stage for Southington to retail its New England heritage and its “Microcosm of America” legacy forwarded during World War II by the U.S. War Department that showcased the town.
The businesses that provided the glory for Center Street included Riccio’s, the Popular Restaurant, Baker Shoes, Young Folks, Winston Shoes, Raphael’s, Serafino Pharmacy, Gladchuck’s TV, Southington Printing, Brenner’s Furniture, Val DePaolo’s, Wallace Jewelers, Levy’s, Tony’s Cash and Carry, Hutton’s, Western Auto, Marion’s Curtain Shop, Castaldi’s, Guterch’s, Oxley Drug, Center Pharmacy, Lou’s Package Store, Cushing Company Insurance, Richard Elliott’s Sons, Morelli’s Market, Height Buick, Sanitary Laundry, Southington Bank and Trust, Colonial Theater, Bink’s, Simone Bros., Sal’s Variety, Southington Hardware, Peck, Stowe and Wilcox, W.T. Grant, Kay Furniture, Towne Cleaners and Monty’s Diner.
Individual business owner names were well known such as Art Johnson at Western Auto, Bill Zilly at Oxley, Jim and Dick Wallace, Vito and Ralph Riccio, Horace Secondo, Richard Hutton, Tony Petruzelli, Tony Piteo, George Gladchuck, Henry Brenner, Israel Levy, Joe Salzillo, Joe Morelli, Paul Serafino, Will Kisser, Boyd Height, Val and Margaret DePaolo, Jim Kennedy and others. Names that were so familiar with residents and shoppers.
The 1950s was a good decade for Southington. The high school athletic teams were winning; church attendance was overflowing, crime was non-existent, Sundays were quiet, people drank socially, drugs were for headaches and colds, taxes were not discussed, gas was cheap, music was sentimental, parades well attended, yards well manicured, cars were painted in two colors, newspapers featured neighborhood columns, political bickering was minimal, policemen walked the streets, residents swept their sidewalks, Queen and West streets had sheep, cows and horses, but most of all, Southingtonites bragged about their downtown district.
Center Street lives on.