The Boys from Albany – Not just names on the Vietnam Wall

There are 37 names on the Vietnam Wall from Albany, NY.

USA Capt. Thomas J. Bergin, 30, 3/14/64
USAF Maj. Theodore R. Loeschner, Jr., 37, 4/24/65
USMC Pfc. Hans Jorg Rudolph Lorenz, 21, 4/26/66
USA Spec 4 Keith Knott, 19, 5/9/66
USA Pfc. Robert G. Burrell, 19, 8/2/66
USA Pfc. Arthur J. McNally, 23, 10/17/66
USMC Lance Corp. William F. Ditoro, 22, 1/7/67
USA Spec 4 Richard J. Mosley, 20, 1/27/67
USA Spec 4 Donald J. Sheehy, 20, 5/5/67
USMC Lance Cpl. Rich Rockenstyre, 18, 8/31/67
USMC Capt. William M. Van Antwerp, Jr. 30, 9/16/67
USA Pfc. Frank Maleca, 20, 10/13/67
USA Spec 4 Ralph J. DiPace, 20, 10/21/67
USA Spec 4 Gerald H. Slingerland, 10/26/67 (a day after his 19th birthday)
USA Spec. 4 Robert J. Winters, 22, 11/9/67
USA Spec. 4, Edward A. Finlay, 19, 12/6/67
USA Corp. Willam M. Seabast, 22, 1/31/68
USMC GY Sgt. Anthony N. Valente, 38, 2/27/68
USMC Cpl. Bertram A. Deso, 20, 3/1/68
USMC Lance Cpl. Michael G. DeMarco, 21, 4/11/68
USMC Corp. John J. Vennard, 34, 4/17/68
USA Staff Sgt, Robert J. Smith, 22, 4/18/68
USMC Pfc John C. Fiffe, 18, 5/8/68
USN, Fireman, Joseph S. Ott, 20, 7/14/68
USMC Pfc. Kevin J. McArdle, 18, 8/18/68
USMC Maj. Harold S. Lonergan, 39, 2/23/69
USA Spec 5 Christopher Brow, 23, 2/26/69
USMC Lance Cpl. Richard J. Leahy, 22, 3/6/69
USMC Pfc. 1st class, Clifford G. LaBombard, 19, 4/15/69
USA Spec 4 Charles Chandler, 20, 4/18/69
USMC Pfc. John W Gladney, 19, 7/4/69
USA, Spec 4, Thomas K. Ryan, 18, 8/2/69
USA 1st Lt. Stanley A. Brown, 23, 11/1/69
USA Spec 4 Lewis C. Ouellette, 19, 4/13/70
USA Corp. Samuel W. Williams, 21, 7/26/70
USA Staff Sgt. Daniel E. Nye, 25, 11/28/71
USN Lt. Ralph P. Dupont, Jr., 24, 5/16/72
USMC Lance Cpl. Ashton N. Loney, 5/15/75

They came from all neighborhoods – Pine Hills, Arbor Hill, North Albany, West Hill,  New Scotland and the South End. They lived on  Myrtle Ave, Livingston Ave.,  Clinton Ave., Second Ave., Emmett St., Madison Ave.,  First St., Washington Ave., Lark  Dr., Magnolia Terrace, Hunter Ave.,  So. Main Ave. and Ontario St.

A very small number were college graduates.  Most had just completed high school when they joined the service – they were graduates of Albany High, Philip Schuyler, Milne, Cardinal McCloskey, and VI.

Most were impossibly young… 18, 19, 20. (There is an old Bellamy Boys lyric, “..they sent him off to Vietnam on his senior trip”.)

Some enlisted, some were drafted and, and in the time honored Albany tradition, several had brushes with the law and Albany’s justice system offered them the “choice” – jail or the Army.

Their deaths span 11 years.  The first to be killed was an Army captain “observer” who died in 1964.  One was an MP  who died defending the US Embassy during the Tet offensive of 1968.  Most died  in the harsh and unforgiving provinces of Vietnam during the War’s brutal years of 1967 -1969. One was a medic who went borrowed a gun and went into save other men; he and the men he tried to save died on that mission. The last one to die  was a Marine killed  in the Mayaguez “Incident” by the  Khmer Rouge in 1975. His body was never recovered.   He was not even a US citizen (he was from Trinidad, but his mom lived on Lark Drive).  His name, as well as the others killed in the “Incident”, are the last names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

An astonishing number died within their first 4 months in Vietnam. Johnny Gladney, who was a year ahead of me in Jr. High and High School,  was killed after being in Vietnam less than a month – on the 4th of July.

During  the 10 months of my junior year in high school, 15 boys died.  This is Smalbany, so you always knew the boy, or you knew his sisters/brothers  or  his cousins, or a friend of a friend.

The City moved on, but underneath, people felt a sadness and then  they went numb – just like the rest of the country. The killing seemed inexorable.  There was no way to stop it – it went on and on and on.

They are more than names.. each one has a story.  One was a long distance runner who could fly like the wind.  One was an avid reader; he won a Boy’s Club prize for  reading the most books when he was  11. Another was fascinated by flying, so he became a helicopter pilot. Some were quiet and reserved, some were outgoing and  boisterous.

8  boys were from the same class in Albany High and all members of the same Hi-Y club,  They all enlisted  in the Marine Corps.  The bond between 2 of the boys was so strong, that after the death of one, the other, sensing his own imminent death, begged to be buried next to his buddy when his time came.  They rest together in St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery – one Catholic and one Protestant.  A third boy from that same group died a year later.

Here are pictures of some of the boys/men.

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Albany Public Market and Westgate Plaza: An Immigrant Success Story

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Giuseppi Nigro -age 24 – and wife immigrated to America in 1904. They hit the ground running. In 1905, the Nigro family opened a little grocery store at 114 Green Street. Six years later, it moved “uptown,” to a space on the city’s outskirts, at 652 Central Avenue. J. Nigro & Son watched their quiet neighborhood grow into a busy hive of commerce, and grew with it.

2In 1929, Nigro’s became Albany’s first WGY Food Market, also incidentally purchasing the first cash register from Henry Kass.

In 1933, Nigro bought the next door property (formerly home to a diner) and incorporated as the Albany Public Market (650-652 Central Avenue). (That building still stands, now Aaron’s Rentals.)

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6Nigro had grander visions for his successful little supermarket, and in 1947 he broke ground for an ambitious new Albany Public Market at 711 Central Avenue.

The gigantic new airplane-hangar-sized store opened (October 26, 1948) with a barrage of local excitement. The superlatives weren’t mere hyperbole – it really was the “largest food department store in the world.” Boasting an unheard-of 22,000 square feet of floor space, a warehouse that could hold 70 freight carloads of food, its own bakery, and a three-acre parking lot capable of holding 1,000 cars, the complex was an immediate sensation. (Then-VP Frank Nigro expanded on the hangar idea, claiming the building – twice the size of Albany Airport’s largest hangar – would house two B-29 bombers with jet fighter escort.)

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9130947012_aa38bf8af5_bA decade later, Albany Public Market would become the cornerstone business at the new (Nigro-owned) Westgate Shopping Center, with a store twice the size of the previous location.

Nigro coined the word “Westgate,”after reading a newspaper article about how Central Avenue (the Albany Schenectady Turnpike) was gateway to the West. Westgate Plaza was on the leading edge of mall shopping; despite it being entirely within city limits, it was, as a 1957 article said, “on the outer fringes of Albany.” Once again, it properly claimed the title of largest food store in the United States. The 711 Central Avenue hangar became King’s Department Store (and later on, OTB Teletheater/Nick’s Sneaky Pete’s, before it was razed to make way for Shop Rite).

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Albany Public Market expanded over the next two decades, becoming the first largesupermarket chain in all of upstate New York. Constant advertising, smart publicity and clever promotions kept both Albany Public Market and Westgate Plaza highly visible to the shopping public. Every Albanian of a certain age remembers one stunt or another, be it Santa landing in a helicopter or a DJ broadcasting from atop the Westgate sign.

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Albany Public Market was purchased by Weis Markets of Sunbury, PA in 1967, retaining the Nigros as directors and managers.

Eventually, the Nigros began concentrating their energies into lucrative real estate and banking operations. Best I can tell, Albany Public Markets ceased to be sometime around 1984-5.

From Al. Quaglieri’s Albany blog, Doc Circe Died for OUr Sins

Albany’s Potato Chip Empire

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We were looking at pictures of Albany’s waterfront in the 1930s and saw a giant neon 20’ sign, “Blue Ribbon Potato Chips.” Whoa! We never heard of it and had to know more. What we found was a potato chip empire that provided jobs to thousands in the area for almost 50 years, and when that ended the company re-invented itself and was the fish and chip king of Albany for 20 years.

By the late 1890s potato chips (then known as “Saratoga Chips” where they were invented- Saratoga Springs) were all the rage; they were served in restaurants throughout the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. By 1890 recipes appeared in cookbooks and women’s magazines. They were introduced to America at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. But, as some of you may know, making potato chips is labor intensive and time consuming, what with the peeling and delicate slicing and precise frying. (In the current vernacular, a total PITA for busy housewives.)

Hmmmm….. But what if you could buy these yummy treats, pre-made in markets and grocery stores?

Enter the Walter brothers, Alexander and Alfred. One summer in Fairhaven, VT., they played mad scientists, trying to produce the perfect potato chip. They were so successful they started selling the chips in a shed in back of the Fairhaven train station. Within a year or so they decided to expand, looked over the border into New York State and saw Albany.

In 1902 the brothers opened the Blue Ribbon* Potato Chip factory at 4 Liberty St; one the first in the country. It was a success. The factory had an endless source of potatoes from surrounding farms and a large supply of labor (mostly women) who lived in the South End in the early 1900s. Because Albany was a railroad hub they could ship all over the Northeast. Within several years, the company re-located to a larger home at 51 -53 Liberty St.

But the potato chip market was limited. Chips were still a relatively expensive food; their production was labor intensive, despite some technology improvements. “Store bought” potato chips were a luxury because of their price, reserved by working people for special occasions. Why pay 50 cents for a pound of potato chips when you could buy 3 lbs. of lamb tongue for 25 cents?

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3So, In 1925 the company (now only Alexander, since older brother Alfred passed away in 1922) made a bold move. It re-located to 13 South Lansing St., opening the first factory in the world devoted exclusively to potato chip manufacture. It had all the new equipment that speeded up the processes of potato chip production, from peeling to slicing to frying and packaging. The Blue Ribbon Chip brand thrived, in part because production costs were lower and more people could afford the product. Potato chips; no longer just for the rich!

 

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attachmentBut by the mid-1930s times were tough. The initial years of the Depression saw an increase in sales. In 1946, Richard, son of Alexander said the company pioneered triple sealed, waxed wrapped packaging. “People thought we were crazy, but it was on this packaging that our volumes of sales was built.” Still new snack foods like Twinkies were created; there was growing competition in the potato chip market as new companies emerged. You can find AA Walter Co. ads in from the local Times Union newspaper in which they are offering for sale thousands (yes, as much as 6,000) of pounds of potatoes they weren’t converting to chips. The company tried diversification; around 1935 it introduced “Krinx” a candied popcorn, but it was hard to compete with Cracker Jack…WITH peanuts AND a prize.

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Still in the late 1930s the country started to emerge from the Depression and sales rebounded. Then came World War II. The Walter Co. secured government contracts to produce potato chips for the troops and to stock cafeterias and canteens in manufacturing plants across the country. The factory ran two and sometimes three shifts a day. At one point, it produced 7 million pounds of Blue Ribbon Potato Chips in 9 months. It made dehydrated potatoes for K-Rations.

In 1948 the company moved out of the city and into a new and completely modern plant in Colonie on Railroad Ave., but it was sold the following year.

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12In 1950, Richard and his mother incorporated another business called Walter Foods. It was primarily known for its fried fish (which, BTW, was awesome); there was also a catering business. The first location on Central Ave. grew to 3, with another on the corner of Hudson and Lark and a third on Madison Ave. between West Lawrence and S. Allen. Throughout the 1950s it dominated the market in Albany. In 1954 it started to produce potato chips, using the original Walter brothers’ recipe and made the old-fashioned way, by hand (awesome!). But slowly the business contracted (we think given the competition of McDonald’s and Burger King) and the last location on Central Ave., closed in the early 1970s.

The end of an era.

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*Alexander was the breeder of award-winning pedigreed dogs; hence the name “Blue Ribbon” – the very best.

If you are interested in the history of the potato chip industry, please see either TogaChipGuy.com or https://www.facebook.com/TogaChipGuy

How Penn Central Ruined Everything, Railwise (or why we don’t have a railroad station in Albany)

8Those who remember Albany’s Union Station as a glorious destination in the ’50s and ’60s most likely benefit from the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. A 1969 column in the Knickerbocker News acknowledged that “In its dying days, Albany’s Union Station was an odiferous and dingy cavern, but still, if you looked hard, you could see traces of the station’s earlier grandeur.” If you grew up later than the ’70s, you may not be able to understand just how dingy cities were back then – between coal ash, diesel fumes, and the horrendous exhaust that came out of each and every automobile, every structure was covered in soot. Likely the exterior of Union Station had never been cleaned, and by some accounts the same could be said of the inside.

We hesitate to even bring this up because it excites passions even today, nearly 50 years after passenger railroads left Albany proper. But it’s worth looking at what caused Union Stations in Albany and Schenectady to be left behind, two “modern” new stations to be built in Rensselaer and Colonie, and the general collapse of passenger rail at about the same time.

For starters, understand that in the 1960s, passenger rail was deeply unprofitable, under assault from air travel, private automobiles, and truck freight on superhighways. The Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central had discussed merging as early as 1957, when things weren’t quite so dire. The Pennsylvania started focusing more on real estate deals than on railroading, resulting in the destruction of its landmark Penn Station in New York City. When merger talks began again, they were said to be more about creating more borrowing power for financing other ventures than about consolidating an efficient business. The merger was federally approved in 1965, but took until early 1968 before the US Supreme Court finally allowed it. The merger apparently was never well-planned; the condition that all existing workers continue in employment ensured no efficiency would be gained, and a struggling economy, growing inflation and bad management of the freight business alienated customers. By 1970, the company would be bankrupt, and its collapse would lead to the federal creation of Conrail and Amtrak.

 

13As early as 1950, there were plans to run an interstate highway along the Hudson River around Albany. Planned routes varied, but they kept coming back to plans that would eliminate most of the rail along the river. This would be difficult to do so long as the main rail crossing was the Maiden Lane Bridge – the highway would have to go over or under the tracks that connected the bridge to Union Station, causing some definite planning difficulties and leading state transportation officials to favor a plan that would simply eliminate that bridge.

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As we have noted before, the Rensselaer side of the river had a long history of passenger travel, though it could not really be said that it had anything approximating a station in 1968. Albany was home not only to the New York Central / Penn Central passenger line, but also to the Delaware and Hudson line that ran through Watervliet and Mechanicville to Montreal. With the loss of the Maiden Lane bridge, both railroads had the excuse and reason to get out of an outdated, expensive-to-maintain station facility at Albany; the Schenectady station would also be closed. But, if the Maiden Lane Bridge had to go, trains still had to be able to cross the river, meaning the Livingston Avenue Bridge, which had been locked open for a period of years, would be brought back into service. Being single track, this would become a choke point on the system, but at least trains could cross.

14In 1967, the PSC approved a Penn Central proposal to replace the Albany and Schenectady rail palaces with “modern” new stations at Rensselaer, off East Street, and on Karner Road. Look at the accompanying drawing from 1967 and take a guess if that was ever built. Plans were submitted in February 1968 for a Colonie station, the Karner Road Depot, which would consist of a 30 by 50 foot building with a 960 foot platform, and a parking lot 100 by 250 feet. Rensselaer, originally designated as a passenger stop (way different from a station in railroad terms) would have a 65 by 170 foot building and a parking lot 230 by 350 feet. For the D&H, loss of the Maiden Lane bridge forced the Montreal line to bypass the Watervliet and Mechanicville stations, which at that time averaged two passengers per day, and go instead through Schenectady and up to Saratoga Springs. In September 1968, the PSC allowed the D&H to move across the river as well.

It was a good thing they did . . . in the same newspaper that this was announced, there was a photograph of the dismantling of the pedestrian footbridge that was part of the Maiden Lane Bridge. The cutline read, “If grandmother’s house lies over the river you’ll have to use a new route – other than Maiden Lane Bridge from Albany to Rensselaer – to get there on foot. The 1880-vintage footbridge is being dismantled. But pedestrian facilities will be added to the new South Mall Arterial Bridge.” (That’s now the Dunn Memorial Bridge, and while it is possible to cross it on foot, to call the crossing in any way a facility is to stretch the point.)

The Rensselaer station opened sometime in 1968, a box next to a grocery store that served as the region’s rail station until 2002. That Knick News columnist who in early 1969 called Union Station “odiferous” also said that

“In contrast, the Penn Central’s new Albany-Rensselaer station in Rensselaer is – with all due respect to our neighboring city – a rude comedown and a ride to the new station is a dispiriting experience. Situated at the northern edge of Rensselaer, the station is reached after a bumpy ride over narrow streets. It looks more like a small-town depot for short-haul buses than a railroad station and is tucked away in a shallow ravine as if the Penn Central were ashamed at what it had done, as well it might be. Let us hope that the railroad’s new Albany-Schenectady regional station on Karner Road in Colonie has more class.”

Well, one could hope.

On June 27, 1969, on the eve of the opening of the Colonie station, the Schenectady Gazette ran an editorial lamenting but understanding the march of time.

“When you look at the crumbling station you are reminded of the days when freight trains and passenger trains were coming and going night and day through Schenectady … It is understandable that Penn Central wanted to close the Schenectady depot, for, like most railroad stations built half a century or more ago, it is a large mausoleum which no doubt impressed everybody when it was constructed but which is thoroughly impractical for this day and age, costing a mint of money to heat and to keep in satisfactory repair (which is why there are not many people who want to buy it to make use of it as it stands).”

Visit the Hoxsie.org blog for more fascinating stories of Albany.

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When the Batmobile Came to Albany

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September 17th is  International Batman Day. We have no idea what it means.. but it must be a good thing. And it reminded us of the late 1960s when the Batmobile would come to Albany to the Custom Car Shows at the New Scotland Ave. Armory.

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1968  New Scotland Ave. Armory Custom Car Show – courtesy Carl Johnson

The shows were the brainchild of George Barris, king of custom cars for TV and movies, like the Batmobile, the Monkee Mobile and the Munster Coach. The Armory was the mecca for teenage boys from all over the area.. custom cars, a band and Go Go dancers. What’s not to love?

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The Rev. Martin Luther King in Albany NY

Rev. King only visited Albany NY once, in June 1961.  He spoke at the Wilborn Temple on Jay St., which until 5 years before had been a Jewish synagogue, Temple Beth Emeth.

In the wonderful featured picture in this blog post, the Reverend is sitting back while NYS Governor Nelson Rockefeller  (left) and Albany Mayor Erastus Corning (right) appear to compete for his attention.

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Recalling the Grocery Stores of Albany’s Past

The trick of time is that it passes slowly, and changes are incremental, so you can hardly notice it happening. The world of today looks mostly like the world of yesterday to us, and yet there have been a thousand little changes over the years that separate those worlds. When things change all at once, it seems a revolution, but when they change little by little, it just seems the passing of time.

Grocery stores are one example. Sure, 50 years ago, they were selling milk and meats, frozen foods and Cap’n Crunch, just as they are today. And yet everything about them has changed.

Grocery stores in the Capital District used to be numerous, to say the least. The 1870 directory for Albany alone listed 17 wholesale grocers. Retail grocers counted in the hundreds, at a time when Albany’s population was just about 70,000. In 1920, when Albany had 113,000 residents, there were 20 wholesalers and an even greater number of retailers, in every corner of the city.

Every neighborhood had several groceries in those days, and shopping for food was often a daily enterprise. The vast majority of these were small storefronts, usually the lower levels of residential buildings – you can often see reminders of them today, in places that long survived as neighborhood stores, as odd bump-outs on the fronts of brownstones, as enlarged entries and windows at the basement level.

Even when I was growing up in an older suburb in the ’60s and ’70s, they were still numerous. My first real job was working in one of them, one of the last of the high-quality butcher shops in the region, which was also a neighborhood grocery store.

Somewhere around the 1930s the supermarket concept was developed – a neighborhood store, but with more, and run by a central chain. There were A&P stores, and Grand Unions and Mohicans. For a while, there was a chain associated with the area’s seminal radio station, WGY Food Stores. But even as late as 1958, the chains barely had a hold. There was one A&P in Albany, one Albany Public Market, one Grand Union, four Empires, two Central Markets (later to become Price Chopper). Trading Post was the biggest chain in the city, with 5 locations.

The rest of the city’s shopping was done at small neighborhood stores with names like Gimondo, Femia, Sharkey Demaco, Rosenberg, and Tanski. Even the so-called supermarkets were very much part of their neighborhoods in those days, often repurposing previous buildings — such as the Central Markets location on Madison and Swan, which was built on the rather generous stone foundation of the Madison Avenue Second Reformed Church that had burned in 1930.

But with the move of population to the suburbs, the chains started to grow. Competition and demographics, and the willingness of Americans to drive absolutely everywhere rather than walk anywhere, contributed to bigger and bigger centrally-located, chain-owned stores, and the death of these tiny independents.

And the experience of shopping in them changed, too

The stores themselves aren’t the only thing about groceries that have changed. Almost everything else has, too, but in ways that are almost invisible. Everyone probably realizes that plastic grocery bags didn’t even used to exist, and that soda and milk came exclusively in glass bottles, and was all bottled nearby. Burlap has practically disappeared from anything but craft stores, but 40 years ago, potatoes, onions and oranges all came in burlap sacks. Meat was nearly always cut to order, and wrapped in brown butcher paper, tied with string, rather than laid out on a foam tray and stacked in coolers. Even something as simple as a box of cereal isn’t the same as it was four decades ago. The box itself is infinitely thinner for both environmental and economic reasons. The bag that actually holds the cereal used to be a satisfyingly thick, crinkly wax paper that would sort of stay closed; now it’s a thin plastic film that never will. Very little food came in any kind of plastic container at all.

Prices were not on little paper stickers (if those still exist) or posted on the shelves – they were stamped onto the ends of cans and boxes with heavy blue ink using a price stamper – the stockboy (that’s what we were) would spin the numbers on the stamper to the correct price, press it against the ink pad, and then punch the stamper against the top of the can or box. (This is now so archaic that it’s hard to even Google search for it.) When the prices needed to be changed (and in the days of inflation in the 1970s, that was often), the stockboy would clean the price off the can with a rag and nail polish remover so the new (higher) price could be stamped on.

(In the store I worked in, by the way, the markup from wholesale was 40%, much higher than the chains. That might seem outrageous, but that was money that paid local workers, sponsored the store’s Little League team, and built wealth in the community, rather than sending it off to a corporate headquarters in a remote land.)

When you carried your groceries up to the register, there were no scanners. The check-out clerk had to enter each item’s price into the cash register. Unmarked items weren’t usually a problem – the clerk knew the price of most things. Your receipt had prices but only categories that would describe the items, such as “Gr” for grocery, “Pr” for produce, etc.

The most subtle change in grocery stores, as in most stores, is the ambient music. Whereas now you can expect the odd experience of hearing The Clash sing “Lost in the Supermarket” while you are, in fact, lost in the supermarket, real music in retail spaces didn’t happen until the 1980s. For decades before that, there was something called Muzak, and its ilk: light, syrupy string arrangements of almost-identifiable melodies intended to give no offense and to set no pulse to racing. As a customer, it was just there. As an employee, it could make you insane. In the days before the Walkman was invented, I learned to play entire albums in my own head, note for note, so as to drown out the cloying melodies of the Muzak.

Today, the Albany area is, depending on how you count, down to three or four grocery chains with multiple locations (not counting Walmart or Target). Only one of them, Price Chopper, is local. Very few of them are within any of the city limits, catering almost entirely to the suburbanites.

But with the trend toward more and more downtown living, some form of the neighborhood store will have to re-emerge. Personally, I just hope it brings back burlap.

By Carl Johnson from All Over Albany.com

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Labor Day 2017 – the Faces of Albany Labor; We Built This City

If  you want to see more pics, take a deep dive in our Flickr site: AlbanyGroup Archive

 

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