As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the Fulton Library is collecting memories of the Dizzy Block, a section of our downtown where people once congregated to shop and socialize. We’re hoping to get enough stories to publish a book about the Dizzy Block’s popularity. We’ll start with the early 1900s, when horse-drawn carriages brought farm families into Fulton to stock up on supplies. We’ll also cover Fulton in the 1930s, when our city’s industries remained strong despite a countrywide Great Depression. We’ll even cover the late-1960s, when urban renewal changed the look, and many say the feel of our unique downtown.
For me, a baby boomer born in the mid-1950s, the Dizzy Block was a place to spend the few dollars I’d earned topping onions on my uncles’ farms or from tips I made on my Herald-American paper route. Maybe it was downstairs to the Montgomery Ward sports section or over to Woolworth’s for just about anything I thought I needed. (That store was the Wal-Mart of my youth.) I may have had serious purchases to make, like new pencils for school or food for my goldfish, but I always made sure to save a few coins for a stop at Foster’s.
Luckily, the library already has some stories about how special Foster’s was for many Fultonians. In 2014, when the library’s Memoir Project was gathering recollections about successful Fulton businesses, I was hoping we could track down some about the original Foster’s, a tiny establishment that sold everything from magazines to hunting equipment. Best of all, they served great ice cream.
It wasn’t just the hot fudge sundaes or milkshakes I wanted to remember about Foster’s. It was also the feel of walking in that store, which in my memory seemed no bigger than an extra-wide hallway. I couldn’t put into words what I was trying to recall, but luckily the library tracked down two people who could tell us exactly what being in Foster’s was like.
I’m talking about Will and Jim Chapman, whose father, William J. Chapman, ran Foster’s for many years. Their father has passed on now, but since the Chapman brothers spent much of their youth working and “hanging out” at “The Store,” as they called it, they agreed to pull together their memories of that establishment, including how they managed to offer customers so much in such a small space. Here are Will and Jim’s memories, which take us back to Foster’s in the 1960s:
“We can remember every inch of the first store at 122 Cayuga Street. (Foster’s moved to the opposite side of Cayuga after urban renewal.) As you entered the store, the comic book rack was to the left of the door. Behind the comics were magazine racks, an ice machine and then the counter and cash register on the right. Behind it was the ice cream freezer, where the cones were made and dispensed. Next was the long counter on the right – we forget how many stools exactly, but are sure it sat 25 or so. Behind that counter was the soda fountain equipment, starting with the Coke machine, then ice cream freezers with various syrups over the freezer doors.
“We would make soft drinks from syrup and charged water. Cherry was the biggest seller, but others preferred vanilla. It would be interesting to know how many Cokes and cherry Cokes got poured in those years. Doctors sent their patients in to get pure Coke syrup to calm a bad stomach. Then came the Pepsi machine, and about halfway down the counter was the industrial-sized Bunn coffee machine, with a minimum of two urns working at all times. As with the Cokes, we wonder how many cups of coffee were served.
“Adjacent to the coffee machine was the hot dog steamer, with the lemonade or orange drink dispenser on the counter. Across from that, the toaster and then the same ice cream freezer and fountain mixes on the far end. At the end of each of the fountain mixes was a container of Nestlé hot fudge. The hot butterscotch and hot marshmallow would be located on the far end.
“Just after the magazine and newspaper rack (We can still hear Dad saying to some lingerer at the magazine rack, ‘If you want to read, the library is on First Street!’), on the left was the cigar rack, followed by a candy rack, then a register and display cases filled with pipes, Zippo lighters, smoking paraphernalia and gift items, followed by another display case with sporting goods. Behind the cigar rack and along the wall were cherry storage cabinets that stored extra cigarettes and cigars.
“Behind the display cases on pegboard walls were sporting goods. This is before the big box stores put the little sporting goods retailers out of business. Shakespeare fishing rods, reels, Wilson golf clubs, golf balls, bats, balls, ball gloves and even BB guns, 22 rifles or shotguns could be bought at Foster’s. At this register, many a hunting and fishing license was issued…”
If you’re like me, reading those memories by the Chapman brothers felt like I was walking through Foster’s. Thanks to Will and Jim Chapman, a favorite part of the Dizzy Block and of Fulton’s proud past is forever preserved.