When we were in high school, if we didn’t have any plans, we always had “The Ave” to turn to. “The Ave” was Michigan Avenue in the neighborhood slang, and it’s where everyone hung out or wanted to hang out.
There were stores from 115th to 111th and they all meant an opportunity to be seen. Of course, there were certain stores on “The Ave” that we recall more vividly, chief among them being Gately’s People’s Store.
Gately’s held its premier spot on “The Ave” at 112th and Michigan from the late 1940s well into the 1970s, when they opened a second location in Orland Park. For many of us, old man Gately was the first marketing genius we ever knew. His idea to put sale items in the center aisles of the store struck us as nothing but the best. The addition of floorwalkers was something new but they were right then whenever you or your mom had a question.
Come to think of it, I don’t recall one time that my dad ever took us to Gately’s or, for that matter, down “The Ave.” It was either our mother’s took us shopping on “The Ave” or we went on our own in the evening. If we were lucky, sometimes our older brother or sister would treat us by taking us down “The Ave.”
My sister Tootsie recalls our brother Chester taking her to Gately’s to see the doll display. The display was located downstairs just at the bottom of the stairs in an array of glass cases. She recalls asking Chester to buy her one but he would always reply, “Maybe Santa Claus will bring you one.” But, she told me, she never did have that Christmas where she got her doll.
A good example of the how caring people were back in the day is this story my sister related about when she worked at Roseland Community Hospital as a nurse’s aid. When Tootsie was on her way to work one day, she stopped at Gately’s. Unfortunately, that was when a woman fell down the stairs. Tootsie and a co-worker, a nurse, stopped to assist the woman who had fallen. As they tended to her bleeding injuries, their white uniforms became bloodstained.
Gately’s employees insisted she and her co-worker remove their uniforms, put on robes, and wait for the employees to wash them. The Gately’s employees then called their Roseland Community Hospital supervisor and informed them of the incident and why their employees would be late. THAT is the Gately’s class that we were fortunate to have experienced.
Gordon’s clothing store was also on Michigan Avenue and was about three doors south of 111th Street. Gordon’s was Roseland’s Macy’s. Whenever a woman walked in the door, a saleslady would assist her in finding what she was looking for, and then direct the customer upstairs to the dressing room to try the item on. As the customer came out of the dressing room, the saleswoman would insist that the customer come down the stairs, at which point all the salesladies would Oo! and Ah! and comment on how perfect the item was — in an attempt to guarantee the sale.
Karmel Korn had Roseland’s version of Garrett’s Chicago Mix, which is the one that tourists wait in line for in downtown Chicago. Other eateries included Tony’s Snack Shop, Giovanni’s Pizzeria, Nino’s Pizza and Snack Time, and going back a little, there was the “O” or Olympic Grill. We should also consider the counter service at Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, and Gately’s. There has to be a few I missed, but this list will get you started.
In the ’60s, “The Ave” was the place to see and be seen as you cruised either on foot or in your car or a friend’s car. Gas was extremely affordable by today’s standards, but I recall many times when we would pool our change to afford a couple of gallons of gas for a night of cruising up and down “The Ave,” checking out the girls and hoping some would respond to the guy’s catcalls or the “Hey, look at us!” blare of the car horn.
The music stores and the variety of lessons they offered, or the albums we could listen to before purchasing, were the coolest. Every week, we would head down to “The Ave” to pick up a copy of the Silver Dollar Survey or WCFL Top 40.
At the far end of the shopping portion of “The Ave” was Roseland Plaza, and across the street from the plaza was Panetti’s, a few doors south of the Rose Bowl bowling alley.
After church on Sunday, a big treat for those who attended St. Anthony’s and lived up the hill was heading into Panetti’s for ciopa and Italian roast beef. One of the more memorable items to purchase at Panetti’s was dry corn meal for making polenta. The yellow meal was in a huge barrel with a huge scoop for filling your own brown paper bag. The ciope were about 25 or 30 cents apiece and were only sold on Sunday. Unless!
If you were lucky enough, on Saturday you would go down Kensington Avenue and into the alley to Torino’s Bakery. You would knock on the back door and the baker would open the door. If your timing was right, you would be able to buy fresh-out-of-the-oven ciope and Vienna bread. You would saunter home through the alley sampling the still-warm, melt-in-your-mouth, distinctively textured and flavored ciope. You would glow with the warmth of the ciopa, giving rise to thoughts of how proud your mamma would be because now, her Sunday family meal was complete.