Exit on Main Street

After college, in the mid-seventies, I taught Elementary school art three days a week. The other two days I worked at a little store named Exit on Main Street. I’ve made reference to the shop in this post- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Located on Main Street, Newark Delaware, the store derived its name from the Rolling Stones Album Exile on Main Street.

In earlier years the house was occupied by a college friends great grandmother.  Later it became a Main Street institution store named The Card Shop. All my greeting card purchases were made there. When The Card Shop closed friends Walt and Jeannie rented the space to open their store.

It was a narrow antiquated two-story home.  Timeworn wooden floors, door knobs of antique faceted glass, ceilings high with deep crown molding. The front two rooms, formerly living and dining room, housed the shop.  An ancient kitchen was the in back, the sink generally overflowing with dirty dishes.  Walt and Jeannie lived above the store. A staircase in the kitchen led to three tiny bedrooms and a wee ancient bathroom.

Walt’s nickname was Peanuts.  He and Jeannie had been a couple since she was in High School.  He was several years her senior.  Both were very amiable, really mellow, and generally quite stoned.

I remember getting a glass of water from the kitchen sink when Walt casually invited me to “fall into an affair.” Rather than being offended or considering it sexual harassment, I chalked it up to his being high. It was the early 70’s.  If anyone was talking about inappropriate work place behavior I sure hadn’t heard it.

Exit on Main Street sold a mash up of house plants, macrame plant holders, large baskets, copper pots banged out in India. The shop was perfumed by incense, which we marketed along with incense burners. It was truly quintessential 1970s in its decor and product line. I learned the names, care and feeding of so many types of flora.  I became informed about mealy bug, spider mites, and how easily a cactus flops and dies when over watered.

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My job involved watering plants, misting those that required it, picking off dead leaves, helping customers most of whom were college age.  Also hippies, also often stoned.

No credit cards changed hands.  Odd to remember a time when people paid in cash.  The cash register was a big brass antique that chimed loudly when you hit the Sale button.  I’d worked a cash register at National 5 and 10 when I was in college.  I had been hopeless at making change.  I clearly remember the dimestore manager teaching me to count back,  one penny/nickel/dime/quarter at a time.  Happily by the time I landed at Exit on Main Street I had change making skill set down.

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Each sale was written down on a small green paged pad with carbon paper underneath the top sheet, creating a duplicate for the shopper.  The originals were slid onto a spike and added up at the end of the day.  I’m sure their numbers were better on days when the owners worked the shop.

People Magazine had just begun being published.  During the quiet times I’d browse People, catching up on all the celebrities. I recently subscribed to People again.  I can whip through my weekly magazine in about a minute and a half.  I have no idea who most of today’s nubile stars are.  I won’t renew because getting People delivered to the door has totally ruined standing in grocery store check out lines and waiting in Doctor’s offices.

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I can clearly recall buying the first issue at Newark Newstand, then crossing the road to work.

For lunch I would wander a few doors down, get a wax paper wrapped bagel with cream cheese and sprouts, dropped into a small brown paper bag. Does anyone eat sprouts these days?  In the seventies they were ubiquitous.

I wore bell bottom jeans, clogs or earth shoes, a peace sign necklace and mood rings. I wasn’t really a hippy, but on Tuesdays and Fridays I attempted to look like one.

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Walt and Jeannie were forced to move shop when the owners of that splendid vintage building made a deal with a fast food chain, sold it and it was torn down.  Many of Newark’s original buildings went the way of the wrecking ball.  But some remain.  National Five and Ten is a fixture.  It’s mostly about University of Delaware T-shirts and memorabilia these days.  When I worked there during college it was a strange smelling low-end Department Store.  Flash bulb moment! I suddenly recalled an incident while working at National Five and Ten that would definitely be termed sexual harrasment today.  More on National Five and Ten in a future post.

Since writing this I got an email from college buddy Eleanor.  She included a photo of a toothbrush holder bought at Exit on Main Street.  She maintains she just can’t let it go. Thanks Eleanor!