Our Town: John’s Variety represents Main St.

A suburban town consists of homes and a main street. The homes have families and main street has stores. If there is no main street to go to then families stay hidden away in their homes and tend to become isolated and even distrustful of their neighbors. This is what has happened in most suburban towns in America.  

But when the  main street is alive and thriving, families walk there, buy things and generally hang out and chat.  This dynamic has been labeled ‘the third place’ or that place away from both home and work. 

In Williston Park we still have our main street which is that lovely strip of stores on Hillside between Willis Avenue and the railroad tracks. We have our Hildebrandt’s, Aroma Nails, Frantoni’s, Framing Mantis, Harry’s Deli, Pyramid Jewelers and the Village Florist.   This is our main street and we are lucky to have it. But it is by no means a given that these stores  survive. And here is why.

Recently one of my young patients asked me why I didn’t have a little basketball hoop and a ball so we could play in the office. Right away I said “Okay, I will go down to Dick’s Sporting Goods Store and buy one.” 

He then said to me “Why don’t you just go to John’s Variety and get one there?” I am like all of you. We are so enthralled by the television ads of the big box stores that we act like lemmings and drive down to the mall to shop there. This habit is systematically destroying every main street in America.  

The man who described this problem best was James Howard Kunstler, author of the classic Geography of Nowhere and the man I interviewed a few weeks ago for this very column. He explained that in nearly every community in the U.S. the insidious effect of corporate chains tends to slowly drain each town of money because the corporation is set up to pull money out of towns and allow corporate stockholders to gain the profit. Putting aside the ugliness of chain stores  they indeed pull money out to local towns and eventually this impoverishes the towns that they exploit. 

Corporations  bound to do one thing only, and that is to earn profit for the stock holders.  This is quite different from the local storekeeper who tends to live in the community they work in and to therefore keep the money local. To love the town and to try to beautify it.  

This long-winded introduction takes us to the matter at hand which is to visit John’s Variety Store at 81 Hillside Ave. (across from Hildebrandt’s). This little 5 & 10 store is one of the very few left on Long Island and are being replaced by Toys”R”Us, Walmart, and Target. John’s Variety versus the Big Box Stores is the embodiment of the phrase  “Wall Street versus Main Street”. 

I have known owner John Robinson and his pretty wife Angela for many years. They have followed my career and I have watched as he moved from being manager of Big ‘D’ to owning his own place. John is an affable and hardworking man and as he gave me the tour of the store I was taken back to my childhood. 

There were the whiffle balls, Spaldings , Play Doh, Monopoly board games, balloons, bobo dolls, street chalk, hoola hoops, Frisbees and Crayola crayons of my youth. He had aisles for stationary, school supplies, kitchen items, batteries, brooms, sewing notions and even clothes pins! 

John told me his philosophy is to have merchandise that kids love and that mothers approve of.  He said that about 40 percent of the customers are kids, 30 percent mothers and 30 percent are grandparents smart enough to spoil their grandkids. 

Behind the counter are adorable looking counter girls like the two you see in the photo. 

John gave me a Spalding and I told him this was the ball that launched my addiction to sports. I would spend hours throwing the Spalding against the front stoop and keep track of all the balls and strikes. My mother would watch me from the window as she did the dishes and wonder how in the world did she produce such an obsessive child. 

I consider this column to be the most important to date because it describes what main street is and how it is threatened.   

John’s Variety is an essential part of our town and it deserves our patronage. So next time you need something like kid’s stuff or kitchen stuff, or a battery or a light bulb take a walk down town. Do not get in your car and drive to the mall.   Walking is good exercise. On the way you will meet some neighbors and burn some calories. If you believe you are a good American shop locally. If you want to become a social activist, shop locally.  This store is asking us all a question which is “Wall Street versus Main Street?” So what’s  your answer?

About the author

Dr Tom Ferraro

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