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Remembering all those famous names

It was just a footnote on the local TV news, but for me, it was almost like a ghost from the past.  A group of businessmen in Northern Virginia want to re-launch Gino’s.  If this doesn’t ring a bell, I wouldn’t be surprised.  It was a fast food chain whose heyday was in the 1970s.  There was a Gino’s close to my high school in Falls Church and at least once a week a bunch of us would pile into my worn-out AMC Rambler and head over there for a sandwich and a Coke.  The whole meal probably cost a dollar.  They were around for years, but, in the face of tough competition, closed up shop in the early 1980s.  I don’t know whether a new entrant into the dog-eat-dog market fast food market, particularly one trading on a retro name, has a chance. But the prospect warmed my heart just the same.  

But this little news snippet made me think of all the other names, various businesses, some well known, some not so, that have come and gone in what seems a relatively short period of time.  I am a big aviation fan and remember growing up on the notion that no airline was bigger or better than PanAm.  If you watch an old movie where there is an airport scene, it’s likely that there will be an airplane sporting a Pan American Airways log.  PanAm, alas, went out of business in 1991.  It, along with several other famous airlines, like TWA, once owned by Howard Hughes, Eastern (“the wings of man”) and Alleghany won’t be back.  But to an aviation buff, they’re still great names.
But, perhaps what I remember most are the stores.  There are so many.  There was Western Auto, Hechingers, Montgomery Wards, Bell, and Woolworths.  Woolworths, on top of being the place where my mom took a rather nervous 6-year-old to get my first grade school supplies in 1963, also had a lunch counter where you could get a real meal.  But, time, a competitive market, and an ever changing retail structure forced all of these firms into mergers or bankruptcy.  Their time had come and gone.  But I am not likely to forget them.
Other well known names have receded into history for very much the same reason.  One of my favorites, for obvious reasons, was Kerr Drug.  They’re actually still around, but just in North Carolina.  They left Virginia years ago.  Then there was Dart Drug.  They weren’t around for long, but when they were, they were big.  Of course, there is Drug Fair where my dad used to take the vacuum tubes from our color television for testing.  They also served a great chocolate fudge ice cream cake at their lunch counter.
Grocery stores used to seem to have air of permanence about them.  The same names were around for years, but then it became a more competitive market, and a few famous names faded away.  A&P, one of the most prominent grocery store chains in our region, is long gone.  A&P, which had a long history, stood for the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, a name which hearkened to its 19th century roots, but it’s where my family used to buy everything from Saturday steaks to the odd collection of sandwich makings that went into my school lunches.   
I have long since lost track of the bank names that have come and gone.  My bank account is the same one I opened in 1977, but the bank, thanks to mergers and name changes has had at least six different names.  Most were forgettable. However, two names that were prominent in our region were First and Merchants and most notably First Virginia. First Virginia had several branches in Fredericksburg and the Northern Neck and they went out of their way to be an active part of the community.  They’re gone, but they’re still missed.
I could keep going with this list for quite some time.  There is Stuckeys (the best peanut brittle in the world), Roy Rogers, Hot Shoppes (where I had my first job), Red Barn, and in Richmond, Thalhimers and Miller and Rhoades.  Just to name a few.  But they’re gone and they won’t be back.  And I guess that’s as it should be.  That’s just what happens in a dynamic economy.  But, just the same, if one of those Gino’s franchises actually opens, I might just cut out of work early one day, and head over there for a sandwich and a coke.  Just like it was 1975 all over again.
You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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