Where do city kids hang out now?
Since they’re all under strict parent and nanny supervision, I guess at home, or those Kumon homework help places, or maybe some franchised indoor bouncy castle center where they jump around while parents sit in a viewing skybox, critiquing their kids’ bounce form and sipping kale smoothies.
They don’t have what we had: freedom to wander on our own starting at age 9 or so, and a place to go like Baronette’s.
I’d like to post a picture of Baronette’s, or Harvey’s, as we alternately called it. (Its real name was Baronette Card Shoppe, but no one thought of it as a Card Shoppe.) It was on Broadway at 82nd Street, where Barnes and Noble is now.
There are no pictures, not even in the NYC government tax records online. No evidence of this magical place existing, so I guess history is choosing to treat it like it was just a Card Shoppe. That’s not what it was.
It was a small, magical kid land run by a mustachioed grump.
Let’s walk through.
Front register Candy, baby. My go-tos were Chunky (plain, not with raisins), Three Musketeers, Choco-Lite, and the Reggie Bar. You’re a real 70s kid if you ate Reggie Bars, named for Yankees heavy hitter Reggie Jackson. I would’ve preferred a Bucky Dent bar, which could’ve been a white chocolate bar with two half-moon smears of dark chocolate on it. And, of course, a dent in the middle. I should design candy.
Above the front counter hung a row of sample T-shirts you could have custom-made. You could get an iron-on of The Muppets, or your name in big, puffy letters. This may not sound special, but there was a time when custom-ordering a T-shirt with your name on it was as revolutionary as space travel.
These were great for me, since all pre-made merchandise with kids’ names, like bedroom door plaques that said “KEEP OUT! _____’S ROOM”, included Laurie and Lauren and even Loren, but never Laura. I often berated my parents for giving me a name that wasn’t available on any of the spinning racks, and, because I was spoiled and scary, they apologized.
Behind the counter was Harvey, who I remember as old, but was probably 30.
Harvey hated and yelled at kids, but loved their money…
Hence the extensive sticker selection and the homemade sign on the door that said, “YES, WE HAVE PUFFIES!” That sign was probably not so much to lure business as it was to keep bratty kids from asking, “Do you have puffies?”
Harvey had a big porn mustache, which is really a misnomer since in the 70s and 80s that mustache was just as suitable for running a family card shoppe as for starring in or directing x-rated movies.
Across from the front counter, with a service window to the street, was an ice cream counter. Harvey, always the trend-savvy marketer, added a Dannon frozen yogurt machine in the mid 80s.
In the aisles were all the essentials: namely, the aforementioned stickers. Other important items displayed there included:
Day-glo posterboard AKA oaktag for science projects; dolls, which were more my sister’s thing; yo-yos; the Yo-Ball, which was like a yo-yo with training wheels (it snapped back automatically); Kerbangers, which someone said were lethal, so after I bought them with my own allowance, my mom put them on top of the refrigerator where she thought I couldn’t reach them; Slime, which my mom also tried to confiscate. Thanks a lot, Slime manufacturers, for that “MAY STAIN FURNITURE” warning. Real helpful.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART: VIDEO GAMES
Upstairs was the most important part of Harveys. This mezzanine that overlooked the store housed a row of video games. Tempest, Jungle Boy, Pacman, Ms. Pacman, and Donkey Kong.
If there were a soundtrack to the mezzanine, it’d be the waka-waka of Pacman and the theme song to the movie Arthur (“When you’re caught between the moon and New York Ciiiiity…“). Harvey piped Lite FM through the speakers.
The stud of our middle school, Jason, who was a year older and went out with our grade’s hot girl, Carney, hung out at Baronette’s with his friends. They favored Ms. Pacman. I think they wanted to have sex with her. They didn’t notice me, so they freely had conversations like:
“Yo Jason, how come you aren’t at Carney’s house?”
“What’s the point? She’s got her period.”
A hardcore Tempest addict, I’d play from after school till dinner, when Harvey would yell from downstairs, in an “I can’t believe this is my fucking life” tone of voice, “LAURA BELGRAY, YOUR MOTHER ALICE IS ON THE PHONE, SHE SAYS THE CHINESE FOOD JUST GOT THERE.”
See what I mean? It was a special place.
Or maybe it wasn’t, maybe it was just a Card Shoppe. But if anyone has a picture, please let me know.
Where did you hang out when you were first allowed to go out on your own?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS
I played games there when it was only Pinball. I remember I played the shit out of the KISS pinball machine. I think it was the only machine I ever “rolled over” with a crowd of other dummies watching and trying to jinx me by saying “Thar’ she blows.” Saying that almost always signaled the loss of a ball was imminent… But I was able to roll it over. Wheeeeeee.
I also bought the coolest WWII play set ever at Baronette’s. It had all kinds of crazy guns. Cannons, barbed wire, fallen trees and partially ruined houses. Not to mention a full complement of US & GER soldiers. It was so cool…
Jul's Arthur says
I love your long term memory of your past Laura…I have to go with Lane on this..I hardly remember what I ate for breakfast let alone my childhood. I love reading your blog and all the funny comments.
Hi to Mama Belgray, Alice, I think it’s hysterical you called the store to tell Laura Chinese food was ready. Fascinating to hear about your childhood memories too.
How cool is it to have you own “Katey (pronounced Katay, long a sounds) Kardasian on your Blog…she probably made the t-shirt your wee self is wearing…so cute!
I used be so annoyed with my parents for naming all my siblings such normal names and then me Jul’s with an apostrophe…talk about never finding it on some spinning rack or monogramed Christmas ornament in a shoppe…so what did I do to my sons? Gave them unusual names with double “y’s” in the spelling. Honestly, they would have been Thomas and Michael, but their father was not Catholic and abhorred saint names. So Tyryn Whitney and Skylyr Winslow are their names.
Janet Griffin says
Well before we moved to hell that was (and still is) Maryland, I used to hang out at the skating rink. I lived in that place, which is why I always get misty whenever I hear Shalimar on the radio. Does anyone even know who they are anymore? There and the comic book store down my block. My siblings and I used to walk to that place pretty much every day. We didn’t know that our parents would follow us to make sure we were okay. Talk about ninjas! The comic book store sold Batman, Superman and Archie (I had a thing for Jughead) comics, plus the Reggie Bars. I’ve eaten so many of those things, the thought of them now makes me queasy. But I would still eat one. Screw the nausea.
I remember walking the 3 blocks to 7-11, I must have been 8 or so. It seemed like a minefield of dangers (and I lived in suburban Orange County, Southern California). There was a chihuahua that I was terrified of on the first corner and there were discarded pornographic magazines just over the fence by the store. Once there I remember buying my mother a Pay Day, they were her favorite and I’ve always been a kiss ass. I actually don’t remember what I bought, I liked to switch it up, still do. By the time I got home I was exhausted and felt like I had been on an amazing journey.
We moved to a small town in the mountains when I was 11 and there was lots of freedom. Walking to the lake and trudging through the stinky fishy mud or walking into town to the arcade where my favorites were skee ball and taking endless photos of myself in the picture booth.
I love reading about your adventures, it always hits a cord and brings back memories that I never think of on my own!
Mom Belgray says
We moved when I was eight from West End Ave., so it must have been before that, that I was given a quarter to go to Levy Brothers, later Menash, on B’way between 83rd & 84th Streets. That was a very long time ago. I probably could buy a lot of stuff for 25 cents. I felt very grown up.
I’m also impressed with your memory for details, but I actually remember calling the store to get you come home. Your life there always made me a little nervous, but a love your description of it.
BTW, I don’t remember ever apologizing for naming you Laura. I always liked your name. Maybe I (we) were just sorry you didn’t like it.
Never said I didn’t like it. I just wanted it to be more popular.
I wish you’d spent that 25 cents on real estate instead of Caran Dache pencils! Can you imagine the property we’d own?
Ok, can we just open up a discussion about how obnoxiously brilliant your memory is? Because I can barely remember where I grew up, much less the details that you spew forth.
It’s hard for me to focus on what you’re writing about without ruminating about how shitty my memory is for my age.
Dammit. I read your blog to laugh. Not to feel old. Stop it.
Does it make you feel better that I don’t have a short-term memory to match? I’m the one who says, “Forgive me, dear, what is your name again? I’m so forgetful these days!”
You’re so polite. “Forgive me, dear, what is your name again?” I’d say, “Who are you, again?”
But, I don’t have a short term memory either. So…thanks for making me feel even worse.
Can’t wait for tomorrow’s blog. I feel older already.
Randle Browning says
Totes the skating rink. We didn’t say “totes” back then, but we did have glowy jewelry, slurpees, and The Cranberries.
The Cranberries! You 90s kid you. But skating rink makes you legit.
Kate Anthony says
Omg you’ve done it again.
I know I risk Kardadhian-esque celeb status by posting this here, but you know I worked there. Spent every Saturday there in ’85 & ’86. Scooped ice cream and stole Harvey’s Marlboro Lights (we even smoked me while we worked).
I made all those tee shirts and blew up all the balloons (along with the tee shirt maker we had tanks of helium behind the register which we freely dispensed into our mouths).
Those were the days…. So many stories…
Hannah Ransom says
I love this blog and this comment.
This IS like having Kim Kardashian post on my blog. Except with a brain.
You know the only thing NOT parallel about our pasts is that 1) You were cool enough to work at Baronette’s and 2) You smoked. I never tried or knew how.
If Harvey thought to google himself (which, luckily he won’t), he could find this and sue you for back payments on cigarettes and helium.