Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 14, 1969

AP's Man in the Nation's Capital Recalls Dad's Store at 72 Main St.


Some of us Saranac natives, thankfully, don't match the 75-year span of the Daily Enterprise.

But one, whose memory chain of the ol' town began to shape in the 'teen years of the century, remembers when:

The Enterprise, then a twice-weekly, was written, edited, printed and distributed from the original Town Hall. When the hall was leveled by fire in the mid-1920s, The Enterprise shifted to its present location—a space that Munn Bros. grocery store had occupied from about 1907.

Except for an addition to the rear of the building, built when The Enterprise was owned by the late John S. Ridenour, the structure is substantially the same today as it was 50 or more years ago.

But the changes elsewhere along Main Street and Broadway have been many.

Gone are such once-familiar places as Tommy Daley's tobacco shop—The Humidor—distinguished not only by the owner's colorful personality, but also by a store front of curved glass, from Belgium. There was big excitement one year when the glass was broken and a replacement—at great expense and long delay—came from abroad.

The Humidor, tiny and narrow, stood between Munn Bros, and the old Adirondack National Bank & Trust Co., which proclaimed itself "Big. Strong and Friendly" The irreverent, or perhaps those whose loan applications had been summarily rejected, had their own slogan—"Big, Strong and Stingy."

On the other side of the grocery store, now occupied by T.F. Finnigan's men's clothing store, A. Bruzza operated a soda fountain and fruit store. Across the street were Postal Telegraph, a system eventually absorbed by Western Union; Bill Kollecker's photo and souvenir shop, C.J. Carey's men's clothing store; and W.C. Leonard's dry goods establishment. E.L. Gray's bookstore held forth in the space presently occupied by Agnes Kennedy's dress shop.

Next door, in the block now filled by the Hotel Saranac stood the Senior-Junior High School. Still superintendent, as he was later when the new school opened on Petrova Avenue, was the revered Howard V. Littell. Many are still around who can thank him for his insistence that they finish high school. Others went on to higher education mainly because of his urgings.

Perhaps few villages of similar size have had more hotels than Saranac Lake. Some that quickly come to mind include the Riverside Inn, and the Algonquin and the Ampersand—the latter two at the foot of Lower Saranac. All three were quality establishments— similar to more widely known Paul Smiths, Saranac Inn, and the Loon Lake House.

Other in-village hotels were the Grand Union, a rambling wooden structure at the corner of Bloomingdale Avenue and Depot Street whose manager was David Harmon; William Hennessey's Central House on Broadway, across the street from the Pontiac Theater; the Adirondack, also on Broadway a block or so from the fire house, and the Empire Hotel, next door to the Town Hall, operated by George Downing and Jack Crowley.

The former subsequently owned a well-remembered restaurant next door to the grocery store now operated by Moon and Dicky Mullens. That store, established by their father, Will, first housed the Colonial Theater. Other earlier movie houses included George Foy's —on Broadway opposite the Dorsey Street intersection—and another at Bloomingdale and Depot Street, identified either as the Idle Hour or Happy Hour but best known by youthful patrons as the "Itch," for reasons now unimportant.

The post office was once operated from the space later occupied by the "Itch." An earlier location was on Main Street opposite The Enterprise office —then Munn Bros. grocery store.

That store, naturally, looms large in my memory. It was established by my father, Matt, and his older brother, Will. The latter became sole owner around 1920 when my father, in partnership with Ernest Lamy, brother of Ed and Claude, bought the F. E. Hull jewelry store at 22 Broadway. Dad later acquired full ownership and subsequently sold it to William G. Scheefer, father of the present owner, William G. (Bunny) Jr.

My recollections of the grocery store are many and varied. And it's possible that there are others—some who may still reside in the village and those who return for annual vacations—who also remember it with pleasure.

The store had heart as well as quality. If a customer chose to sample a slice of rat (cheddar) cheese to be placed between two Montpelier soda crackers, neither the owners nor the employees gave a damn. And hungry small fry could help themselves to a cookie or two from the bulk containers that lined one side of the store.

The largess also extended to those who, on the morning after, felt the need for a quick pick-me-up. The store, like many in that pre-prohibition era, sold all alcoholic beverages. And the wine cellar at Munn Bros. always included a barrel of 100-proof bourbon, drawn off by spigot into quart or pint flasks. The going price in 1918 or thereabouts for a full quart was $1.50.

But if, on a morning after, a man had a thirst and lacked the therewithal to finance its quenching, the response to his request for "cellar relief" was always the same; "Sure, help yourself. Hope you feel better."

Other stores, saloons and taverns no doubt did similarly. But my soundings (at that time) never went beyond Munn Bros.

It's a shame the village never kept a record of its distinguished visitors. I can remember seeing on the streets of Saranac Lake such diverse greats as Albert Einstein, Christy Mathewson and — even today — Matty's teammate on the Giants, Laughing Larry Doyle. And then there were Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Kate Smith, Billie Burke, Sophie Tucker, Sir Harry Lauder, Jack Dempsey, Mrs. Merriwether Post and Irvin S. Cobb, a frequent guest of C.M. Palmer.

Even movie actress and stage star, Rosalind Russell, spent a summer in Saranac Lake playing the tent theater that set up shop on the now parking lot that extends from behind the Town Hall to where Giles Bombard once had a livery stable.

Then there was the day when a man, a reporter for the Enterprise during the Ridenour ownership, got word that the then-Gov. George Earle of Pennsylvania was being treated for a dislocated shoulder in the office of the late Dr. Charles C. ("Cheerful Charley") Trembley. Charley Trembley, incidentally, was one of the good guys who helped make Saranac Lake a good place.

Anyway, Gov. Earle, emerging from Trembley's office, was asked by the reporter to explain his accident.

Earle, who had been visiting the camp his family owned on the shores of St. Regis Lake, looked at Dr. Trembley and grinned. "You tell him, Charley," the governor said.

"Well," the impish Trembley said, "he sat on a seat that hadn't been sat on for a long time. It broke and the governor dropped about six feet into a trench."

Asked to elaborate, Trembley said the seat was in a small building not attached to the main house. There were no further questions.

But passers-by surely must have wondered why Doc Trembley and two other guys were laughing like crazy.

But, as for distinguished visitors, it would take a lot off memory-mulling to find a day to cap what developed on a warm summer in 1925.

President Calvin Coolidge had established his summer White House at an estate on Osgood Lake, near Paul Smith's. Each Sunday he came to Saranac Lake to attend services at the Presbyterian Church.

On one of those Sundays, probably in August, who should show in the village but Gov. Alfred E. Smith, a candidate for reelection.

Smith, a Roman Catholic and the Democratic presidential nominee in 1928, went that day to St. Bernard's to attend the 10:30 a.m. Mass. At the same time, Silent Cal was less than a block away in his pew at the Presbyterian Church.

How many villages in this broad U.S.A. can boast of that kind of a happening?

Not many. Maybe only the ol' home town.