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The Shopping Center: 1954

The Shopping Center: 1954

Sept. 27, 1954. Smithtown, New York. "Smithtown Shopping Center. General view." Meet you at Play Mart in an hour. Gottscho-Schleisner photo. View full size.


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My hometown

Actually, I grew up here. My elementary school is directly behind this shopping center. It's always been an upper-middle class town despite the older cars you see. Very cool to see an old pic. I remember as a teen in the 90s, I'd love seeing old pics of Smithtown in the library and banks. Remember, this is metro NYC, so we were always a little ahead of the times.

A Driver at 3 ... or 4 .. sort of

Our family had a Ford wagon very similar to the one parked. It was "maroon", or burgundy in modern terms. Some of the wood got dry rot about 1955 or so and my dad replaced it. Wood was kind of a pain to maintain.
I remember telling the model years apart by the hood ornament style and grill details. The '49 had an airplane motif hood ornament, while the '50 had a chrome and plastic concoction that looked like a Mohawk haircut. I think the '51 had two 'spinners' in the middle of the grille, and am certain the '49 had one.
That was the same model that I backed out of the garage by repeatedly pressing the starter button... Don't have a clue how I planned to get it back in place to avoid discovery. Then again, I was not even of kindergarten age.
Did anyone note that a lot of cars are parked with their windows rolled down? Not many had A/C back then, and they got hot. Now days it might be difficult to find one that allowed in fresh un-conditioned air.

Newborn baby

I love to see pictures of the world I was born into! This was taken six days after I was born. My parents drove an Oldsmobile back then, just as it appears that many of the shoppers in this parking lot did.

Open windows

Three cars in center of photo have open windows. Can't do that anymore!

1949 Ford

The '49 Ford that tterrace pointed out might also be a '50 Ford. They were almost identical.

My warmest regards

to the 48/49 Willys Overland “Jeepster,” parked in front of the Wilbur-Rogers store, proudly wearing her spare tire on the aft end.

A couple of other observations. The "new" postwar Studebakers were actually introduced in 1947, styling courtesy of Virgil Exner. Studebaker and Kaiser got the postwar styling jump on the rest of the industry that year, with Hudson, Cadillac, Tucker and Oldsmobile following in 1948.

The Ford identified as a 1949 is very likely a 1950, as evidenced by the frontal wrap around chrome parking light assembly, visible over the bumper with a bit of enlarging.

I know. Picky, picky.

We Were Way Behind

It was the mid-70's before I saw a shopping center like this. Actually it was partially a mall (also the first for me). A K-Mart on one end unattached then an anchor store (can't remember the name, but several have been in the location) which was connected by a big hallway to several small shops and a theatre. On the other end an unattached Kroger store. Later on they closed the big hallway and made it a strip mall or shopping center. When I was a kid, we did all our shopping on the Main Streets of the various small towns in our area. A big day was going to downtown Huntington, WV. In 1980 they built the Huntington Mall (actually next to the Interstate at Ona, WV) and on my first trip to it in 1981 I saw the first reports on the Reagan asassination attempt on a TV in a shop window. I don't care much for malls and stay out of them as much as possible. They don't offer much for men. I miss walking down Main Street.

What, no '49 Fords?

I see a couple of '48-'51 Studebakers. But not one example of the car that my dad has told me on many occasions was "the first new car I ever saw". I can't remember the first new car I ever saw, any more then my 20-year-old niece remembers the first time she saw a computer (a realization that popped into my head when I first saw her web-surfing at the tender age of fourteen months, the week that Richard Nixon died).

But my dad was born in '41. There were no new cars during the war, and no new cars for a few years after. It was a seller's market, so Detroit offered warmed-over '42 models through the '48 model year. So my dad was eight by the time he saw a truly "new" car.

Except Studebaker had a new model in '48. I'll have to ask him about that.

[Here's one. -tterrace]

Only the signs are different

Otherwise, this could have been the Village or Gateway Shopping Centers in Beaumont, Texas, or Jefferson City Shopping Center in Port Arthur, all of which made their debut in the mid/late 50s and still looked a lot like this when I was a kid.

Basic Black

Not a one of these cars has white sidewall tires. Our cars never did either. It wasn't a case of poverty. My father could afford it. He just thought decorations on tires were a waste of money. They cost $2 more and got the same wear.

Don't pass on the right!

Can anyone suggest why the arm on the passenger-side mirror (if that's in fact what it is) on the Oldsmobile in the foreground is so long? And wouldn't it be a hazard to other vehicles?

[Trailer mirror. - Dave]

No "there" there

J.C. Penney's is the only store visible in the picture that still exists. It's now located a few miles to the east at the Smithaven Mall.

While Bohack's and the other pictured stores are no longer around, downtown Smithtown has *never* existed in a legal sense even though everyone uses the name. Technically speaking, the name Smithtown denotes a township encompassing a number of distinct communities, and the downtown is properly called "Village of the Branch." The number of people who actually call it Village of the Branch is approximately zero, give or take a few.

Here are some then-and-now pictures of Bohack's locations and some of the chain's old advertisements:

Gap between buidlings is gone

Gap to the right of woolworth's is gone. Here is an aerial view using bing's bird's eye. The back of the building shows different color bricks behind the narrow strip in Ace Hardware. Bohack was quite a store in its time. Started in 1887 and folded in 1977. The early years they had service stations and restaurants besides grocery stores. It's bankruptcy was one of the largest in that time.


A supermarket chain so eminently forgettable that I hardly remember I used to shop there.


Love that '50 Stude with the fender vent open.

East Main Street and Lawrence Avenue

Some clues suggest that this is the same shopping center today (with a facelift that did little to enhance the original facade).

View Larger Map

I like

The baby shoes hanging from the rear view mirror. Must have been a fad back in the day.

Ragtop, anyone?

What an amazingly high proportion of convertibles (and a Woody Wagon, too)! Ford, Chevy, Plymouth and Pontiac, to name the obvious ones. How about that wild, plaid top on the '47 Chevy? It was probably a replacement, after seven years.

Funny that they are mostly all parked on the same row, and not the closest one to the stores. That looks like a Jeepster under the "Wilbur" sign.

As a side note, I love the baby shoes hanging from the mirror of the Buick in the foreground!

[The car is an Oldsmobile. - Dave]

A '49, it seems—just making sure you were on your toes, Dave!

No Crumple Zones

Back in the 1970s, I worked at a gas station, actually pumping gas and checking oil. An elderly lady would come in occasionally in her early 1950s Chevrolet. It was quite a chunk of metal. Leaning against the fender was like leaning against a brick wall.

That Woody!

I'd love to have one like that!

The Vehicles

A quick count shows approximately 43 cars, and one delivery truck. No, I won't (and can't) identify them all! But it is interesting to note that of the 21 I can figure out, there are: 10 Fords, 2 Oldses, 2 Studebakers, 2 Chevys, 2 Pontiacs, 1 Chrysler, 1 Jeepster, and 1 Buick. Apparently no foreign vehicles. The newest car looks like a 1954 Ford, while the oldest is a mystery make from the late 1930s. One of the most interesting cars is the 1947 Chevy convertible, with what appears to be someone's plaid tablecloth serving as a replacement ragtop.


That wonderful Ford "woody" wagon. A lost art.

This is not Beverly Hills

I guessed that it was 1950 or 1951 from the cars I saw, 80% of which are from the forties. Definitely not a high-income area.

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