Pam’s Pictorama Post: This fails to be a proper Mother’s Day post, but Mom figures large in my memory of this childhood haunt, so it is with that nod to her that I proceed. Memories of Wiseman’s store have bubbled up a couple of times recently and it nibbled at my mind until I decided to record and share a few thoughts and memories of this iconic establishment of my childhood.
I think most of us born prior to 1970 or so have a Wiseman’s in their past. For me and my family it was a dusty miracle of a store in the neighboring town of Sea Bright. That town is a tiny landspit of a peninsula, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Shrewsbury River to the west, within walking distance over a draw bridge, from the house I grew up in. This narrow beach community can be traversed at its widest point in a brisk 15 minute walk. From any elevated point, such as the second story of a building, you can see the river and the ocean at the same time. It exists in a sort of infamy for its well publicized tendency to flood, and most recently Hurricane Sandy almost wiped it off the map. (Although in my childhood it was a Hurricane Donna that everyone referred back to as a literal high water mark, when the ocean and the river met on the main drag, Ocean Avenue. Strangely, photos show the water from each different colors.)
However, as it has evidently done repeatedly over the decades, it has slowly rebuilt and re-emerged. The specifics of the town are different from my childhood – a huge pizza establishment and bar where my mom had a store and the Post Office once were for example – but the bones and general outline remain the same. A full service restaurant where there was once a (superb) pizza place where I worked one summer – polyester uniform and all. The hardware store, church and laundromat have persisted. The Foodtown has become something called Andy K’s.
Still, it is another layer that I need to pull back to place Wiseman’s. It was on the same block as the belated pizza place as I remember. It was down from a store called Sy & Art’s which carried everything you needed for the beach, from high end bathing suits to towels and basics. Sy & Art’s lives in a sort of miasma of late 1960’s/early 1970’s psychedelic color and prints in my mind’s eye and although we might stop in occasionally, it was more for tourists who forgot their beach towels or tanning lotion than locals. (Wiseman’s would have been about three buildings down the block from the photo at the very top – that corner most prominent was where Sy & Art’s headquartered. Try as I have I cannot find a photo of it or the building, still standing, that Wiseman’s was located in.)
Wiseman’s was a old fashion soda fountain, stationary and newspaper establishment. I do not remember consuming any food at the counter, although mom when asked seems to remember that the occasional ice cream cone was had there, this despite a rather memorable amount of dust, dirt and grime we both seem to remember. (They must have had take-out coffee as well, but this was before the ubiquitousness of coffee to go. I won’t say I never saw my parents drink take-out coffee, but it wasn’t the daily thing it is now. It was more something you did while traveling.)
Mom vaguely recalls that Wiseman’s was owned by two elderly brothers and agrees that I have spelled it the right way, having once herself been corrected by one of the brothers on the subject. My parents religiously purchased their weekend papers at Wiseman’s in the days before we had home delivery of those. It was my go to for a variety of items which included, but were not limited to, comic books, candy and even an inexpensive sort of toy which could occasionally be wheedled out of the paper purchasing parent in question. Most often it was comic books – my parents exhibiting a bit of rare squeamish about the more exotic candy offerings such as wax lips and odd tubes of colored sugar in numerous forms.
Wiseman’s was a strange and exotic territory for me, full of promise, and I never missed an opportunity to tag along on a trip there. It seemed surprising when we made the rare, unscheduled weekday stop, perhaps for a stationary item which they also carried, because it was a weekend destination in my mind. It would be quieter on those weekdays, without the bustle of a Saturday or Sunday when it was the center of the universe for a certain kind of local activity. It was a somewhat cramped dusty space, despite a very high, old tin ceiling, but narrow. There were ancient cheap toys, Halloween costumes, packages of outdated invitations and the like on the higher shelves, while the items that turned over frequently such as candy, magazines, comics and newspapers, were at an easy grab to the door. I remember looking up and being fascinated by the possibility of what you might find there. That promise remained unfulfilled alas; it was a realm I was never allowed to explore.
As I got older my purchases morphed from Archie comics into Tiger Beat, followed by Teen and eventually Seventeen. I could be wrong, but I believe Wiseman’s may have disappeared before I got to Cosmo, but perhaps not because I do not know where else I would have purchased it. (This was before magazines would have been sold in the always crisp smelling Sea Bright Drugstore, or the Foodtown which took care of almost all of our other ongoing needs and supplies as well as the daily papers.) I seem to remember Wiseman’s closing while I was in high school. Alas, it was not there when I waitressed at the pizza establishment, nor when I was employed by the French cuisine restaurant further down the street, both during college.
Someone mentioned it to me the other day and perhaps that’s why it came to mind last week when I was writing about the toy cowboys and horses I used to get by the bag as a small child. That was the nature of the toy you would get there. In my mind the weekend mornings merge together, the smell of the newsprint and dust, the anticipation of comic books, candy and all sorts of unexplored possibilities. I can imagine the sun slanting through the door and dust motes playing, as if knowing that it was a memory being minted even then.