Felix’s New Jersey Parade

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is pure coincidence that I just purchased this 8×10 Felix balloon Thanksgiving Day parade photo just a week before the holiday this year, but the timing was right. As someone who constantly sorts through Felix minutia I see many photos and copies of photos of Felix parade balloons. Many are pretty common, but occasionally one jumps out at me as this one did. (I blogged about some interesting Felix parade balloons from Portland, Oregon and that 2014 post can be found here.)

Turns out that this photo is from the Newark, New Jersey Bamberger’s Thanksgiving Day parade. It came from a New Jersey album, and was identified within the album as the Bamberger’s parade in the 1930’s, according to the seller. There is indeed deep lore about the rivalry between the Garden State’s claim on the first Thanksgiving Day parade and the Manhattan counterpart. Those laurels are frequently claimed by Macy’s here in New York City with their parade in 1924 premiere – and there is no evidence to support a Newark parade before 1931. In reality though it was evidently Gimbels in Philadelphia that lays claim to that title zipping in first by launching theirs 1920.

As a Jersey girl born and bred I can tell you that growing up Bamberger’s was a retail pillar in the state. In particular, it was the anchor store for the large mall in our own area – the Eatontown Mall – which continues to limp along today. That mall was the site of many of my teenage adventures after being a fixture of serious shopping, such as back-to-school shopping, of my childhood.

Additionally, cousins of my mom’s worked at Bamberger’s throughout their entire adult lives, and it was an extra treat to go see them at work when I was a kid. I remember a period when Patti worked in the jewelry area and I want to say, strangely, that her mother Grace worked in the book department, at least for awhile. (Department stores had book departments – the world was a different place.)

Patti continued to work there her entire adult life as did Grace, for decades after it was consumed by Macy’s, Bamberger ultimately losing that longstanding battle, long after his own day of course. (During the course of the pandemic, Patti celebrated her 50th year of working there – and was promptly laid off. So much for employee loyalty. Although of course Macy’s is fighting its life as well in this ongoing pandemic retail morass.)

Back in March of last year I wrote about a pair of early Felix balloons from a stereocard which I ascribed to the Macy’s Day parade but looking at this photo now I wonder. That post can be found here and the photos below.

Felix stereocard. Pams-Pictorama.com collection

There is nothing written or printed on the back of this recently purchased photo, but my guess is that even if it had not been identified in the album and by the seller, this street is easily identifiable as Newark of the time. I particular I love the shot of W. T. Grant Co. across the street. This was another childhood favorite and known to us simply as Grants.

Our branch of Grants was in the town of Red Bank and although it was down the street from the Woolworth’s it held a deeper affection for me and we frequented it more often. I still have a smell memory of our Grants on Front Street that I cannot describe, but in general I would say it was redolent of new paper, but spiked with fabric and plastic, the smell of new stuff or as that registered in my childhood.

I suspect part of the appeal of Grants was the inexpensive toys that our child-sized patience could be purchased with and which made shopping more enjoyable for all. (I know Woolworth’s had a luncheon counter, but cannot remember if Grants did. My mother rarely if ever patronized either counter and instead took us to a small lunchroom on the same block. She would always point to the wax fruit in the window and tell us never to eat in places with wax fruit in the window, however this was an exception. It became a long-standing family joke.)

A search on the history of Grants says they opened in Massachusetts in 1906 as the first 25 cent store. And while I believe we also had a Kresge’s nearby I have no real memory of it – and a J. J. Newberry’s nearby as well. The 1960’s was the final hey day for the five and dime stores which largely died in the 1970’s and finally the ’80’s. For whatever reason, we frequented Grants the most and it held a special place in my childhood affections.

This photo also has a nice shot of the National Variety Stores across the street, lucky children in the big second floor window with an excellent view. I am fond of the architecture of that storefront with its faux peaked and homey roof in front.

From where our photographer stands we are immersed in a sea of men’s fedora’s – somehow it feels like all the kids are across the street, but maybe we just can’t see them up in front on this side. I also point out that the folks acting as Felix’s keepers, are also dressed up in Felix suits with enormous masked Felix heads. Onlookers are dressed up against the November chill. Our weather this year promises a rainy high of sixty, but you never know with Thanksgiving in the Northeast – can be balmy or snow.

Bamberger’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

As we all know by now, 2020 will go down in the history books as kicking off our Covid holiday season, just unfolding before us now in real time. It will be, I believe, only the third time in my life I have not been in New Jersey for the holiday, Thanksgiving being my favorite holiday. However, the virus rate is so high there that we are concerned we would bring infection to my mom as part of our mass transit travel.

Meanwhile the Macy’s parade will be without live audience this year – the Jazz at Lincoln Center hall hovering over Columbus Circle, usually a prized viewing spot, will be empty. While we are never in danger of going hungry in this apartment, I admit to a somewhat lackluster culinary response to the two of us eating alone here, although I will try to rally. Some pumpkin ravioli lurk in the freezer to this end.

Like so many others this year, instead we will have a Zoom visit with family – my mom, cousin Patti and our friend Suzanne. We plan to give them a tour of the new bookcases in the apartment and ask the grand-kits (as my mom calls the cats) to join us. Blackie always enjoys a good turn on camera for Zoom (ask my colleagues and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Board – Blackie loves Board and Committee meetings in particular) so we are counting on him. Cookie is more diffident, but I think she’ll come to the party too.

Whatever way you are spending your Thanksgiving this year, every best wish for a happy and safe one from us here at Pictorama and Deitch Studio.