Super Valu, Super Memories
© Copyright 2005 by
Living out of state, I often read The Post-Crescent newspaper online. Despite being 1000 miles away and 25 years removed from my old hometown, I still try to keep up with happenings back home. So it was with much interest, and not a little sadness that I read the other day of the closing of the last grocery store in Menasha.
Ninneman’s Super Valu, known as Doering’s until about two years ago, had been a fixture in Menasha since 1962. Its presence on Milwaukee Street , a scant three blocks from my boyhood home, was a throwback to a happier time.
As a boy, my mother would often send me to Doering’s to get bread or milk or that elusive final ingredient to some dish she was preparing. (I often wonder if she really needed all that stuff or just wanted to get me out of her hair for awhile.) Whatever the case, I got plenty of exercise peddling those three blocks on my stingray bicycle.
The store, while small by today’s standards, was still a full service grocery, complete with a deli counter. To me though, its most appealing feature was that spin rack full of comic books- a good enough reason to visit often- provided I could elude the gaze of the shifty-eyed manager who didn’t much like kids hanging around.
Riding down Second Street , it was a straight shot to Doering’s. Of course, that meant negotiating the stop sign at Second and Racine. Crossing busy Racine Street could be, depending upon the time of day, a heartstopping adventure that’d give any parent gray hair. But through the intersection, in that last block before the store, was Racine Street Park . Today it is gone, having been swallowed up piece by piece by a new public library, a new police and fire department building, and a later addition to the library. But back then, the park covered a third of a city block and its landscaping provided much refuge for adolescent experimentation.
I smoked my first cigarette in that park behind some nondescript bush. Of course, I bought the fateful pack at, where else, Doering’s, in those days before political correctness and strict nonsmoking laws required you to look 27 years old to buy a smoke. They were called True menthols, with an innovative plastic hexagonal filter in each one. Why this appealed to me instead of a macho brand like Camels or Lucky Strikes, beats me. Of course those came later down the road as the coolness ante was raised, their smaller size easier to conceal on my person, but so much purer and deadlier to the senses. At that point in my life, I was kind of a nerdy kid, so maybe the “scientific” design was a selling point to me. But menthol be damned, I was smoking. And wasn’t I cool! Or so I thought at the time.
When I was in high school and driving a yellow 1970 VW Beetle, my girlfriend and I stopped at Doering’s one night to pick up a can of shrimp on the way to her house. What a couple we made- me from my Menasha blue collar, paper mill background…she- well-to-do, living in a modern part of Neenah, our much more favored twin city. Her dad wore a shirt and tie to work in an office, as if such class distinctions really mattered to us. Lisa had a craving for shrimp salad and, rube that I was, by this point in my life, I don’t think I’d ever even eaten a shrimp. It wasn’t something I’d find in my day-to-day meat and potatoes diet. That Friday night, we made shrimp salad in her kitchen and you’d have thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Man, it was good; I was so in love. (My girlfriend was kinda nice, too.)
It’s funny how reading about the Super Valu closing should resurrect all those memories. But that just goes to show how a simple brick and mortar business becomes an institution (with a capital I) and helps to make or break a town. I can’t speak for the other residents of Menasha, that they felt the same way when they heard the news or when they stopped for a loaf of bread one night and found the windows dark and the doors locked. But for a child of the 60’s and 70’s, who sometimes idealizes his childhood as a family sitcom from TV’s golden age, the store’s closing ranks right up there. No matter that the newspaper said the new owner had “insufficient funding for operations;” it’s easier to just blame Eddie Haskell.
David Galassie's work has appeared in numerous online venues, to include Rewind the Fifties, A Long Story Short, and The Preservation Foundation's Writers Showcase and he has also been published in traditional magazines such as Good Old Days Specials and Reminisce. His essays appear in the anthologies: Flashlight Memories from Silver Boomer Books, Heartscapes, from Spruce Mountain Press, and Hey Kids, Comics!: True-Life Tales From the Spinner Rack from ComicMix . In 2012, he wrote Menasha, a local history book about his boyhood hometown in Wisconsin, published by Arcadia Publishing (https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/9780738591780/Menasha). In April 2018, Arcadia will release Neenah and Menasha: Twin Cities of the Fox Valley, a postcard history of Menasha and its sister city. His internet blog has featured Menasha history and trivia since 2012 (http://menashabook.blogspot.com). He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he is, by day, a mild-mannered human resources specialist.
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