Remembering Murphy's

By: 
JANE CLARK, WRITERS BLOC

Behind two sets of recessed, double entry doors at G. C. Murphy’s variety store in Salem was a magical place for my children Brian and Shannon when they were growing up. That is where they spent a lot of time and most of their weekly allowance during the 1970s.

When you entered the store the first thing you saw was the brightly lit candy counter in the center of the room. The glass displays were eye level for young children and held a tempting array of candy and steaming nuts. A sales clerk stood in the center of the display waiting to take orders and fill various sized bags full of treats. The aroma of nuts and chocolate or vanilla fudge was hard to resist. We usually waited until we were ready to leave to purchase some items to take home.

Several kinds of merchandise were sold upstairs including clothing, bedding, house wares, etc. There was also a small pet department, and at that time you could still buy tiny green turtles. Brian loved the little turtles and bought one to keep in a special box he had prepared with rocks and water. On another visit as we were about to check out of Murphy’s, he came to the counter carrying a small package of Turtle Wax.

 “You don’t need that wax,” I told him.

  “Yes, I do. I need it to wax my turtle.” The cashier chuckled at his comment while I explained to my seven-year-old son that Turtle Wax was for polishing cars, not turtles.

Shannon was fascinated with the aquarium containing several kinds of tropical fish. She bought a small goldfish to keep in a glass fish bowl and faithfully changed the water and fed her fish.  After only a short time she was upset to find it floating on its side.  She tossed it in the toilet to dispose of it but was surprised to see the fish start swimming around again. She retrieved it, put it back in the fish bowl, and enjoyed it for a while longer until it eventually died.

As Brian and Shannon grew older, they had another experience buying a pet at Murphy’s. I didn’t allow furry critters in the house, and both the kids knew that. However, on one visit to their favorite store, Brian told Shannon they should put their money together to buy a hamster. She resisted at first saying she knew I wouldn’t approve. But he persisted, and they came out of the store with a hamster in a cardboard box, much to my dismay. I didn’t have the heart to make them take it back since they were so proud to have combined their funds to make the purchase.  I allowed them to keep the hamster in a small cage, and they took turns caring for it until it died a few months later.

The basement at Murphy’s had a large supply of yard goods, thread and other notions that I needed for sewing projects, and at that time you could also buy yards of colorfully designed “oil cloth” to use as tablecloths. In the basement is where Brian and Shannon spent a lot of time looking at the display of toys, story books, coloring books, crayons, etc. They took their time trying to decide how to spend their weekly allowance.

Brian often bought marbles, comic books, bubble gum with trading cards, and kits to build airplanes or cars. He also liked Big Little Books and still has several of them which are now collector’s items. Shannon’s favorites were dolls and doll clothes, games like jacks or Pick Up Sticks, and books of paper dolls that she could cut out. She still has some of them among her keepsakes. They learned the value of a dollar and knew that most of the time they didn’t get to spend more than their allowance.

The Ames Corporation bought G.C. Murphy’s in 1985, and the Murphy’s store in Salem closed sometime after that. The old building on the square that once housed Murphy’s was later occupied by Craft Town. Currently it is being renovated by H. & R. Bakery, and I’m looking forward to once again walk into the building that contains so many fond memories of my children growing up in the 1970s.

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