Sunday, February 26, 2006

Give Me Liberty

Just got an e-mail from Meagan, in response to a post on this blog way back in June:
Though this is a comment to an older entry on your page (June of 2005 to be exact) I wanted to post here to make sure you saw it... My Great grandfather was at one point the owner of Liberty Hatworks and news stand on Broad St. in Rome, Ga. I was doing a search for his shop to see if i could find anything on it and it brought me to your page; it's nice to know that his shop is still so remembered. He passed before I was born so I never got to see his shop as he owned it so I find it fascinating to find any info about his store :) -- meagan
Ah, Meagan, what a wonderful store it was that your great-grandfather gave us! For those of us who lived in a small town, there were never newsstands like those that we saw on television--you know, the New York or LA sidewalk-shack newsstands that stood near bus stops or busy street corners. Instead, our newsstand in Rome was Liberty Hatworks, a business that grew from a hat cleaning-and-blocking shop to a source of diverse reading material, a store distinctive from any other I've ever been in.

Liberty Hatworks was a "shotgun store"--that is, it was a long, narrow store no more than fifteen feet wide, but as deep as a city block. The wood floors had seen almost a century's wear by the time I first discovered the store in the early 1960's (I have no idea what business was there prior to Liberty, alas); they creaked loudly with each and every step, alerting the sales clerk to the approach of a customer long before anyone made the trek from one end of the store to the front counter. The store was heated in the winter by an enormous ceiling-hanging furnace that heated it to about 80° on even the coldest day; in the summer, the air conditioning was less efficient, but it kept the store comfortable. Inside, it frequently smelled of cigar or cigarette smoke; this was a time where smoking indoors was perfectly acceptable, so many of the store's patrons did just that, filling the front of the store with a tobacco pungence that could almost choke those of us who disliked the smell of smoke... but what was in the store was so wonderful that it was worth the discomfort.

Up front were newspapers on the left as you walked in, and the sales counter replete with candy, gum, and tobacco products was on the right. Beyond on the left were three comic book spinners (an enormous number in a town where no other business except for Conn's Grocery ever had more than one--and even Conn's had only two), and after there were wooden racks filled with magazines. News magazines were in the first set of racks, along with general interest magazines; women's magazines came after that; technical magazines (photography, etc.) followed that; next came men's magazines of the sensationalistic "men's-sweat-adventure" sort (by the time you reached them, you were deep in the environs of the store); then there was a partial wall that held a support beam for the store; after that were the real men's magazines and a small selection of adult books. Beyond that was an old Coke machine that usually had Coca-Cola, Sprite, and Tab, and rarely anything else.

On the right, after the sales counter, rows after rows of paperback books lined the wall. General fiction first, followed by romance, followed by non-fiction, followed by western, followed by science fiction and fantasy (by the time the reader had reached that section of racks, he was surrounded by SF on one side, "men's-sweat-adventure" mags on the other), followed by war. Oddly enough, this arrangement never fluctuated significantly in all the years I knew the store. On the flat shelf just an inch or two above the floor were various digest-sized fiction magazines; I don't remember what all filled the spaces below the other genres, but the space below the SF and fantasy was well stocked with Amazing, Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Galaxy, and If, among others. It was here that I first discovered the allure of the monthly SF magazine, with its serialized novels and its selection of illustrated short stories.

Creepy, Eerie, and Famous Monsters of Filmland--three magazines I always bought--were filed with the "men's-sweat-mags," so I soon became accustomed to flipping past the soldier-of-fortune type stories to find the comics and horror-film must-haves. In retrospect, this was probably quite the savvy move--I remember that these magazines sold far more copies than the average comic, and their location was probably the reason why.

In the back of the store was the "hatworks" section of the shop; I paid no attention to that, since kids didn't wear hats that needed working on--but I knew what was there, because the counter where hats were taken in for working was also the place where the new comics and books were processed each week. Rome News Co., the distributor, would bring boxes of new releases, each marked with a color band across the top in a rotating cycle; if this week's books had a red band, you were supposed to pull the old red-band books and magazines from the racks to replace them with these new books. I know, because that's the system I learned very quickly--and then I was able to convince the folks at Liberty to hold the books until I got out of school and had a chance to pull my selections, at which point I'd process out the comics and paperbacks for free.

I spent many hours in Liberty during my childhood and teenage years; I came to think of it as the bookstore/newsstand equivalent of the bar in Cheers, since everyone there knew my name and treated me very amiably. Heck, they even let Gary Steele buy Playboy and Penthouse long before he was really old enough to do so (for some reason, Gary always had more spending money than me--must be due to the fact that he was an only child--so I could never afford to buy these magazines and to buy the comics and paperbacks and magazines I really wanted).

A wonderful place it was, Meagan; I tip a symbolic hat in the direction of your great-grandfather, who created a store the likes of which we'll never know again.


Doug said...

Loved reading this entry. I remember Acworth as a similar place when I was growing up, before Cobb got so huge.

My mom used to take me to the stores in downtown Acworth; to John Greene's shoe store to buy Buster Browns; Lacey Drugs for comic books off the spinner rack; and to Eaton's Department Store for clothing.

Nearly all of those places closed before I was 10 years old and downtown sort of 'died.' Luckily, some fresh investors and a city council interested in dusting off the city's history have revitalized it. There are now lots of indepenedently-owned shops and restaurants in Acworth again.

cliff said...

"Preserve your memories/ they're all that's left you..."

If you find that you begin to lose those vivid images of the Acworth stores of your childhood, write them down. Even with the new growth coming back into downtown Acworth, the stores you knew will last only as long as you and others like you remember them!