DOVER — For several years in the 1950s, downtown Dover merchants organized a mid-summer marketing event under the name of Crazy Days (in some ads: “Krazy Daze”). It is interesting to review the newspaper ads from this time to see how many individual stores were involved, a reflection of Dover being a retail center, not only for local residents (population then about 16,000), but also for Rollinsford, the Berwicks, Eliot, Barrington and Durham.
What follows is but a partial lineup of available shops, the greater number involved offering clothing and apparel: Hooz Apparel (just south of the Central Ave. bridge. They even had an elevator for second floor shopping!). The Sorority Shop, Stuart Shaines, and Shaines Shoes — in the so-called Long Block, a one-story affair where the Mill Yard Plaza is today. Squire’s Men’s Shop, on the Upper Square, next to the American House; Tots & Teens at 433 Central; Mrs. Papas Shop, 426 Central; Farnham’s, in space now occupied by Earcraft at the corner of First Street; the Co-ed Shop, 412 Central; Michael’s and the Virginia Lee Shoppe, both on the Upper Square; Arlen’s, 386 Central; Yvonne’s, 125 Washington; Helene’s, 356 Central, Lacy’s at 442 Central; Montgomery Ward at 451 Central (offering cotton dresses, two for $5.)
There was just no excuse for not being fully decked out. And wearing your new outfit you could buy three movie tickets for a dollar, good for shows at either the Strand on Third Street or the Uptown on Broadway. Then come home to your brand new five-piece bedroom group from Warren’s Furniture at the corner of Third and Chestnut for only $195!
But things were changing. Retail was moving north out of the city core. It was the start of what became known as The Miracle Mile, from the intersection of Glenwood and Central (Page’s Corner) north along the incline known then as Gage’s Hill, to what was a genuine traffic circle. In the ’50s this area was largely residential, if not stretches of empty space. There was a motor repair and refrigeration business at 843 Central, Mayrands Wayside Furniture at 873, and the Mavis Inn (Mabel Getchell, proprietor) at 907. In the middle of the circle at the crest of the hill was The Big Dipper, popular for its ice cream, owned for many years by Ben Wescott, in later years by Dave Weeks, with a name change to reflect the new ownership.
By 1960 that same area featured Dan’s Market (“New Hampshire’s most modern food market: ham at 69 cents a pound, Spring lamb for 65 cents a pound, and cucumbers four for 19 cents!), Garrison Hill Greenhouses, Harris Motors, Johnson’s Hardware, and several other retail locations. Six years later these stores had been joined … just north of Merry St … by House of Cloth, Dover Secretarial Services, The Webb Agency, Young’s Donut Shop, a branch of the Strafford National Bank, Al Ouellette’s Organ Sales, Imperial Motors, a Shell station, Dover Bowl, a Sunoco station, Dover Auto Radiator, and the Poly Clean Center.
An interesting sidelight to all this Dover development is that the rear portions of some of the bigger stores — Shaw’s, the bowling alley — are actually in Rollinsford; two towns, two tax bills. At one point there was some talk, and perhaps even a engineering study, about the possibility of a by-pass behind Wentworth-Douglass Hospital and the expanding retail area to alleviate the growing traffic congestion on Central Ave.
There was also Siegel Department Store, an early example of the larger “discount” store, featuring a wide variety of clothing for the family. And to the south of the city was the Sawyer Mills Factory Outlet, taking up most if not all of the entire lower floor of the former now empty mill building, and advertising itself as the “largest discount house north of Boston.” They claimed 39 self-service departments, from clothing (men’s faded denim slacks, $1.98; chino pants, $2.38; boy’s jackets, $1.68) to housewares, tools, indoor and outdoor furniture, and an extensive grocery area. Here they offered a great convenience: after check out you could drive along the outside of the building, your purchases would come down a long ramp of metal rollers, and friendly employees would load everything into the trunk of your car. No lugging heavy bags (this was pretty much pre-plastics), no corrals for the carts, and just great in bad weather.
Moving into the late ’60s and early ’70s, however, there were some more changes. It was the beginning of the large malls. The smaller downtown single focus stores (men’s clothing, women’s apparel, shoe stores) could not compete. Vacancies began to appear along Central Avenue. The block of six or seven stores between the rear of Strafford Bank and Orchard Street was demolished. The Long Block made way for the Mill Plaza. And in 1976 the entire line of buildings along Washington Street from what had been Myrtle Street to Chestnut was removed as part of Dover’s Urban Renewal project.
From an historical perspective, we lost not only the physical stores, but also the relationships that had existed for so many years between customer and owner — that person was actually there, in the store, every day, just like any of the other employees. Even the so-called “chain” stores in town, such as Grants, Montgomery Ward, and Woolworth’s. were staffed with neighbors, or people you knew from church, or the Woman’s Club, or Kiwanis. As Dover and the surrounding area grew, as franchises took over, particularly in the restaurant and food industry, as the truly “corporate” approach to retail became the norm, downtown Dover was a pretty quiet place for many years despite the best efforts of the city to attract new business. The American House was torn down. The Kimball Hotel and Warren’s Furniture, both on Third Street, were lost to fire. The Leighton block on Third was removed. And for many years, the railroad went away.
But now do we see a Renaissance? New buildings, with first level spaces for new stores and restaurants. More opportunity for new residents to live right within the central core. Forty years from now will someone be writing an article for Foster’s describing the rise and success of Dover’s business community during the 2020s? We can only hope.