Saturday, May 10, 2008

How green were our stamp books

Not far from where I live, one of the city's main drags leads into a part of the city that used to be a village until it decided to merge with the larger entity decades ago.

But this area's business district is still there and runs the better part of a mile. When I was a kid it had a couple of drugstores (one with a soda fountain), a bakery, at least a couple of banks, a bowling alley and other assorted stores.

Over the years the businesses have come and gone. A few years ago, the bowling alley was felled by a very big ball that didn't have three finger holes. Nothing has replaced it. A building across the street seems headed for the wreckers, too.

A few years ago, a health insurance company established itself near the beginning of the business district. It wound up taking up most of a whole block, displacing a long-standing pizza shop, though a used-book store remains defiantly, and incongruously, in the middle of the block. The insurance company did a lot of remodeling, and it now appears to be doing some more. (Re-remodeling, you might say.)

I mention this because as I was walking across the street from the insurance company a week or two ago, I noticed that the workers, in removing the older but newer facade, had uncovered part of an even older sign that dates to when I was a kid.

At first I didn't recognize the sign because all I could see was:


It took a moment for me to figure out what the rest of the sign must say, but I finally got it, and when I walked in that neighborhood yesterday, the crew had done more work and my guess was confirmed:


It used to be a redemption center, where you could bring your books of Green Stamps and get stuff. My brother Michael remembers getting a bicycle there.

I can remember my mother spending evenings pasting those stamps into books. But I can't remember anything we got with them.

I also can't remember when Green Stamps disappeared, but all of a sudden they weren't around anymore. (At one point, a rival company had something called Plaid Stamps. I suspect they didn't quite catch on.) And it's been years since I've heard of a "redemption center." Kind of has an existential feel to it now, like a place you'd go for absolution. ("Shrives R Us!")

I myself never collected Green Stamps. Instead, I collected Raleigh cigarette coupons.

I should make it clear that I've never smoked, but my uncle did, and he'd give me the coupons. I even sent away for a catalog of stuff I could get with them.

I finally decided it would be neat if I could get my mother a Munsey Toaster-Broiler. (At least I think that's what it was called.) So after collecting enough coupons, I sent them in and got the contraption. And presented it to my mother. Whose response, as I recall, was lukewarm. (My first hint that women don't like getting appliances as gifts. Glad I learned it early.)

I don't recall that my mother ever used this modern wonder much, except maybe to please me. As she pointed out, you could indeed make toast with the thing -- if you put the bread on the thing's tray, put it inside the thing, turned the thing on and, after a certain point, pulled the tray out and turned the bread over. More labor-intensive than your average toaster, I guess, though maybe safer, especially if you were my uncle, who was known to have risked electrocution at least once by sticking a fork in our pop-up bread warmer.

Nowadays I suppose the closest thing we have to Green Stamps and cigarette coupons are the bonus points we get for running up our credit card bills. And we don't even have to send in for the catalog; it comes to your home unbidden. Right now I have my eye on a radio/stereo that looks like an old-time radio.

As far as I can tell, it doesn't broil anything or make toast, but you can't have everything....

1 comment:

Heidemarie Carle said...

When I was a child in Queens, I remember collecting both green stamps and plaid stamps. On rainy afternoons, the books and loose stamps would come out, and we'd all sit at the kitchen table happily dreaming of what prize our efforts would win. When my family moved to Syracuse, we no longer shopped at places that distributed either stamp. I remember being disappointed at this loss, just another strike against this foreign place to which my parents had moved us.

The last I remember of green stamps was when I was living in Florida, 1984-1985. The southern chain of grocery stores, Publix, was still distributing the stamps. My guess is that the older population there were still busy pasting their stamps and redeeming them (by catalog only). I remember sending off my package of stamps, carefully collected and carefully pasted, for some trinket long forgotten.

Thanks for the memory.