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Recalling Street Vendors in the 1920s

by Nat Bodian

        When I think back to my early childhood days on that Montgomery Street block bounded by Quitman and Monmouth Streets in Newark's old Third Ward, I am reminded of the variety of street vendors who made stops on that block on a regular basis.

        The most frequent was the ice man, for those who could afford home delivery.  People who patronized the ice man would be given a square card, about 12 inches by 12 inches with a different number facing up on each edge.  Daily, the householder would put the card against the front window with a number standing up -- a "15" told the iceman to bring up a 15 cent piece of ice, a "25" meant a 25 cent piece of ice, etc.  and deposit it in the ice box.

        Another street regular was the little man pushing a pushcart laden with bananas, his cart covered with quilts--perhaps to protect his bananas from the sun's rays.

        He would come by with a chant that I still recall: ba-nan-ahs... ripe ba-nan-nahs.... if you no got thee mun-nee you no get the bun-nee....ripe ba-nan-nahs.

        As I recall, he sold them by the dozen, something like 10 cents, 15 cents, and 20 cents a dozen, depending on size.

        Another regular was the junk  man, driving a horse and wagon.  I don't recall his chant, but he would buy up old and broken pieces of furniture, scrap metal, and odds and ends giving a few pennies for each purchase.

        Another street regular was the knife sharpener.  He would push a cart with handles like on a wheelbarrow with a huge sharpening stone wheel and would sharpen knives and scissors.  He used a little clapper against a ball to attract attention, as I recall.

        In the fall, I remember the sweet potato man, pushing a hand cart with hot sweet potatoes.  For a penny, three cents, or a nickel, you could buy warmed up sweet potatoes of varying sizes.

        Also, in the fall of every year, we were visited by a farmer who grew apples and sold them off the back of a horse and wagon.  His wagon was loaded high with baskets, probably half bushels, of winesap apple--his only variety, and you bought the basket and apples for 75 cents.

        In the summer, as kids of 6, 7 or 8, we were periodically visited by a truck with a rickety merry-go-round on its back which had about six seats.  For a penny, you could get a short ride on the merry-go-round on a colorfully painted horse.

        Also, in the summer, our block was visited by a magazine man.  He would attract small children by displaying a variety of toys and prizes on the top of his car trunk which he said could be won by selling magazines.  Different numbers or magazines sold earned different prizes.  I think we also got a small commission for each magazine sold.  I tried one year, selling Ladies Home Journals.  There weren't many buyers in my poor neighborhood.  I don't recall winning any of the  prizes.

        Children of the 1920s from other Newark neighborhoods may have different recollections of street vendors, but for us 6, 7 and 8 year olds, our Montgomery Street block was our own little world, and these vendors were part of our world.



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