To a kid, it was heaven. A candy counter filled with candy of all kinds, much of it within the budget of a child who relied on cashing in pop bottles for spending money.
Rohr's was about a half a mile from our house, but in the 1950's and early 60's no one thought anything about young children walking that far by themselves. We had a few shortcuts, some that our mother didn't like--through the "colored" neighborhood, and by some low-income apartments. When I type this, I think how odd it sounds today but that was my mother's reality at the time. What is really funny is that we certainly qualified as low income but Mom never saw us that way, and we never felt that way either. Our home was filled with books and records of classical music and popular musicals. The neighborhood was genteel and elderly, with Victorian 4x4 houses lining the street and sporting their gingerbread trim. Everyone had vegetable gardens, fruit trees and flowers, and some had chickens and bees. It was not what you might think of as low income and the neighbors were certainly not. But with 13 children and a lineman's salary, Mom stretched dollars to the breaking point.
Allowances were out of the question. There wasn't enough money for that. So pop bottles it was and we scoured the neighborhood and side streets for gthe precious glass bottles. A bottle was worth 2 cents, and 2 cents could buy 2 pieces of penny candy. Three bottles provided enough for a small bottle of Coke or Pepsi and a piece of candy. Five bottles could buy a pop and a Hershey's bar. Or a pop and a popsicle. Or 10 pieces of penny candy--heaven!
We took our bottles to the local market to cash in. Manassas Market actually delivered groceries back then, in a 1957 Chevy panek truck. The owner, whose name I do not recall, patiently took in or bottles, only objecting to the ones that were muddy or not a brand he could take. Once we had our cash in hand, we walked to Rohr's--it was shopping time.
My favorite kinds of penny candy had to be Kits. Why? Because you got 4 pieces of candy for your penny! Red Licorice whips, jawbreakers and Tootsie Rolls were favorites, too. And of course Double Bubble bubble gum with its comic strip inside. If I was lucky enough to have a dime, the choices were huge. Cracker Jacks and a pop? Twinkies? Candy bars, ice cream, or a little bit of something from the glass cases? A dime could buy a quarter pound of several things--chocolate stars were my favorite.
As I got older I learned that life held something other than candy. For 19 cents I could buy a tiny bottle of perfume called Atom Bomb--and yes, it smelled that strong. I could buy the prettiest hankies for a dime and Tangee lipstick for 39 cents. Pencils, pens, cheap toys, and many other things could be bought for under 20 cents.
I also learned to save at least a little of my precious pennies for Christmas gifts. One year I bought my mother a golden, round glass pitcher for 69 cents. I struggled to buy something for everyone else in the family with the little bit of money I could save. All of my brothers and sisters did the same. The pitcher I bought my mother, I now know, was a pattern called Lido by Anchor Hocking, I believe, and today it sells online for between $10 and $25. Mom was thrilled and astounded that I could afford such a thing. I wonder sometimes if she ever knew how hard we tried to get money and how much we enjoyed buying pretty things for her.
Eventually my sister would work at Rohr's, even behind the candy counter, while she was in school. I was not allowed by my parents to have a job--as the oldest daughter, there were many barriers in my way back in those days. But Judy, only a year and a half younger than me, was able to break some of them down and got her driver's license (another no-no for me) and a job. (Mom, I think, realized that it was helpful to have someone who could drive around--the older brothers were seldom home because they had jobs, and well, they were boys and had a lot more freedom to get out. A each sister reached teen years, the limits softened and they had much more freedom than was allowed to me.)
I do not know if Rohr's Five and Dime still exists, but I kind of doubt it. But the memory of the time I spent walking across its squeaking floors and being amazed at what was within my purchasing power is still strong. I doubt the malls of today provide that same level of excitement as the old five and dimes of my childhood.