Back To School, Back In The Day

The other day, Terry Brannigan got the Bedford Middle School supply list.

Which got the native Westporter/alert “06880” reader thinking.

He remembered back-to-school shopping, back in his day.

Cool kids at Long Lots Junior High.

Cool kids at Long Lots Junior High.

It was, he says, singular and simple: a “humiliating trip to Paul Zabin’s.” That was a kids’ clothing store in Colonial Green — now the site of George Subkoff Antiques — where, Terry says, “for some reason every girl I had a crush on was shopping the same day.”

What made the experience so excruciating, Terry explains, was that “well-intended mothers forced corduroy on their embarrassed sons.”

I don’t remember corduroys — but I do remember enormous battles over whatever type of pants were considered cool (in 7th grade, they had to end well above the ankles), which of course was exactly what mothers hated.

Terry nails it: “The haberdasher at Zabin’s knew who buttered his bread. If a debate arose about fashion, he always sided with the mothers.”

Fortunately, we could always count on Schaefer’s — next door to Max’s Art Supplies — for sneakers. Tip or Charlie knew exactly what we wanted.

For non-apparel supplies — 3-ring binders, pencils, protractors (?!) — it was Barker’s.

And that was that. One trip. Bingo.

Today, back-to-school shopping is a month-long event — for no reason other than retailers have made it so. There are endless choices — of stores, fashions and supplies. It’s all there, everywhere.

Except protractors.


17 responses to “Back To School, Back In The Day

  1. My parents were very good friends with Joel Zabin, the son. He would help us with our shopping after the store was closed. Now that’s personalized service!

  2. Andra Vebell

    What about McClellan’s (sp?) Five and Dime–where CVS is now? We got our back to school supplies there. Much closer for us folks by the beach than Barker’s.

  3. Eric William Buchroeder

    Ed Mitchell’s going back to when they were on the corner of N. Compo and the Post Rd. because they were the nicest people in town and you could count on their quality. I did get many good sale deals on clothes at Paul Zabin’s though. I bought a three piece dark grey pinstripe suit my junior year at Staples for $40 that lasted through HS, college (which for ME was not an in and out in four-years stint) and my first two years of work looking great until I split the seat sitting down at a meeting in Danbury. Luckily I was wearing my 10 year old Mitchell’s trenchcoat which concealed it and got me home. I bought my own stuff wouldn’t let my mother get within 20 miles of me when I bought clothes. Mitchell’s were/are GREAT people!!!!!

  4. Sandy Soennichsen

    Hey, just go to Staples (the store) and you can get protractors of every size and color. But do the kids now know what they are for? Kids and their parents were jammed in there yesterday and getting everything in sight. I was there on a mission for my grandson, to get a small pencil case, found it amongst the other pencils, binders, markers, etc, and with a soaking wet shirt (the AC was not on) got out of the store in only 49 minutes with my solitary purchase. The store should be declared a combat zone during the days before school starts!

  5. I have no recollection of getting new clothes for the new school year, but I do recall getting those “composition” notebooks with the black & white marble design on the front cover. Are those still used at all today?

    I also remember one year getting a leather (or pseudo-leather) briefcase to carry books and notebooks in. I guess that was sort of the equivalent of today’s backpack.

  6. Peter Gambaccini

    Yikes, I actually recognize some of those “cool kids” from Long Lots. They were in my older brother’s class, two years ahead of me. So they would have been ninth graders in the spring of ’63.

  7. Tom Allen '66

    Dave Scholz ’66 (center) and Bob Forehand ’66 (left) in the foreground — spring ’63.

  8. Marcy Anson Fralick

    I remember getting my back to school clothes at Country Gal when I went to Long Lots and Staples. I was allowed the basics; skirt or two, dress, tops and a coat or jacket.

    School started in a couple of suburbs of Tucson July 11th, so we’ve had Back to School aisles in Target, Kohls, Dillards, Macy’s, Staples, Office Max, Wal-Mart, and the grocerty stores since the end of June. The last district finally went back to school August 15th, so it’s now on to the Halloween displays, then, by mid-October Halloween will share the shelves with Christmas. (No one ever does Thanksgiving). Only 124 shopping days left until Christmas….

  9. Douglass Davidoff

    This post hits it just right. Would you agree that McClellan’s was Barker’s before Barker’s was Barker’s?

  10. How well I remember Barkers. Our last name was Barker and we were listed in the telephone directory just below them. One of my fondest memories of my father and his infectious giggle, when he had done something a bit naughty, is of the evening he, I and my mom were about to sit down to dinner. Mom had not yet taken the phone off the hook which was a rule while we had dinner.
    The phone rang and as it happened, often, it was a caller re: Barkers store.
    Most of the time the calls were just for directions or hours and were answered politely by Mom or Dad. This call was from an irate shopper, a woman, who had purchased some sort of undergarment which had ripped at the zipper when she got it home.
    My dad, who had had his two perfunctory pre-dinner Manhattans listened while she complained and then said “Have you considered losing a little weight”
    It was probably a very unkind thing to say. Who knows? maybe the garment was really defective. I know she hung up with a response something like “Well, I never!”
    Guess Barkers lost a customer that night.
    Still, as for me, I have this fond memory of my dad recounting the story through giggles to me and my mom as we began dinner.

    BTW, before Barkers I remember a flower farm at that now Stop and Shop location. On the other side of S. Bulkley it was an empty field which was used by the circus or fair people as an encampment for their mobile homes once a year when they came to town.
    I’ll be having a Manhattan this evening in honor of my dad, Bill Barker. He was the best.

  11. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Ah school supplies, “bouquets of sharpened pencils”. Here, where I live in Canada, school supplies for each grade are pre-ordered now! It’s a bonus for parents, but a bummer for kids. Yes, Barkers was THE place for just about everything!

  12. My mother took us to Richards on the post road across from what is now stop and shop. Does anyone remember the keds sneaker store on Main Street, if I remember correct in the late 60’s school pf plyers, was a sneaker?

  13. Cathy Smith Barnett '66

    My mom took me to Greenberg’s to shop for camp clothing (and she put labels on everything!) so back to school meant back to Greenberg’s. When I got to be of junior high age– that awkward stage of life when a kid doesn’t want friends to see you with your mom–luckily she started shopping out of town at the Fairfield Department Store. In highschool I shopped at Country Gal for almost all my clothes, and I always bought my loafers at Barkers.

  14. Jonathan Zabin

    Paul Zabin was my grandfather and Joel Zabin is my dad. Thanks for all the wonderful comments. One of the things that forced “Paul Zabin’s” out of business was when kids didn’t have to get “school clothes”, but could wear jeans to school.