Friday Flashback #118

If you grew up in 1950s, ’60s or early ’70s Westport, this photo means everything to you:

If you didn’t, it means nothing.

Vista is a town — or hamlet, I guess — in New York, just past New Canaan.

Vista Market was about 3 yards over the border.

It sold alcohol. So did plenty of places in Fairfield County, of course.*

But back in the day, the drinking age in Connecticut was 21. New York was 18.

You get the picture.

Generations of Westport teenagers spent untold hours racing to Vista, then roaring back.

The winding roads, the dark nights, the beer… it’s a wonder anyone lived to tell the tale.

From 1972 to ’82, Connecticut lowered its age to 18. The idea was to keep kids from making the risky trip to Vista (and Port Chester, an equally dangerous lure).

Another reason: to keep all those tax dollars here.

In 1984, Congress passed an act that effectively raised the national drinking age to 21. (It didn’t say so explicitly. But it punished any state that permitted alcohol purchases and possessions under that age, by reducing federal highway funds by 10%.)

When that happened, Westport teenagers found new, even closer places to buy beer and liquor.**

A generation of kids never knew about Vista Market. It’s been years since I’ve heard anyone mention a “Vista run.”

But somehow, the store survived.

Vista Market is still there.

* Except Wilton. 

** Including several places right here in town.

26 responses to “Friday Flashback #118

  1. So many trips to Vista! Those runs are still joked about among my old friends from High School days.

  2. Lillian A. Ferdinand

    I never went to the Vista, but… I sure do remember the many nights I borrowed my parents giant Oldsmobile 98 Deluxe car, and rolled down to Port Chester to the Stumble Inn (?). It truly is a miracle we are alive to talk about it!

  3. You think Vista market was the spot? Go a little further into Lewisboro and go to Cameron’s 24/7 Deli 😍😍😍

  4. John F. (J-period) Wandres

    Aw, Dan . . .c’mon. You’re gettin’ us old farts to reveal our true selves: One evening my buddy, Glenn Smith, and I in his 1938 Chevvy sedan (still spotted with orange-colored Rust-Oleum) made the Vista Run. He was sure he knew the way, without actually knowing which secret back roads to follow to the actual border. Result was that we ended up at the end of a gravel driveway at the home of some hapless Connecticut homeowner, with the headlights looking at a stone wall right on the state line.

  5. Chip Stephens SHS '73

    I believe the phrase was “VISTA CRUISE ALL ABOARD” The quick trip was to the beer store there not only for 18 year olds when it was legal there not here, but for any one when CT was dry after 5pm and on weekends and holidays (blue laws) If you had a party and forgot the refreshments or if you just needed some brew on a Sunday and forgot to score at one of many Westport’s fine liquor stores VISTA CRUISE was the answer. Later with national 21 year old laws and the elimination of CT Blue Laws VISTA was still a draw for Powerball tickets before CT got aboard with that too. As the need to travel to Vista dwindled for Westporters and Fairfield County the Vista Market became a nonentity and became a memory.

  6. Peter J. D. Kelley ‘61

    Nighttime runs over to the Vista market? Occasionally. But Vahsen’s in Port Chester by the railroad station was the place to sit at the bar and socialize ! When I look back on those years in the late 50s and early 60s, our youthful experiments in drinking just involved a few Rheingolds, some Thunderbird, or a few tots of Fleischmanns down by the Cannons. Sometimes taken individually, or for that far more emetic effect, taken together in volume until the discovery that moderation was far preferable. Contrasted to later generations much more serious involvements with both alcohol and drugs, “our” times all seemed so innocent. And yes, it’s indeed a miracle in most cases that we are alive today!

  7. Ah the days of the Vista run I was the driver for my brother and friends .I went back a few years ago and it has new owners and nothing like the old days Great memories though Yes we survived Most of us

  8. Actually, I never saw the Vista Market until several years ago when we drove too far looking for Grace Farms in New Canasn and I needed to turn around.

  9. We were young and dumb, but we did have fun, makin’ the Vista cruise!!!

  10. Ah, Vista! Vahsen’s. And the Stumble Inn in PC; thank you Lillian for that vivid memory […and the three-car race home on !-95. When Donnie Law, in his Riviera, stopped at the toll booth, didn’t pay but picked up $3 in quarters from the ground and drove off into the night!].
    The local Ship’s Lantern on the Post Road/Main Street intersection was the place to buy drinks if you could see over the bar. Always a cop working the light box for evening traffic. He never turned around to see us under-agers entering from Taylor Place. Warren Smith brought his lunch in one day, from his summer job, ordered a beer and sat down to eat at the bar.
    Warren was asked to leave….
    Great runs over the river and through the woods; great memories. Thanks!

  11. Staples kids were going to Vista, NY, to a bar called The Wagon Wheels in the mid and late 1940s. But not many kids had cars at that time. Several decades later, Westporters were going back to Vista, not for booze but for lottery tickets. They waited in long lines outside the Vista Market to buy tickets worth only a mere million.

  12. Michael Brennecke

    Made that run many times

  13. Ahh “The Wagon Wheels” where 15 year olds looked 18:)
    Then picked up a few cases of beer for the road back to Westport.. Not saying I ever was one of them .. but most of my male classmates may have been involved.

  14. The class of 1955 had cars that navigated on there own to Vista. Shades of self driving vehicles today..:)

  15. Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

    I never went my self…really! I did know all about it. If I remember correctly you had to put in your last order before midnight on a Saturday. Blue laws did not allow alcohol to be sold on a Sunday…Or am I remembering my early 20’s in Connecticut on the blue law part ? At Staples in the 50’s everyone knew to way . It will be interesting to see if Mike Calise comments…

  16. We would go there before we were 18. You could always get someone to buy a case for you! Later draft cards were used for ID.

  17. It sure brings Up Lots Memories , especially in my Senior Year at Staples .. A few of us made it a ritual to visit the Market every Sundays … Now thinking back on a few of those trips , many of us are still Lucky To Be Alive … What Crazy Times way back then ………

  18. Michael Elliot Staples ‘72

    We actually made Vista runs during school. I can admit that now because of the statute of limitations. But really Friday nights at Rialto in Port Chester were amazing. Nino was the bouncer. He always let us in. Sat at the bar listening The Rolling Stones play wild horses on the juke box and downing sloe gin fizzes! We were cool! And like many comments above lucky to be alive. Far more civil today, when my kids go out in Stamford they Uber home!

  19. Not all of the memories were good ones. On September 12, 1953, Staples classmate and good friend Richard Randholm was killed when his car hit the stone wall on the bad curve returning from the Wagon Wheels. – Dick Alley

  20. During the years when NY and CT were both aligned at an 18 yr old drinking age, there was still plenty of reason to make a “Vista Cruise” – CT stopped selling all liquor (including beer) at 8:00, while Vista market sold up till midnight, and was open on Sunday (when CT was not allowed to sell). So, if you missed filling your cooler by 8:00, or it was Sunday and you hadn’t planned ahead, you made a Vista cruise. (And tried to beat your previous best time . . . )

  21. Enough respect went into our Vista beer runs that I remember our Staples gang named our (pseudo? Sunday?) team The Vista Cruisers, with official-looking wicked cool 3/4-sleeve personalized baseball shirts too – though I can’t recall who or what we played (softball? Wiffle Ball?)…so maybe it was all just to immortalize the beer runs. Sadly time has erased both my recollection, and long ago, my shirt. Thanks for the memory Dan!

  22. Carissa Simon Baker

    YES, it’s a wonder we survived those Vista runs! And also the trips to Port Chester bars like Rialto and Stumble Inn….we are so lucky to have lived through it.

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