There on the corner of Northgate Road and Northgate Court in Riverside sits a brick one-story building right next to where the Northgate water tower stood. It’s a residence now, but for years it was a hub of activity for local families and, especially, kids.
My earliest recollection of the site?”and we won’t say how early a recollection that was?”is that it was originally a small neighborhood grocery store. I remember it as “Shanell’s,” I can’t be sure of the spelling of the name but I do remember it was owned by a couple who to me were “very old.”
They resided in an area to the back of the store, which was on Northgate Road. The store had high shelves, and items on the higher shelves were reached by a ladder or a long pole with a clamp on the end to grab the canned goods.
I was fascinated by the sawdust on the floor, although I was never sure why it was there. I only knew my mother would never have allowed our floors to get that dirty. She would have been sweeping swifter than a Swiffer broom.
What I do remember was walking to the store to get Popsicles in the summer. I would walk to the store with the girl next door, Susie Kessler, who was older than I, so it was OK for us to go alone to the little store. The big deal about the Popsicles was, when you had finished eating them (and you had to eat them quick on hot days before they melted all over you) to check the stick. If the stick had a special mark on it, you were entitled to a free Popsicles.
Wow! There was something about getting that free iced delight that made it taste even better. And, because you felt you had to redeem the stick immediately, it meant you were able to have two Popsicles in one day, which was normally against Mom’s Law.
At some point the Shanells sold the store and another family took over the business and the residence. It then became “Ernie’s,” because the owner was a man named Ernie. As far as clever names go, that wasn’t one of them, but it did identify the store’s owner.
I believe Ernie and his family, which included Ernie’s wife and children, lived in the “home” area of the building. Another era in the little store had begun. Ernie, for the most part, was a nice man, but there were days when he would not be bestowed with the Mr. Congeniality award.
I never knew on those days if it was because he had an argument with “Mrs. Ernie” or because the number of kids coming into the store and the number of bikes strewn around in front had finally gotten to him.
The store, as you might expect, was an attraction for young consumers wanting a cold drink or candy. They spent more time than money in the little grocery store. There was a softer side to Ernie, and it showed when you least expected it.
There had been a blizzard in the Chicago area and people were not able to get to work or to the store to get food, but there was the neighborhood grocery store. Seems Ernie was able to get milk delivered, but he reserved it only for his regular customers who had children. From that time on, I had a new respect for Ernie and stopped in a little more often, even if I didn’t need anything.
When Ernie and family sold the residence and moved, it meant there was no longer going to be a store. It wasn’t because no one wanted to own the business, but a change in zoning laws stated it was no longer a commercial property.
It was sad to see the store go and the neighborly feeling that went with it, but things change. Now we have convenience stores. Convenient, yes, but not as friendly, and I bet no matter how many Popsicles you eat you probably won’t get a free one.