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I was born in St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1960. I like to think back to the time, half a century before, when Elmira was a dramatically different landscape.

Horses and wagons were the primary source of transportation. They held the very first auto show in Elmira at the New York State Armory on Church Street. George M. Diven had purchased a 1910 REO from the LaFrance Motor Company. Before 1910, downtown had been centered around Lake and East Water streets. Retail businesses, offices, and small manufacturers had built westward toward Main Street.

Mark Twain died and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery; 1910 seems like a very long time ago. Now, I have lived more than half a century since I was born, and what a difference that has made.

The 1960 Elmira City Directory described Elmira as a vibrant center:

“It dominates the region for many miles as the trade, industrial, financial and transportation hub of the Southern Tier. Each industry has ample space to expand and new sites are strategically located to all facilities. The proximity of raw materials gives added impetus to Elmira’s commercial life 119 miles from anthracite coal, 50 miles from bituminous coal and 55 miles from the Pennsylvania oil fields.”

Elmira had about 75 industries employing over 17,000 people. Howell, Artistic Card, General Electric, Moore Business Forms, National Homes, Schweizer Aircraft, Eclipse and American Bridge.

Elmira was the 15th largest city in New York State with a population of 52,300. Chemung County had a population of more than 93,000 and we were still growing. with “676 retail stores, 88 wholesale houses, and 675 professional offices.” We enjoyed five off street, free parking lots.

In 1960, women frequented 82 beauty shops like the Fashionette Beauty Shop on Jefferson Street, American Beauty Parlor and Mineral Baths on Park Place, and Midge’s, and Millie’s, both on Riverside Avenue. Men could choose from 50 barbershops like Ace on Luce Street, Ideal on Water Street, or Sanitary Barber Shop, also on Water Street.

If you father gave you your 50 cents allowance (worth about $4 today), you could venture downtown and consider from many enticements. The Karmelkorn Shop sounds good, or The Astor on East Water offered ice cream and candies. There were Caparulo’s on Clinton Street, Mr. Peanut at the corner of Main and Water, Doc’s Candies on Hoffman Street, and Uncle Tom’s on Davis.

Toy stores abounded: Bunis Toys Hobbies and Kids Stuff on East Water and White’s Toyland on Pennsylvania Ave. Just for fun your could shop for all kinds of things at W. T. Newbury, Kresge’s, Woolworth’s, or the two Army Navy surplus stores, Winnick’s and Harold’s.

There were more than a dozen liquor stores in or near downtown Elmira, including Family Liquor on Lake Street, and Ace, Bush, and Shappee’s, all on East Water Street. Mom and Dad could treat each other to jewelry at Alpert’s, Deister Butler,
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Dozack, Drake’s, Furman, Ray’s, Schoonover’s, Shreibman’s, Siskin, Smith, Swartout, and Winklestein’s, all downtown.

(Photo: CHEMUNG COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY PHOTO)

Fashionable clothing stores included Rosenbaum’s, the Gorton Coy, Cameo Shop, Richard’s, Markson’s, Sportogs, Werdenberg’s, and H. Strauss. After you had tried on enough clothes, you could head for the Tea Room in the basement of Iszard’s for coffee and a slice of their delicious brown bread. Up at Sears and Roebuck the whole family could be satisfied with clothes, tools, toys and roasted peanuts.

After a hard day of shopping, your family had plenty of dining out options. Within the city limits, Elmira supported 145 restaurants.

For a formal evening (especially senior proms), we went to the Mark Twain Hotel. If we wanted Italian fare, we had Moretti’s, Mustico’s, Lib’s, Lag’s, Manzari’s, and The Palms. And here are some of the more obscure choices: Elmira Chuck Wagon, Blackies East Side Lunch, and Manhattan Restaurant all on East Water; Mambo Club on North Main; The Hy Boy Drive In on Baldwin; N Joy N Eat on South Main; New Beaux Arts Grill on Carroll; Oasis Restaurant on State; and the Polish Village on Lackawanna Avenue. Elmira’s famous diners were Schanaker’s, Clinton, Colonial, City Line, Elite, Elmira, Lawrence and Vic’s.

Elmirans enjoyed 340 acres of city parks. Our largest park in 1960 was Eldridge Park with 63 acres. Newtown Battlefield was a state park. The Strathmont estate was a tourist attraction “representing the roaring ’20s.” Arnot Art Gallery, Steele Memorial Library, and the Chemung County Historical Society stood out amongst the group of cultural attractions.

From the 1960 City Directory: “The visitor in our midst soon feels the warmth and friendliness of the American way of living and working together. He is always welcome, for him we say “You Will Like Elmira.”
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