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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Clif Brown Remembers Joe French

When I posted the September 12, 2011 Blog on Joe French's store and asked for comments and stories about Joe, I had no idea of the great response I would get. Some interesting comments were posted, and Don Maxwell's memories of Joe appeared in last Friday's Blog. Today, I'm pleased to share Clif Brown's memories of Joe French. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

By the way, I made an error in past Blog entries regarding Clif's place of residence. He resides in Arizona, not California, as I had previously stated. Sorry about that, Clif.

Pete S


by Clif Brown

Often wondered why Joe French was not featured in one of your blogs before now. I do remember a few incidents of facts, fiction and truths. Just finished reading Don’s comments and will try not to repeat. Remembering your neighbors in a good way is not always easy.

The Variety store was a great asset to the community. Joe certainly had a wide collection of merchandise, and quality ranging from poor, better and best, with price to match. How he located an item you wanted to purchase was a mystery to me. Just describe it to him and he walked right to it. If you needed an item not available, down the road to Tuckerton, Egg Harbor or Pleasantville. He saved a lot of miles on your car. I believe the modern Walmart stores came from a visit to French’s Variety store in New Gretna. What say you? Gents Furnishings could be socks, belts, suspenders, handkerchiefs, ties and etc.

Joe French's Variety Store, circa 1940's

The store was never over decorated for the holidays- a few pumpkins on the front steps for Halloween, a wreath hung in the door for Christmas, lots of christmas cards and cheap strings of Japanese Christmas lights on display. Memorial Day brought out lots of American flags for sale. 

Several punch broads were on the counter for anyone feeling lucky. Today they might be illegal. 

Some old punch boards,
an early form of the Lottery

The ads in the blog don’t list guns, ammunition and etc. but, as I recall, he had some on display. It could have been only shotgun shells. At the start of school year he carried lots of stationary supplies.

To me three things stood out. He had a large display case of candy, many well know names: Baby Ruth, Butterfingers, Milky Way, Hershey Chocolate Bars, etc which sold for one cent and, if you spent a dime, you got a extra one free.

Joe sold penny candy

Pepsi Cola was my favorite soda. Remember the jingle “twice as much for a nickel too, 12 full ounces that’s a lot” and etc. 

Lastly a pint of Hershey ice cream sold for 15 cents. Split in half, a fine treat to share with a friend.

Sometime in the early 40’s Joe decided to close on Sundays; however, selling Sunday newspapers were a problem and that’s how I got hired. Inserts to the Sunday papers were delivered during the week and stored in a box located at the front of the store. The news section came early Sunday morning and I had to put them together for sale. At that time about a total of 150 various papers were sold, the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday Bulletin, New York Sunday News, New York Sunday Mirror and Newark Star Ledger. I was ready by 7AM and shortly thereafter came my first customer by the name of Chapman who lived on Eel Street, now South Maple Avenue. He was obviously a transplant, as he got the NY Times. Don Maxwell came over by 9 AM and got a Philadelphia Inquirer. By 11 AM most of the papers were sold. I had a few “catch you next week customers” with no change. They only had big bills. I quickly learned to have lots of change on hand. Surprising, I got a few tips and packed up by 12 PM. I returned Monday to settle up. Joe was impressed by the records I kept and never questioned my figures. He treated me fair and square. This was a routine for many weeks until Joe passed the sale of daily and Sunday papers to Lang’s Esso . The gas pumps had been removed by that time.

Joe and his wife were great card players and attended many card parties given in support of various organizations. He was a member of the Bass River Election Board and served for many years. 

I know nothing about Joe's activities at the Pemberton auction, except he had a extra large panel truck to carry merchandise back and forth. When he was solicited by students for placing an ad in the Sr/Jr High school play program, he selected a full page. Whether his was a “Lum & Abner jotem down store”, he respected his customer privacy.

The nickname Talbert Loveland received from his New Gretna peers was very cruel and plagued him for years. Extending that many years after his passing is uncalled for. I never heard anybody address him directly by that name. The one time I did, he became very angry. All I want to say is that he was a loyal and excellent clerk and a helpful, patient person.


PS- How many of you out in the Blog-O-Sphere remember penny candy and punch boards? Let's hear from you! Pete S


  1. Penny candy endured for many years. I remember buying it probably in the early 50's. Punch boards....I once accompanied my stepfather to a barber shop in, maybe, Manahawkin. While he and the barber were busy with the haircut, I (unbeknownst to them) got busy with the punchboards and probably ruined several by punching out the little "chads". There was a bit of consternation after my amusement was discovered because each "punch" cost a certain amount and what I had done had cost the barber quite a bit of money. I don't remember just what was done to compensate the barber but I doubt I ever touched a punchboard again.
    Beverly Mathis Robinson