– memories of a man getting older –

Mr. Toth’s

January 24th, 2009 · 3 Comments

About 5 blocks or so down Amboy Avenue was Mr. Toth’s. I guess you it call it the equivalent of today’s convenience store. It was our destination for candy, penny candy, and soda. The building itself was rough red brick, two stories, with the store on the first level and I assume Mr. Toth’s lodging on the upper level. Actually, there was a basement too, but it was above ground, so the store itself, what I call the first level, was entered by climbing a flight of stairs. These stairs were concrete and ran the full width of the building. We would often leave the store and sit on these steps eating our candy.

wax-tubesThere was a specific type of candy we used to buy, a wax tube filled with a sugary syrup. We would sit on the steps, drink the liquid and throw the wax tubes into the street and watch the cars run over them. One day we were sitting on the steps and a police car pulled up. The policeman approached and asked us if we were throwing wax into the street. We conceded the fact and the policeman informed us this would have to stop. Seems we had thrown so much wax onto the road that when it rained cars were losing traction and skidding on the wax!

Mr. Toth’s son, who we never met, made wooden model airplanes. They hung from the ceiling of the store on string or wire. They were large, my childhood memory thinking they had wingspans of 3 feet or more. I recall a few were sea planes with pontoons. Speaking of sea planes triggered a Washington Lake memory. There used to be a sea plane that landed on the lake. I never heard who was using this form of transportation to get to the lake, but one stormy day the plane came in, hit the surface of the water, and flipped over. No one was hurt. The planes hanging from Mr. Toth’s ceiling could only dream of doing a water landing.

Mr. Toth sold cream soda, my favorite. But, unlike most cream sodas which had a light caramel color, the brand Mr. Toth sold was clear. He used to call it “city water.” Yeah, don’t know why, but he thought he was making some sort of joke, saying this was what water was like in the New York City.

rocketThe day came when a grocery store opened in the large, block size, empty field across the street from Mr. Toth. I think it was an A&P but don’t bet the ranch on that. Anyway, people who used to drop in to Mr. Toth’s to get some cereal or milk, now went to the A&P. Mr. Toth was an old man when we were kids. I can only imagine what it must have felt like as he watched his business fall off, kids buying penny candy becoming his biggest customers. And that is what happened.

It was typical for cereals to offer premiums, usually plastic toys, in the box. One premium that was a big hit was a toy, spring-launhed rocket. Every few months the premiums would change and the toy rocket premium hadn’t been available for many, many months, maybe over a year. I remember walking into Mr. Toth’s and there on the shelf were cereal boxes with the toy rocket premium. Thanks A&P.

It was during my college years that I paid my last visit to Mr. Toth’s store. I was surprised it was still there. I opened the old, wooden frame screen door (the large, solid wood and glass main door already  open). Opening the screen door tripped a small bell alerting Mr. Toth that a customer had entered. And there he stood, old, white hair, and wearing a very familiar smile, although a bit distorted now. The planes still hung from the ceiling. The contents of the store looked like I had entered an antique mart. There were the thin wooden framed glass cabinets that held the penny candy. There was the old red Coke cooler. There were the wooden shelves with Comet and other brand names in packaging that hadn’t been available for years.

We talked of old times and current times but I don’t recall his words. Practicing photography at the time I was lucky enough to get a wonderful photo. It was of the store front windows, filled with ads and posters that were from another time. If you looked carefully you could see Mr. Toth looking out through the window. He wasn’t clear, more of a mirage, like a whisper of a ghost. Indeed, he knew his time as a successful store keeper had long passed and his time here was almost gone. I can’t help but think he had a life he was at peace and content with. That his memories of serving all those kids candy was a joy. I believe this.

There aren’t many things in life I wish I had. Being one who tends not to hold on to much as I travel through life I got rid of all my negatives at some point. So, gone is the photo of Mr. Toth and his store. Yet, here he is, being fondly remembered and talked about many, many decades later. Thanks Mr. Toth. The fact you led a life that gave others happy memories is a worthy accomplishment. Hope I’ve done you justice and some of your spirit has been passed along. That’s an awful lot for a penny.

Tags: Metuchen N.J.

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Karen Toth Corvo // Nov 16, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Your memories of Toths Store are uncanny,perhaps this store was in Garfield , New Jersey ?
    My dad passed away a few years ago and his store is now gone. Toths was their for two generations.
    Your story was wonderful to read.

    Karen Toth Corvo

  • 2 admin // Nov 20, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Karen, so kind of you to post. Very interesting about your dad and his story. Bet you have some memories! Mr. Toth’s store of my childhood was on Amboy Avenue in Metuchen, very near the border to Edison. My high school class is planning a reunion next year and I plan to visit the location. Best. Al

  • 3 Ken Leslie // Apr 5, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    I’m amazed at your memory. You brought back certain things about Toth’s store that I had forgotten. But I do remember the wax tubes & filling the street with wax & yes it was an A&P that moved in next door. I also visited the store in my 20’s & bought some candy from Mr. Toth. It was a sad experience seeing how he had aged and what was left of his store. But as you have stated, I also got the impression from him that he was at peace and content with his life. I sometimes wonder how much penny candy he sold to all the children who frequented his store over the years. Ken

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