I grew up on Thompson Street, only one house from Willard Square. As you approached the square the first thing you noticed was “the blinker,” a blinking yellow light on metal stanchions with a square concrete base. It actually acted as a small traffic circle and made snow plowing difficult in the winter.

A traffic light used to sit in the middle of Willard Square. A sign on the light read, “drive to right.” The traffic island was removed in 1964 and stop signs were installed on Preble Street and at the end of Pillsbury and Thompson streets. Herbert Pray Collection/South Portland Historical Society

Traveling south on Preble Street, there were three commercial spaces on the right (427-429 Preble St.).

First was Mr. Elliot’s watch shop. Next was Wass’s Barber Shop and the third was a beauty salon. I never ventured into the latter, but Wass’s Barber Shop was a regular stop for all the neighborhood kids. When you were very young, there was a booster seat for the barber chair. As we grew up, whenever he finished cutting our hair, he would splash Bay Rum on our neck.

I worked in the Caribbean for over 20 years and would check out various bay rum samples, looking for that exact scent. Not that I wanted to wear it, but it is said that scents can trigger memories. I found products from Trinidad most like what he used.

Mr. Wass had a number of clients from the many ships that regularly visited Portland at that time. From these sailors he amassed a collection of ships in bottles. Rick Dobson, who grew up next to Mr. Wass on Day Street, and I have often wondered what happened to this beautiful collection.

Across the street were also three commercial spaces (412-420 Preble St.). Cleaves Market was the largest and, sometime around the end of the decade, it was sold to the Bathras family with old George handling the deli and meat cutting, and Mrs. Bathras tending the register.

They lived over the store and their children, Lisa and Tim, both attended South Portland schools. Next to Cleaves Market was Beane’s Drug Store. The store had a marble soda fountain and beautiful wood and glass cabinets at the rear. As kids we loved getting a root beer float, called a Rochester. The third was a small store, Richardson’s. Mr. and Mrs. Richardson lived on Lowell Street and were always nice to all the kids who would come for their great penny candy selection.

Richardson’s Market, 420 Preble St., Willard Square, circa 1945. Richardson Collection/South Portland Historical Society

Across the street was Dumont’s. The family lived at the end of Pillsbury, next to the fire station. Mr. Lucien Dumont, Sr., ran the store and his wife Phyllis raised their two children, Lucien and Dick.

I remember that Dumont’s store had a great candy collection, along with many kinds of soft drinks and snacks like potato chips and popcorn, and a large beer cooler at the rear of the store. The old soda fountain was no longer in use, but newspapers were spread on its counter.

Further south on Preble Street was Rice’s store in front of Cobb’s Greenhouse and then Flynn’s at the corner of Willard Street.

Willard Square was a bus hub – in those days, everyone shopped in Portland. The bus into town stopped and picked up in front of Richardson’s and on the return dropped off at Dumont’s. Summer visitors would come to the beach from Portland on the bus. The bus turned around and waited between trips at the end of Elsmere Avenue, so summer beach patrons could traipse down Willow if they got off in the square or down Willard if they rode the final block.

The fire station was a center of neighborhood activity. It held Tuesday bingo both to have fun and to raise funds for the neighborhood. My father, Raymond Dewey, was a volunteer fireman and drove Engine 2. He took the lead in organizing a big party at Christmas for the neighborhood kids. He arranged for entertainment and secured donations so that every child who attended the Christmas party received a bag of goodies. The bag would always include a candy cane and other sweets and might have a coloring book and crayons for younger kids or a toy truck or doll for those a little older.

I do remember that Holsum Bread would always provide small and delicious sample loaves of bread for every bag. There were old grainy 16-millimeter cartoons, followed by a film, “The Little Match Girl.”

Then Santa would deliver the presents. I spoke to Steve Doyle about these parties for his father, Archie, was also one of the organizers. Steve told me that as he grew up, he remembered a Halloween party, so I had probably aged out of those events by then.

The blinker was removed and stop signs added to the approach roads. Beane’s closed and became a storehouse for a plumbing company. Richardson’s closed and Dumont’s was torn down to make way for a house built on the site. The Bathras store remained a local institution for decades to come. Rice’s store soon closed, but Mr. Flynn continued through the 1960s. The former Beane’s Drug Store and Richardson’s Store today house Scratch Bakery. Wass Barber Shop and Elliot’s watch shop are home to Willard Scoops.

What is very satisfying to those of us who grew up there, is the renaissance the square and neighborhood has undergone. We all knew we had the best neighborhood in greater Portland. It just took a while for the rest of the community to catch on.

Note: The South Portland Historical Society is actively researching and documenting local history. If you enjoy reading about South Portland history, please lend your support. A one-year family membership is only $25 and supports our mission of preserving local history.

Donations can be made through our Online Museum website at https://sphistory.pastperfectonline.com, or if you’d prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to South Portland Historical Society and mail to us at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106. Thank you. If you need to contact the society, we can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 207-767-7299.

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