Bald Barbers, Bowling Alleys and a Hardware Store: Remembering the Fairfax Shoppes

Fairfax Hardware still honors a tradition Kevin Noonan’s father brought to Fairfax in the 1950s

If you lived in Brandywine Hundred in the 1950s and 1960s, you were classified in one of two ways – you were a Graylyn Crest Shopping Center family or you were a Fairfax Shoppes family.

Back in those post-war days, they were the only two places to shop north of Wilmington because there was no Concord Mall or any of the zillion other shopping areas clogging Concord Pike today. When the Fairfax Shoppes were built in 1951 by contractor Alfred Vilone, most of that area was open space, and the further north you drove, the more open it became.

Our family was a Fairfax Shoppes family for a simple reason – my father owned and operated one of the original stores there, Noonan Brothers Hardware.

 

In fact, that’s the only store that has stayed as the same business over the last 70 years, although the name has changed. Dad sold his store in 1965 to Harry Kresge, who owned a flooring store next door. Kresge changed the name to Fairfax Hardware, and it is still called that today even though ownership has changed several times.

And the reason Dad sold his store was also simple – growing competition was going to force him to be open on Sundays, and that was something my father, a devout Catholic, wouldn’t do. So, instead of selling out, he just sold.

 

When the Fairfax Shoppes opened in 1951, there were only two blocks of stores, 14 in total (there are 29 now), separated by Fairfax Boulevard. They were:

The Al-Lu Shoppe
Arrow Cleaners
Bennett’s 5 & 10
Brittingham’s Drug Store
Dorsey Appliance Company
Fairfax Beauty Shoppe
Fairfax Floor Covering Company
Greenwood Book Shop
Dentist Stanley Goleburn
Hearn Brothers Super Market
The Colony House Restaurant
Williams Barber Shop
Parklyn Bowling Center

And, of course, Noonan Brothers Hardware.

 

See also: Remembering a Fairfax Icon: Mitchell’s Department Store

Other than Dad’s store, the original shops I remember the most were Hearn Brothers, where our mother did all of her grocery shopping, and Williams Barber Shop, where we got our haircuts. We called the owner Bill the Barber and it always struck me that Bill and his No. 2 barber, a guy named Jessie, were both bald.

As the 1950s moseyed along and turned into the 1960s, some of those stores either changed businesses or just changed names. For example, The Colony House Restaurant, next door to the hardware store, became Gina’s Restaurant.

Mitchell’s was a mainstay of the Fairfax Shoppes

Two of those newer places that were important to me as a kid were Mitchell’s Variety Store, where you could but toys, kites and model trains and was also the local headquarters for boy and girl scout apparel and equipment, and Hoy’s 5 & 10, where you could buy penny candy back in the day when it actually cost a penny, and a regular candy bar cost a nickel (or six for a quarter).

But, by far, the most important place to my friends and me was the bowling alley, which eventually became Grady’s Bowling Center and is currently occupied by Panera Bread.

Grady’s was a great place to hang out and bowl a game for 50 cents (shoe rental was a quarter) or shoot a game of pool, also for a quarter, or play a pinball machine, which was a nickel a game (with five balls per game, not three).

 

But even if you didn’t have that much money to spend, which was frequently the case with us, you could just hang out and watch other people bowl or shoot pool or play pinball. We killed countless hours at Grady’s and it’s a shame that there are so few bowling alleys still in existence, and none along Concord Pike.

Of course, the fact that my father owned one of the stores in the spanking new shopping center was the main reason Fairfax became a hub of our young universe. My friends and I regularly walked the two miles from our homes in the new development of Shipley Heights, cutting through Forest Hills Park, Lombardy Elementary School and Deerhurst.

My father and his older brother, Jimmy, initially owned two other businesses. One they opened not long after World War II — Noonan Brothers Hardware on Delaware Avenue and Scott Street in Wilmington, which is now the home of Ober R. Kline Picture Framing.

 

The other was a hardware-variety store in Dewey Beach, at the corner of what was then Route 14 (now Route 1) and New Orleans Street, right across the road from our family cottage – the Noonans have had a summer home in Dewey Beach since the late 1920s. Noonan Brothers was one of the few businesses operating in Dewey Beach at the time – hard to believe now – and in 1951, the store was sold to Harry and Thelma Wilson, who ran it as Wilson’s Variety Store for many years. It now houses Minuteman Press, Vavala’s Beach Things and Woody’s East Coast Bar & Grill. Sadly, no pictures exist from the days when it was Noonan Brothers.

Uncle Jimmy died of cancer in 1952, soon after they opened Noonan Brothers Hardware in Fairfax. Dad expanded the store in 1956, and a newspaper story about the grand opening said: “Mr. Noonan has many years of experience in the hardware business.

After being discharged from the Army in 1945, he established his first store at Delaware Avenue and Scott Street in Wilmington. From there he moved to Rehoboth [actually, Dewey Beach] and finally to Fairfax.’’

 

The article went on to say that the new store “… has more than 4,000 square feet of display space and an acoustical tile ceiling. It also features self-service display counters, a check-out counter and complete displays of do-it-yourself items, housewares, sporting goods, hardware, garden supplies, tools and tool rentals.’’

And a little piece of Dad – who died in 1998 – still lives in Fairfax. A Christmas mailbox he built for the Delaware Avenue store in the 1940s, in which kids put their letters to Santa Claus, is still put in front of Fairfax Hardware every Christmas season. In fact, when the store was recently sold to Jeff Ulmer, several employees and customers urged him to keep the mailbox tradition alive, and previous owner Art Pleasanton even made that a condition of the sale.

Dad would be pleased.


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About the Contributor

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

12 Comments

  • Rode my bike from Surrey Park, through Fairfax Neighborhood to that shopping center every day in my teen years. My first job was at that Happy Harrys. Great childhood memories. I think the bowling alley burned down right? I remember walking through the wreckage a few days later seeing tons of bowling pins burned everywhere. Also remember going up the street to the single movie theatre where Best Buy is now (maybe it was a double theatre). Getting soft pretzels and water ice from the window vendor in the lobby of Altmart Department Store where Sears is now. Going to Radio Shack to get my free Battery of the Month battery, looking at the pets at the corner pet store in the once crazy popular Concord Mall and of course, getting ALL my dress shoes at The Shoe Boat with the boat display I could play on.

  • We lived next to Bob Kresge – he and my dad were close friends – anything we needed Bob always opened the Hardware store no matter what time of day or night to assist. We loved going into the Books and Tobacco store for candy and Mitchell’s was a wonderland for kids. Scariest childhood moment – watching the bowling alley burn.

  • A great remembrance! I had no idea your dad originally owned the hardware store. I also remember going to get ice cream at Bressler’s 33 Flavors when I’d go to work at Mitchell’s with my dad as a kid.

  • My father was a friend of your dad. I think they played basketball together back in the day. We always shopped at the store sometimes I think so they could just shoot the breeze. Wasn’t there a hardware store in the Small Tigues plaza across from St MM? I thought it had a tie-in with Noonans.

  • I grew up just behind the shopping center in Fairfax. Memories of the Italian Water Ice sold at Hoys stick with me as do memories of my dad bringing burnt out TV tubes up to the hardware store’s tester to test and get replacements. My parents brought me up to the barber shop for a regular crewcut by Jesse the barber as well. Lots of fond memories!

  • I knew Mr Noonan, he was nice. My family owned Mitchell’s. I have a copy of Fairfax since we took over A list of all the stores that have been in Fairfax from when we took over Bennett’s until today.I went to school with the girl that had the beauty shop. Of course I new the Kresges, and of course Artie. I bought some of the apartments from the Kresges. I knew and still correspond with the Ferguson’s that owned The Tower of London. They are in Florida. I dated Jesse, who is new deceased. I also knew Al and lue from the Al-lue shop. I also shopped at Hearns. We should get together and reminisce. Joan Hicks. E-mail [email protected] Thanks for the memories.

  • Nichols hardware was across from SMM. Mitchells and Hoys were the best. No problem riding my bike from Cardiff to Fairfax. Never happen now with my grandkids.

  • I lived on Concord Ave.Hoys and Mitchell’s as a little guy in the late 60s early 70s were a constant destination. Rockets from Mitchell’s and penny candy from Hoys. The had a small pet area with turtles fish and birds. Mid 70s it was Gradys bowling and pinball in the back.

  • I did not grow up in North Wilmington but I absolutely loved your memories of the Fairfax Shopping Center. My shopping center was Midway.