BENNINGTON — Ted Bird can remember finishing up his shift one night at Abe Novak's record and camera store. It was sometime around Christmas of 1956 and a busy Main Street was packed with shoppers.
It was a frequent scene in the era before big-box stores, when small downtowns were king.
Bird will present a talk this Sunday entitled "Growing Up in Bennington in the 1950s." The talk is at the Bennington Museum at 2 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
Bird said his talk is visually driven and will include a slideshow with numerous pictures of Bennington taken during that era. He said his talk will focus on where people worked, shopped and went to school, as well as what people did for entertainment.
"People came downtown for anything they needed," Bird said. "Whether it was a loaf of bread, a dress, or a Chevrolet, everything was here."
The area near Northside Drive, known as "the Flats," had only a handful of homes, a gas station and a car dealership. The area now home to the Northside Plaza was just an open field. Shopping centers, fast food restaurants and other businesses in the urban sprawl "were hardly a gleam in someone's eye," Bird said.
Bird himself began working downtown when he was 15, at a music and camera store owned by Abe Novak.
Through research from resources like old town directories — as well as what he remembers himself — Bird was able to pin down what businesses were operating downtown during the 1950s. Residents would have had 15 barbershops to choose from, for example. There were also many small shops, corner markets around town.
Bird graduated from the old Bennington High School on Main Street in 1958. That school would become a middle school when the Mount Anthony Union High School campus was built in 1967.
Before larger elementary schools were built, small schoolhouses dotted the town, Bird said.
He said people his age would have worked pumping gas, or stocked shelves at local stores, or held paper routes.
Adults could have worked at any one of the factories that manufactured products from textiles, gift wrap, Everready Batteries and capacitors. Or, they may have been employed at one of three banks located downtown.
One of the biggest changes to the downtown, Bird said, was the loss of Bennington Opera House and General Stark Theater, which was destroyed in a fire in February of 1959 — the same month iconic musician Buddy Holly died. The theater stood to the east of where L.M. Realty is now.
Other buildings have remained, but aren't home to businesses they once housed. Supermarkets like A&P and Grand Union were at the Pennysaver building and the former Bennington Arts and Graphics building, but would eventually leave.
To learn more about the Bennington Historical Society including upcoming events, news and archived presentations, visit: www.benningtonmuseum.org/bennington-historical-society.html.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-697