Bethany and Beyond by
25
(38 Stories)

Prompted By Shopping Local

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I grew up in the very small town of Bethany, Connecticut, about five miles north of New Haven.  How small?  Well, 2,000 residents at that time – – and, arguably, even more cows and horses.  That said, it was not quite like that proverbial town that was so small that the “Now entering ____” and “Now leaving ___” signs were painted on the opposite sides of the same sign.  In fact, in pure area, Bethany is larger than New Haven. It even had 3-acre zoning when I was growing up — not for estates with pools and tennis courts, but because it was mainly still farmland then.  In many ways, it was a bucolic paradise to grow up in.

How small?  Well, 2,000 residents at that time - - and, arguably, even more cows and horses.  That said, it was not quite like that proverbial town that was so small that the "Now entering ____" and "Now leaving ___" signs were painted on the opposite sides of the same sign. 

 

 

But, in terms of shopping, Bethany was not just small, it was virtually non-existent.  We had two “general stores” with gas pumps.  They had cutesy names like “Pleasant Valley”  and “Countryside,” but they were always just Ivar’s and LaCroixs to the locals, in honor of the folks who owned them.  And they were hardly “general” in their merchandise.  Sure, plenty of gum, candy and ice cream for us kids, but very little by way of grocery staples.  You had to drive to the shopping center in the next town, on the border of New Haven, for that.  There was also one ice cream stand, a Dairy Queen/Carvel knock-off, which later built a pool and a couple of tennis courts and converted itself into a “club” (but still open to the public).  And, not surprisingly, in the summer a few vegetable and fruit stands opened on the Bethany farms; best corn in the world.

And though the “Now entering” and “Now leaving” signs were several miles apart, Bethany had but one traffic light. And it wasn’t really that; it was just a one-light, blinking yellow signal on the crest of the main road to encourage people to slow down as they passed our town churches — Episcopal and Congregational, of course — and Town Hall. (I was able to find a current photo of the Congregational Church, which I annex — and am happy to see it displaying a Pride flag.)

(As an aside, a few drive-throughs in the past decades, as well as some quick googling, indicate that Bethany has now boomed to over 5,000 residents, and now has — I dare not say “boasts” —  a couple of pizzerias, a diner and slightly larger grocery options. But the Mall of America it still ain’t.)

After permanently leaving Bethany when I graduated from law school, I lived for most of my life in its exact shopping opposite: New York City.  In New York, of course, there are so many shopping options that anything more than two blocks away is considered another neighborhood.  And in that two block area, there are always the five New York shopping essentials: a grocery store, a pharmacy, a cleaners and at least one decent pizza and Chinese.

I now live in Bedford, Massachusetts, nestled between Lexington and Concord.  Its population is 13,000 and it shares many of Bethany’s charms, right down to annual town meetings, folks who have lived there for years and know everything about the town. and a small 4th of July parade.  But it also has real live shopping within its four corners, including, besides some good local shops and restaurants — and for better and worse —  a Stop and Shop, a Whole Foods, a CVS, a Starbuck’s, a T.J. Maxx and, this being New England, the ubiquitous Dunkin Donuts.  And, most importantly, an Ace Hardware.  Indeed, when old, old friends of mine ask me about living in Bedford, I smile and say it’s like “Bethany with benefits.”

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin


Characterizations: been there, well written

Comments

  1. Laurie Levy says:

    I love your description of Bethany, John. Reminded me of John Forster’s song “Entering Marion.” One of my kids lives in a suburb of Indianapolis where I have yet to find a unique store. And now the malls are closing as Amazon rules. Shopping in actual stores may soon be a thing of the past.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Laurie. I find myself confused — or maybe just hypocritical — in my own usage of chains and Amazon. And will definitely have to listen to “Entering Marion” — thanks for the “prompt.”

  2. Great story, John. Having lived in several of the “169 cities and towns of Connecticut”, the phrase heard over and over while I was there, your description of Bethany evokes memories of those places, too. Sadly, too many in the Hartford exurban area became bedroom communities to the exclusion of all else.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Tom. Amusingly (at least to me), I remember doing a massive school report on Connecticut in fifth grade and having to do several maps for it. One was a political map showing all 169 cities and towns — needed some tiny print for some of them — and, as I result, I, too, have remembered the exact number.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Bethany sounds like a great place to grow up, John. Lots of room to roam and not many places to get into trouble. Perhaps shopping wasn’t too convenient for the grown-ups, but delightful for the youth of your youth.

    • John Shutkin says:

      In Retrospect (ahem), Bethany was a terrific place to grow up. I think we kids found it a bit boring — but, near exciting New Haven, who could blame us? And even the kids in the neighboring towns — we went to a regional junior high and high school — thought we were “hicks.”

  4. Suzy says:

    John, I love learning all this detail about Bethany. I went there in college, of course, with you and our other pals, but only for the purpose of going to events at Yale, so I never got a sense of the town. Sounds so charming! And I also love your comparison with its “shopping opposite,” NYC, and the five NY shopping essentials. Great story!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. Of course, as a kid, I never thought in terms of “sense of the town.” More along the lines of “there’s nothing to do here” and “I’ve gotta drive — or bike — five miles just to get anywhere.” I do appreciate it more now, and am very happy to live in a decidedly unpretentious, Bethany-esque town.

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