A Generational View
Patrick’s Store stood on Main Street near the Town Hall longer than my entire family lasted in Old Saybrook. It was already there when my grandparents moved to town in the 50s and it was still a going concern when I was in the Navy and visiting home.
During that time, Mr. Patrick died, but others took over the store and kept the name Patrick on it until 1999. The new owners updated the format, but it was still recognizable.
Mr. Patrick ran his store as a general mercantile. It was a men’s clothing store, a shoe shop, a newsstand, a tobacco shop, and a candy store to its customers, depending on their ages and interests. I was definitely a candy store kid. I’m sure I went there more often to pick up the newspaper for my grandmother than to buy candy, but my personal interest was always candy.
The selection at Patrick’s differed from anywhere else I had been. He had some of the same brands, but he laid out his candy like the penny candy counters in the old movies. That’s how he started in 1931, and he stayed that way. You could buy one shoelace or a few inches of little candy dots on paper that looked like register tape. One piece of Bazooka, sure, you could get that anywhere, including Patrick’s, but loose gum drops in a little paper bag? Not so much.
My mother had stories about going there after school let out and standing in a line. There’d be a dozen or more kids ahead of her, but since she was in there as much to talk to friends as to buy candy, she didn’t mind. Mr. Patrick didn’t seem to be in a hurry. He knew the kids, knew their parents, and probably, as in my case, knew their grandparents, too.
My most frequent visits to the store were to grab my grandmother’s evening newspaper. I would run from the car to the store, sometimes inside, but other times just to the newspaper rack outside the door when the shop was closed. At about four years old, I learned to recognize Mr. Patrick’s cursive handwriting of my grandparent’s last name in grease pencil: Buffington. That was ours. I captured it like a prize and ran it back to the car, come rain, snow, or new moon.
My mother seldom went into the store, except if I had a little money to spend on candy. She bought her cigarettes by the carton from the grocery store. I don’t know if she thought Mr. Patrick’s prices were too high, or if she was a little embarrassed to buy cigarettes from the man she bought so much candy from ten years earlier.
When I was a little older, I would still go in for candy, but I also liked to look at the jackknives and the lighters and the magazines. I liked the smell of cigars and pipe tobacco. And I liked to hear Mr. Patrick talk with the adults. He had all the news that wasn’t in the papers.
When the store changed hands, I went in a few times. I moved to Clinton in 1971, the year he sold the store. There were quality clothes like blue jeans and overalls, and they carried things the tourists would buy, like painted signs and postcards. And there were a few of the things from the earlier days, like Beeman’s gum. But the penny candy had given way to more sanitary and expensive sweets. And with Mr. Patrick gone, I didn’t understand the point of having a Patrick’s store.
I learned later that Mr. Patrick had a first name; Merle. He had a wife and two children. He served in France in WWI. He started the local legion post. And he even served as selectman. He was an old time shopkeeper who kept his clientele forty years. He morphed his business with the needs of his customers. His is a lost art.