Our Man in Arlington

February 28, 2018 6:38 PM0 comments

clark-fcnpArlingtonions of a certain age spent their childhoods nickel and diming.

Sucrose memories of Robertson’s 5 & 10 Cent store, which greeted kids aged 1-92 for decades near Lee Highway and N. Glebe Rd., came to me from scattered friends.

Imprinted joys of wax lips, Lik-M-Aid, atomic fireballs, model cars and surly elderly sales ladies on the prowl for shoplifters in the grittier 1950s and ‘60s.

Robertson’s at 2213 N. Buchanan St. (now Bill’s True Value Hardware) was part of a six-store empire launched in 1935 by Falls Church resident William Robertson. When he died in 1987, his obituary recalled his claim: “We always say to customers that if you can’t find it anywhere, you can find it at Robertson’s.”

Today, you can spot the outline of his “5 and 10” sign on the chimney and its original aluminum lettering inside the hardware store run since 1988 by Bill Ploskina. Robertson’s in the 1950s was at 4447 Lee Highway (later a topless bar, now Hunan Village restaurant) before moving next door. Robertson owned several surrounding stores.

“I remember the dazzling array of candy inside on the right and narrow isles crowded with goodies,” said Jane. “I still have a collection of china and pottery knick knacks” from Robertson’s.

Bob “had a pack-a-day candy cigarette habit at Robertson’s.”

The store “was a gateway drug and led me down a path to lifelong sugar addiction,” said Chris, recalling her “first foray into pet ownership” at the store when she purchased “four goldfish, a bowl, blue gravel and a ceramic castle.” A future professional singer, Chris also bought her first 45 rpm record at Robertson’s – the Chiffons’ “One Fine Day” b/w “He’s So Fine.”

Suze can still remember the store layout. “The mothballs were on the far right as you walked in.” Jean said she and her mom took sewing lessons in the basement.

Dave gorged on “root beer barrels and candy dots on sheets,” while taking home lariats, balsa wood gliders and paper kites. The store with a wood floor had a “musty smell of things that had lingered on the shelves for years.”

John came to Robertson’s for wax-pop-bottle candy, gum and “cap rolls for our guns. It was the first store I could go to on my own,” he said. “We couldn’t understand why some things cost more than 10 cents.”

Linda, as an employee there in high school, recalls Lynda Bird Johnson buying Carter’s baby clothes. “I remember working with a woman who lived across Lee Highway. She barely had enough money to have lunch.”

Nearby neighbor Mary, who went to Robertson’s for licorice mustaches, Pixie Sticks and Life Savers, recalled a woman in charge named Birdie. “She had dark hair and glasses and was built like a fire hydrant, and she had a pretty good eye on all us kids.”

Mary and Judy confessed to childhood shoplifting. “I went there fully intending to spend my hard-earned allowance (25 whole cents!) on penny candy,” Judy wrote. “But I got so distracted trying to figure what to get, I somehow I came away with an extra piece of candy.” After agonizing, she returned and “discretely dropped a penny in one of the candy boxes, hoping I would not be taken to jail. It was a whole week until I had the nerve to go back again.”

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Seven years ago, the county blessed a vision of new “transitown” development of stores, greenery and new pedestrian access around the East Falls Church Metro.

But that utilitarian commuter site is largely unchanged. The only projects in the works are two passels of new homes off Lee Highway at Underwood St., and another on Sycamore at I-66.

“We are not currently reviewing any other development applications in East Falls Church,” I’m told by county planning staffer Jessica Margarit. But that plan and policy guidance are “still valid,” and its component of creating a western entrance to the Metro remains in the capital improvement plan.

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