I don’t have a lot of sway over at 100 William Loeb Drive any more – that’s the home of the New Hampshire Union Leader – but if we ask nicely, maybe we can get them to resurrect one of my all-time favorite Union Leader features.
You remember ”Monday Night Shoppers,” don’t you?
You would if you were around between 1957 and 1975. That was the 18-year run of the weekly back-page feature that put the spotlight – well, okay, a circle – on customers in the downtown business district. But you should also know that this back page feature was front page news when it started.
On April 15, 1957, Union Leader readers were greeted by six simple words that would do much to alter life here In The City: ”Stores Begin Monday Night Opening Here.”
In the story that accompanied the headline, the paper reported that Thursday night shopping – a festive, folksy tradition – had resulted in a ”nightmare of congestion.”
”To relieve the situation,” the paper reported, ”a group of progressive Elm Street merchants is making a concerted attempt to provide Manchester folk… an additional night for shopping.”
Everyone agreed that night should be Monday.
But that’s all they agreed upon.
In fact, the very idea of a second shopping night was a point of contention. After much heated debate, when the retail board of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce finally put the issue to its membership, the Monday night shopping question was approved by a razor-thin 68-65 vote.
That’s barely room-temperature enthusiasm, but the merchants who backed the idea – big shops like Lynch’s, Kennedy’s, Nugent’s and McQuade’s – embraced it with vigor, using big-time bargains to lure shoppers downtown.
Lynch’s offered women’s ”Ivy League” slacks – very trendy – for $1.79 a pair. Speer’s marked its boy’s shirts down from 98 cents to 59 cents and the New Idea Shoe Store had high-top sneakers for $1.99 a pair. The Bell Shops had ”bouffant petticoats” for $2.99 – white, blue or pink – and Satter’s had a cufflink set (with tie clasp) for a buck.
After the April 15 debut, there was a one-week reprieve for Fast Day, but the Monday Night Madness resumed on April 29. While news reports were colored by a bit of understandable boosterism – ”Metropolitan Manchester is well on its way to becoming a ‘two-night’ shopping center,” The UL’s Jay Hanlon reported – it was clear that the merchants needed a gimmick to make Mondays go.
The solution? It was picture perfect.
On May 6, the newspaper informed readers that a ”candid cameraman” would be roaming the downtown shopping section in search of ”thrifty, value-conscious shoppers” – there’s that boosterism again – who, if photographed, would receive crisp new twenty-dollar bills at The Union Leader.
When the photos first appeared the next day, they ran on page one – above the flag, as we say in the trade – to the delight of merchants and shoppers alike.
”I couldn’t believe it,” said Yvette Allard, whose picture was among the first to appear back in 1957. ”Everyone called and wanted to talk to the celebrity in the house. And it was me!”
Perhaps that was what made the ”Monday Night Shoppers” such a success. Simply by getting their picture in the paper, regular folks like Theresa Young, Merle (Gleason) Woitkowski, Barbara (Ficek) Kingsbury, Sandy (D’Agostino) O’Connor, Jeanne Stevenson and yes, Yvette Allard, could become ”Queen for a Day.”
And it’s a day she still remembered years and years later.
”I was with my son Larry,” she once told me. ”He’s 46 now, but he must have been five or six then. We had just bought him a new coat and you could tell it was from Kennedy’s because I had the box in my hands as big as life.”
When she picked up her cash, Yvette also picked up a glossy print of the picture. She has it to this day, as do most ”Monday Night Shopper” alumni.
”I was in the picture,” Ralph Garst once said of his 1958 moment in the sun, ”but I wasn’t the winner. It was my wife Betty. She got the circle and she got the $20, and if I remember right, that $20 paid for the dress she was carrying. After the fact, of course.”
Although the stories are similar, each has its own particular flavor, as the winners – like Barbara Heidenreich, who, with husband Al, had armloads of kids as well as packages – recall shopping patterns and favorite haunts that brought them into the eye of the camera.
* Rita Turcotte knew for a fact she was heading from McQuade’s to the Cat Alley Grill when the flash went off.
* Selma Naccach-Hoss was en route to the Cedars of Lebanon when she was captured with her eighth-grade graduation dress – from Nako’s – under her arm.
* Zatae McCarthy figured she had to be coming from Pariseau’s and heading to the Puritan when the circle closed in on her.
* Mark Younger was leaving his Dad’s store – George Younger owned Pariseau’s – for a snack at the Hampshire Plaza.
* And Annette ( LaBadie ) Boucher knows it was June of 1961 when the shutter snapped on her mom, the late Therese LaBadie, between Hill’s and Pariseau’s.
While camera-shy shoppers were all too common, others were brazen enough to seek out the lens, not so much for the money – in later years, the prize dropped to five bucks – as for the notoriety.
”I guess you could say I was stalking the cameraman,” laughed Sally (Roberge) Breslin, who labored at Leavitt’s in the late ’60s. ”I was standing in the doorway at Rheault’s Photographers, and as he came by, I stepped out in front of him and boom! He took my picture.”
Of course, the photographer responsible for capturing most of the winners – the target of Sally’s ardor – was my old pal, George Naum.
”I had to do it between my other assignments,” he said, ”so I’d run out onto Elm Street around 6 o’clock and have about an hour before my sports assignments. Usually I’d shoot 12 frames and Bucky (former night editor Jim Bucknam) would pick which six to circle. Every week, I’d make six friends and six enemies.”
And sometimes, he’d inadvertently spill the beans.
”One time, I took a picture of a guy coming out of Moreau’s with a hockey stick,” he said, ”and when I saw the picture in the paper, it dawned on me. It was about a week before Christmas. I said to myself, ‘Well, that’s not going to be a surprise.”’
But don’t be surprised if ”Monday Night Shoppers” makes a comeback, if only on Facebook.
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