Memories of Christmases Past
Journeys into Paramus
The sight of a giant Santa Claus greeting shoppers as they approach Garden State Plaza warms the heart and sparks a flood of memories. The Santa is a different one - a bit smaller and modernized - but the feel is the same - harkening those passing by and providing a feeling of connection in a place where that attribute sometimes may be fleeting along Routes 4 and 17.
As mentioned, it also gets someone like me thinking about how Paramus get to be what it is today - such a rapid and stark transformation from celery farms to what is a top merchandizing destination.
I recently came across the story of this transformation online - in a paper by a Harvard student (Lizabeth Cohen) entitled " From Town Center to Shopping Center: The Reconfiguration of Community Marketplaces in Postwar America". It speaks to the restructuring of the consumer marketplace that accompanied the suburbanization of residential life in Paramus (and elsewhere) .
New suburbanites who had themselves grown up in urban neighborhoods walking to corner stores and taking public transportation to shop downtown were now contending with changed conditions. Only in the most ambitious suburban tracts built after the war did developers incorporate retail stores into their plans. In those cases, developers tended to place the shopping district at the core of the residential community, much as it had been in the pre-war planned community of Radburn, New Jersey, and in the earliest shopping centers, such as Kansas City's Country Club Plaza of the 1920s. These precedents, and their descendents in early postwar developments in Park Forest, Illinois, Levittown, New York, and Bergenfield, New Jersey, replicated the structure of the old-style urban community, where shopping was part of the public space at the settlement's core and residences spread outward from there.4 But most new suburban home developers made no effort to provide for residents' commercial needs. Rather, suburbanites were expected to fend for themselves by driving to the existing The essay cited analyzed the larger social and political implications of the shift in community marketplace from town center to shopping center.
The piece paid special attention to the case of Paramus. She states that the "postwar suburb... sprouted virtually overnight in the vegetable fields of Bergen County and became the home of the largest shopping complex in the country by the end of 1957".
She writes how within six months, R. H. Macy's Garden State Plaza and Allied Stores Corporation's Bergen Mall opened three quarters of a mile from each other at the intersection of Routes 4, 17, and the soon-to-be-completed Garden State Parkway. Both department store managements had independently recognized the enormous commercial potential of Bergen and Passaic counties; although the George Washington Bridge connected the area to Manhattan in 1931, the Depression and the war postponed major housing construction until the late 1940s. By 1960, each shopping center had two to three department stores as anchors (distinguishing it from many pre-war projects built around a single anchor), surrounded by fifty to seventy smaller stores. Attracting half a million patrons a week, these shopping centers dominated retail trade in the region.
It is an important story and one that is about our neighborhood but also one that has significance beyond.
It is a topic that we will be revcisiting in the days ahead.
In the meantime, we wish you Season's Greetings, and if you have any time in this busy season, you might get a look at this informative and thought provoking article.