How does a person from Hamilton, Ohio describe to others what Tom’s Cigar Store is or what it represents to us ‘Hamiltuckians’? This isn’t a research paper or an historical document being made suitable for the Smithsonian, (or even for Wikipedia), so I’m not going to spend any time doing any research. I am merely going to write my own account of Tom’s based on my dozens of personal visits as a child. Perhaps a few of you fellow Hamiltuckians have some unique and more interesting accounts of your own? Feel free to enter them in the Comments section.
I haven’t been in Tom’s for maybe 15-20 years so I’m not sure what all they sell today. On a Google look-up it states they sell all kinds of tobacco products, small hardware items like nails and screws and some bargain grocery clearance items. Here is a complete kid-description of Tom’s from 1971 or so, tapping into my memory cells.
Tom’s was a town Main St store. It had a front and rear entrance though the rear entrance was only known to the locals who might park in the small alleyway parking area (I think it held a total of 2.7 cars). We kids always came in the front door off of the Main St sidewalk. Our personal store route would make an immediate left after walking through the front entrance. Right there in front of the shop window would be various ‘seasonal’ items. For example, the kites would always be there. Tom’s and a few of the local quick marts were the only places we knew that carried kites. This will sound really strange, (but Tom’s was a strange place), but I remember archery items being next to the kites. Well sure…after you get the kite up in the air, you shoot it down or shoot your buddy accidentally in the foot…makes sense!
Just a little further down the aisle were all the reading materials. I used to like buying the Archie & Jughead comic books there when I was a pre-teen. We’d stand there browsing while trying very hard not to look at the visible Playboy magazines, (or better to say we worked hard to act like we weren’t looking at them). In the very next aisle over were all the various sizes and shapes of nuts and bolts and nails. There really wasn’t a reason to go up that aisle unless you were an adult – unlike the aisle we just came from where the Playboys were stashed.
Behind the counter was all the stuff that we kids couldn’t get to and weren’t supposed to get to (unlike the Playboys). Knives of all sizes, all kinds of tobacco products like pipes and cigars and I seem to remember handguns, but I’m not very clear on that point so it might be imagined. The third aisle from the front door was the ‘magic’ aisle. It contained a cornucopia, a hodgepodge of items. You never knew what would show up in that aisle. Today I can see that it was likely items that were picked up as clearance or wholesale discount lots.
One particular item we purchased there one summer was a small hand-sized, hand-cranked electric generator of some kind. Size wise, it could fit in the palm of an adult hand. It had a single round wheel that we could fit our fingers around in order to turn some kind of manual electric generator inside. Coming out from the generator were two thick wires.
The tiny hand crank generator worked exactly like the large one in Mr. Adams’ sixth grade class (read me). I don’t know if that little thing had any true functionality – it must have, but the only thing we kids could see it was good for was the making of a big ‘shock circle’. Our shock circle worked just like the sixth grade circle. I remember we had 11 of us one day in the alley. We made a circle, holding hands and with a turn of the wheel -zap! I just cannot imagine a store being able to sell all the cool stuff that could maim, disfigure and kill kids like we used to have. Hey – they taught us how to survive! “Survival of the fitness” as Ricky would say.
(watch the short vid for a quick chuckle – if not familiar, this is from Showtime’s Trailer Park Boys series)
In the back aisles of Tom’s and along the rear wall were tons of various fishing, camping and hunting gear. Camouflage jackets, fishing jackets, lures, poles, rods & reels, fishing boxes, tools – you name it. If it was ‘guy stuff’, Tom’s had it! There was no room for girls in Tom’s unless you could hang with the guys. If you had to do a job at home and needed a special fitting or even just good old duct tape, Tom’s was the place you headed out the door to.
For me, Tom’s Cigar Store is part of my boyhood chapters of memories. When I was a kid, we had no Wal-Mart or not even a local Kroger’s grocery store until maybe junior high. All the Main St stores thrived and there was a corner grocery store or Pony Keg within a baseball’s throw from anywhere in Hamilton, Ohio.
I’m not trying to tout that things were better then like each generation usually tries to convince us of. Things were just ‘different’. I left the house as early as I wished and didn’t have to report back in until it got close to bedtime. We didn’t worry about child abductions, (who would want us), though they occurred (I guess). Everyday really was an adventure while growing up on Prytania. No day was ever planned the day before – we’d wake up and walk over to another’s house, drag them out with us and then go get someone else. Sometimes we would walk all the way down to the “caves” located across the creek at the end of the 900 block of Prytania and catch crawdads down in the creek along the way to the caves. On other days our adventure destination might be Tom’s Cigar Store to sneak a peek at a girlie magazine and see if we could buy a self-electrocution device.