Stephen King wrote a novel by that name - "Needful Things." In it, a store always had just what the customers wanted, but the price was - shall we say: too high? It turned out, the store was run by the Devil, and he was intent on setting the townsfolk against each other. Well, Oak Bluffs had its own version of that store - minus the Devil (thank God!). It was a little place called Mattel's 5 & 10. I always wondered about part of the name; what did the five and the ten refer to? Certainly no the price; everything in there cost many different prices than five or ten dollars. My Dad explained that there had been a time, long ago, when everything in the store did cost five or ten - cents!
After I picked my jaw up from the floor, I ask him if he had bought a lot of toys from the place, back then. He shook his head. No, back then, even five cents was a lot of money. He said that Pop - his Dad, had made fifty-cents an hour, and he was a master plumber. Again my jaw hit the floor. I was young at the time, but math was always my strong subject. I didn't need a calculator to "do the math", and realize that Grandfather made between four and five dollars a day! That did help to put the store's prices into perspective.
Yet, for me, the store was just like that Stephen King novel. No matter what I wanted to find, they always seemed to have it. And it was such a tiny place, narrow, yet very deep; wedged in between Phillip's Hardware Store and The Corner Store. From the outside, it hardly looked like anything; just plain glass display windows with curtains, and there usually wasn't anything in the windows.
Ah, but inside, like I said, everything I wanted. I collected matchbox cars as a kid. Any special, rare or unusual one that I couldn't find back home - it was in there. I loved those American Heritage games. You may have heard of them; each was a war game set in a different war from America's history. Mattel's had all of them!
Years later, I brought my girlfriend to the island for the first time. I'd told her about the store, and she was curious to see it. As it happened, there was something she was looking for; an old card game called Rage. She and her family had played it for years, and literally worn their decks out! Yet, they had never been able to find them anywhere; the game was out of print. So, she thought she'd put the store to the test. We flew up to the island, visited my brother, and saw all my old haunts. And yes, we stopped by... the store. I stepped inside, and felt as if I'd slipped through a time warp; the place didn't look as if it had changed one bit in... a lot of years. Jo Ann stepped up to the counter and started to talk to the clerk about her game. Me, I knew the drill. You don't ask for something, you... let it... call to you. It doesn't matter what you're looking for; you have to wander the store. So, I stepped off into one of the aisles, and yet let the store guide me. I wasn't disappointed. There, on a shelf, right in front of me, was a box. In it was not one deck of Rage cards, but half a dozen! I picked up two, and stepped over to the counter. Jo Ann was just finishing describing the game, as I held them before her. To say she was surprised would be an understatement! We bought every deck, and took them home to her family. She told the story of that store to all of them, and become a true believer in its power.
Yet, like so many things in our world, the store's power had its limits. It wasn't able to survive in the "New Economy" of our modern world, and the store finally closed. I was sad to see it go, but so glad to have been a part of its history. I only wish I had gone in there looking for a first issue of Superman! Man, I could retire on that sucker.
Click here for more by AJ Robinson.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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