Shopping at Sylvia’s In Kauneonga Lake

8 Feb

Every summer of my childhood and teen years, I spent some time in the S & G Outlet clothing store; or as my grandmother called it, the schmattah store.

Also known as Sylvia’s, this small store was an important part of Kauneonga Lake life.  Located on the hill just as you enter town and overlooking the lake, Sylvia’s carried a bit of all the types of clothing you might need during the summer and beyond.

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The town of Kauneonga Lake, looking up the hill to where Sylvia’s store used to stand.

Because it was the only clothing store in town, it had the undivided attention of all the girls and their moms. Sylvia, the owner, was a short, blonde dynamo of a woman.  She could sell anything.  And she did.

My sister, my mom, my grandmother, and I loved going to Sylvia’s.  We bought our bathing suits there each summer. We got jeans and sweaters, socks and underwear, sneakers and flip-flops, shoes and hats.  Everything you needed to survive the summer, you could get there.  It was the time before the big stores like Target and Walmart.  If you outgrew your clothes during the summer, as my brother often did, it was at Sylvia’s that he could get new jeans.

When my friend, Vicki, and I were 13, we were so excited that we were allowed to walk up to Sylvia’s by ourselves.  We both worked as mother’s helpers.  We would save our pay and then shop.  It was great. We felt in control because we shopped by ourselves.  But looking back, I realized our moms had no worries.  Sylvia did not carry anything we could not wear.  Sylvia kept an eye on us and knew both of our moms. And finally if we found something we could not afford, Sylvia would set it aside till our moms could come up to, perhaps, buy it.

We would often buy some of our back-to-school clothes at the store. One year Vicki and I got matching long, mustard gold sweater vests. We thought they were beautiful.  I remember we called each other to plan to wear them to North Bergen High School on the same day, once we were back in school in New Jersey.

The store itself was small. Just one large room with two lines of tables down the middle piled with clothing. A pathway between the tables allowed you to examine all the clothes. Under the tables were stacks of brown shoeboxes filled with sneakers, shoes, and sandals in children and adult sizes.  Extra merchandise was hidden under the tables as well.  Men and boys clothing did not take up as much room as the girls and women clothing. While along the walls were shelving and hanging items.  If you wanted to try something on, you went into the bathroom, which served as the changing room.

Behind the store was a small apartment where Sylvia lived with her son.  It had a little kitchen.  Sometimes when we went there with my grandmother, we had tea in the kitchen.  If the store was not busy, Sylvia and my grandmother would visit and have tea. We were allowed to go into the store and search, while they chatted.

My sister started working for Sylvia when she was 14. Sylvia always loved her.  She, my sister, had the most extensive vocabulary for a small child.  When she opened her mouth, you never knew how she would express something.  I believe Sylvia enjoyed this about my sister.  In any case, as soon as she was old enough to work in a store, she became Sylvia’s helper.

Once my sister started working there, we had an advantage over everyone else. Since she unpacked the boxes and put out the new merchandise, she knew when the best stuff arrived. When she came home from work, she would let us know what had been delivered.  If she really liked something, she would put it on the side.  I remember a pair of shoes, in particular, that my sister felt we both needed.  For that I had to go up and try them on.

When my sister was 14, I was 18.  My full time summers in the Catskills were coming to an end.  By the time I was 21, I was spending my work weeks in the city, and coming up only for the weekends.  I did much of my shopping at B. Altman’s in NYC, or at Little Marcy’s in West New York.

But I still shopped at Sylvia’s.  There was something special about walking up and down those aisles, checking everything out and finding the perfect treasure.

It was a sad day when Sylvia retired and no longer opened her store on the top of the hill overlooking Kauneonga Lake.

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