Remembering downtown Menlo Park “back in the day”

by Laura Pitchford on September 15, 2012

Recently, I was lying awake in the middle of the night trying to remember the name of the record store in downtown Menlo Park I went to with my younger sister Shell to buy Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (the 1978 movie version featuring The BeeGees and Peter Frampton). I could remember the day like it was yesterday, down to the name of the guy (Johnny Ransahoff) who sold me the record (yes, record) and how much I paid for it, but I could not for the life of me remember the name of the store.

The next morning I sent an email to my siblings and several of our lifelong friends who also grew up in either Menlo or Atherton to ask if anyone could remember the store’s name. With over 500 years of memories between us, we were able to come up with it — Joe Prein’s Music Store. [Joe Prein is right in photo circa 60s; anyone know who the other man and woman are?]

My one question was the beginning of a chain of emails filled with long forgotten Menlo Park trivia. Our 50-year-old memories began to wake up. We all remembered certain things: That life was simpler then.  That we rode our bikes everywhere in search of the best candy, toy, beloved pet, music and fun.

We remembered getting pixie sticks, red ropes, gum balls and chewable wax teeth, lips and mustaches from the Little Store, dipping into the pickle jar at Duca and Hanley, buying cinnamon sticks at Toy and Party, and sitting on Santa’s lap in this little holiday house in front of Menlo Camera. We all seemed to remember certain stores: Mary’s Stork to Teen, Stevens Fabrics, Derry’s Feed and Fuel. 

Charline reminded us of the over abundance of Palm Readers in Menlo Park. We counted at least three. We recalled charge accounts at Draeger’s and Preuss. We could even remember several of the shop owners and employees who fitted us for school shoes and restrung our tennis rackets.

Almost all of us remember Edy’s Ice Cream [on Encinal, now the Carriage Stop portion of Roger Reynolds Nursery.]. LeeLee said that she can still hear the little bell ring as the screen door opened, the smell of the refrigerating ice cream, and having to climb on a step on tip toes to see over the counter. Lisa loved the Swedish Raspberry and Bayomints. Pat remembers puking there when Rooney and Seamus took Mark’s and Pat’s Little League team there post-game.

Some of the fun was trumping others as the emails crossed paths. Lisa came up with Gindell’s Pet Shop, a name that escaped the rest of us, although we all could remember exactly where the pet store was located on Santa Cruz, and that Mrs. Gindell had a blonde beehive hairdo. Lauren remembered getting her hamster there, while Rooney remembered buying his box turtle and riding home with it on his handle bars.

We also remembered that there were two bike shops but we only went to one, Menlo Bike and Key… that the Pink Pastry was a particular favorite and that Oxford’s Delicatessen had the best roast beef sandwiches. And, of course, George and Bob [who owned a Chevron station] actually filled your car’s tank with gas at a fraction of what it costs to self serve today!

All in all, we came up with a close to a hundred businesses but even more wonderful memories!  What started as a forgotten store name on my part turned into lots of laughs.

Do you have memories and photos from some time “back in the day” whether that’s the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s in Menlo Park? Let us know: tips[at]

Photo courtesy of Menlo Park Historical Association

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