Dory’s Stories: Rochester During the Mid-20th Century

It was an exciting time in Rochester, New York during the middle of the 20th Century. The economic boom of Midtown Plaza, Sibley’s department store, and the influx of job opportunities at Eastman Kodak helped turn downtown into a thriving city. Doris Adamak recently took her fellow residents at St. John’s Meadows down memory lane with “Dory’s Stories,” an interactive presentation highlighting this unique period in Rochester history.

Doris began her journey hopping onto the bus and getting off at Main Street and Clinton Avenue, where she was greeted by Mr. Peanut. This iconic Planters’ character would hand passersby bags of peanuts outside of the Planters Peanuts store. She then strolled into Neisner’s, the local five and dime store, to discover bargain items with a fun, family atmosphere. Inside the store were photo booths where friends could get snapshots together for mere pennies. With her stomach rumbling, there Dory orders a hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes for 35¢ before heading to her next adventure.

Dory holding up Mr. Peanut, who greeted her at the bus stop.

Soon after, Dory steps into Sibley’s, Rochester’s very own version of New York City’s Macy’s department store. The main floor of Sibley’s had gourmet foods as well as American staples. The iconic clock tower located on the bottom floor of Sibley’s encouraged the phrase, “meet me under the clock,” which was a popular spot for friends to meet up. As Dory puts it, “the clock was the greatest meeting place for friends.” She reminisces about Toyland while sipping some malted milk. Toyland was the most popular Christmas display for children at Sibley’s during the holiday season. Even throughout the Great Depression, the store did not pull back resources in an effort to make sure the season was magical. Doris explained that people came from all over, not just the Rochester area, to witness the joyful displays.

Dory had a packed crowd of residents listening to her presentation.

Closing out her day of travel throughout Rochester, Dory poses an important question to her audience: “what were some of your favorite restaurants?” Many answers followed, including the Manhattan and Lorenzo’s. Both restaurants are now closed, but those who enjoyed them continue to remember them fondly. In speaking to the Manhattan, local newsman and frequent patron Henry Clune called it “the finest restaurant in the city.” After a delicious meal, there was no better place to satisfy your sweet tooth than McCurdy’s. A large department store in Midtown Plaza, this Rochester spot served delicious cakes and baked goods.

Dory holding up the kind of kazoo you could hear playing at Sibley’s.

Although downtown Rochester looks quite different now, residents enjoyed sharing and laughing over cherished memories of our wonderful city. One thing Dory surely does not miss from the period is the restrictive clothing. Many chuckles erupted from the crowd of residents as Dory pulled out the undergarments that women in the mid 20th century were expected to wear. With a stylish hat on her heard, Dory agrees with everyone that at least clothes have gotten more comfortable as the scenery of downtown has transformed.

Doris worked in recreation at another senior living community for over 25 years and still travels to do educational and fun presentations around Rochester. St. John’s is lucky to have an amazing resident who delights in sharing the history of Rochester with her neighbors. For more information about educational opportunities at St. John’s Meadows, please visit our events calendar here:

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