Nostalgia has proven to be one of my favorite emotions, and it has the ability to bond large groups of people together, by one common thread. Most of what I write about, as well as the success of many of these articles, can be attributed to one thing: nostalgia. In keeping with that theme, I wanted to tug at the heart strings of my fellow Hazardites, by remembering the “Old Hazard.” The sprawling, bustling, little city that so many of our mothers,fathers,grandparents, aunts and uncles recall in long worn stories, passed down for years. The “Hazard” described in these tales exists only in the minds of the story tellers, but its not lost on those like me, the recipients, who marvel at the wonder of times long gone. We look to it as an example and inspiration. This long gone time was the era when men and women went dancing on Saturday nights. Ladies brought out the bridge tables on designated dates and gambled the night away to the sound of ice clinking in their glasses. Men starched their shirts before going into town, and women never left home without their hats perfectly pinned and hands delicately gloved. There were no “pill problems” to speak of; no such thing as “those who abuse the system,” and the worst anybody could ever do was to be “caught” trying pot. Looking back on these memories, the photographs, the tales and the legends, it’s hard for me to imagine Hazard as this almost fantastical place, but it was. For all it was worth then, it’s worth remembering now.
It is impossible to think, or talk about Hazard history, without thinking first of Jerry’s Restaurant. Located across from what is now Shell Mart, Jerry’s was opened on November 12, 1968, and it was known as the very first “chain” restaurant to grace the town. The restaurant soon became a local hangout for teenagers and a favorite among locals. Boys would cruise by in their hot rods (67 camaros, 78 z28s, even old Studebakers) and burn their tires, to impress all the beautiful women. Families would clamor to purchase the “J-Boy Boxes”, “Champ Sandwiches,” and “Ground Round-topped with an onion.” Fast food wasn’t supposed to taste as good as Jerry’s, but it did. The strawberry pie was so red and perfect, it’d make your eyes burn and the chocolate fudge sundaes were piled so high and frothy that you’d have to share it, because it was too much for only one person. Cat Sizemore was the owner, with the likes of Big Ernie as the cook, Bobby Riley as manager, and longtime waitress Madelyn Riddle, who knew everyone’s order before they even sat down.
Many people would make the trip to downtown on the weekend to visit the Family Theater or The Virginian, where movies would cost you 25 to 50 cents. After the movie was over, you could walk to The Sweet Shop and get a spectacular ham salad sandwich with a thick vanilla milk shake. If you were lucky enough, you got to occupy a bar stool by the window so you could admire all the handsome boys who would sit on the rail by The Grand Hotel, to watch the ladies walk past. Boys would usually journey down to the 8-Ball Pool Room, ran by Charley and Johnny Robinson. You would have to produce your “pool card” that was supposed to be signed by your parents. Joining the 8-Ball Pool club was a right of passage, and after you had mastered the art of that establishment, you got to venture on to The Royal Bar where the “experienced” players played and drank beer. Taxi Alley was always full of cab drivers awaiting their next customers.
Among the many special restaurants in Hazard was Don’s, Gross’s Steak House and The Shamrock. Kids at Don’s would scarf down their hamburgers, so they could look at the comic books up front that were displayed, cleverly, on a revolving wire rack. You could score one for 10-12 cents. Folks would order stew and dumplins by the platter at Gross’s, and The Shamrock was owned by Grapevine and Maggie Whitaker and remained one of the few places were you could drink coffee late into the night. You could go to Rexalls during long hot summers and purchase a lemon sour, but be sure to add salt, or to Fouts drug store for a fountain float. Not lost among these ranks were the Chat n’ Chew, Smiley’s, Bailey’s, and of course, you had to get Nola’s fried chicken and gravy at The Kentucky Inn. Hazard, in those days, had all the charm and sweetness of a small town untouched by commercialism, and was purely owned and operated by the souls who lived and breathed life within those city limits.
Fathers, husbands and boyfriends would come to window shop at Papania’s, Lasslo’s, or Stiles for that perfect piece of jewelry. Little boys would receive their first knives from Davis Hardware, and you bought your first pair of Converse sneakers from Dawahares. You could go down to Scott’s 5 & dime and flip through stacks of records or locate some special toy. Later, this spot would be known as T, G, and Y. George’s shoe store had all the Aigner purses and shoes you could ever want, and whenever you had worn them out, you had to go to Halcombs, across the bridge, to get them repaired. You could go down to Home Office Supply and listen to 45’s, before you could buy them. The place was off limits to many, because it was a teenage haven. Little girls would exclaim over the peaches and cream dresses sold at Tots-n-Teens, and at Christmastime, children would line up to see the window display at Shafter Comb’s store. The Holidays were a magical time, in downtown Hazard, and something that shop keepers and town leaders took a lot of pride in. Lights would be draped over the streets, and the entire strip was transformed into a dream like winter wonderland. Every window showed their best merchandise and everyone was cheerful. By all accounts, those were special days.
I describe these things as I have read about them on message boards or on stories told on social media. Most have become tributes or oral accounts of these days that escaped us, so long ago. I’ve never walked the streets of downtown Hazard, packed shoulder to shoulder with my fellow citizens. I’ve never had a hamburger at Don’s, or gotten a root beer float at Fout’s Drug store. By the time I was old enough to really remember Hazard as a kid, the five and dime was long gone, Dawahares had moved to high street, and the only restaurant on the strip, that I ever recall, was The North Fork Grill, and even that didn’t last long. My generation will never know that special place our town was then. If you notice, I’ve not really put a name to this era or decade I am talking about, because it seems that it was every decade that preceded the 90’s. Even in the 1980’s, Hazard was busy. We’ve long lost that special, small town feel that lit up Hazard, and made her so special, and dear to our hearts.
As I was driving downtown today, I recognized some of these places from past pictures. Most now are attorney’s offices, random businesses, or just simply left vacant. My own husband works now in the building that was once The Shamrock Restaurant. Hazard has suffered a great blow with the advances of chain restaurants, commercialism, and super companies like Wal-Mart and Lowes. There is no room for small town country stores anymore, and it certainly shows downtown. We no longer have bumper to bumper traffic, you see more people wearing pajamas downtown than you do in your home.
I will always remain adamant that, despite everything, I still love Hazard, and I am always proud to tell people that this is where I am from. Am I a little sad that myself and my children will never get to experience “the Hazard” that so many remember fondly and with such pride? Of course I am. I also remain optimistic that organizations like InVision, and Fantastically Hazard are working hard at re-branding the Queen City and revitalizing downtown into a place we can all be proud of. I remain optimistic that city leaders will put their heads together to think of new and exciting ways to bring positive attention to our town and our area and help make it special again. Lastly, I remain optimistic that there are still sentimental, nostalgic folks out there, like myself, who still see the beauty of things, even though they may just need a little dusting off.
So, this one is to you. I dedicate this piece to those of you who have walked down main street and recall these places in your memory. My childhood didn’t produce those pictures. I am a product of what, I hope, will be described as a displaced generation. I want for my generation to be the only one who won’t have that caliber of memories about this place. Therefore, this piece is also dedicated to those of you who have an opportunity to change that for our children. May they have memories as fond as anyone before us.
Pictures Courtesy of: