WAYNE REILLY

Street vendors — from hot dog stands to organ grinders — enlivened old Bangor

A large lunch wagon can be seen stationed behind other wagons selling farm produce in Pickering Square in this turn-of-the-century postcard showing Bangor’s big open-air market.
Courtesy of Dick Shaw
A large lunch wagon can be seen stationed behind other wagons selling farm produce in Pickering Square in this turn-of-the-century postcard showing Bangor’s big open-air market.
Posted May 25, 2014, at 5:24 p.m.
Wayne Reilly
Wayne Reilly

Street vendors selling food, jewelry, shoe shines and more were a common sight in parts of Bangor a century ago. They created a colorful atmosphere in the old Queen City as well as a bottom rung on the economic ladder for many immigrants. Occasionally these vendors made brief appearances in the city’s two daily newspapers.

When Charles Catell sold his fruit stand to Apossol Zoidis, a Greek merchant, it was important news for many people.

“For 33 years Charlie Catell’s peanut stand has been a landmark on Hammond Street, and there was in no generation in that time a youngster who did not know where he could get the largest quart of peanuts in town,” commented the Bangor Daily Commercial on May 28, Catell had profited from his famous business. He was moving to his summer home in Northport.

Sometimes in warm weather the streets were filled with music. Signor Antonio Pedro Galvinius operated a hand organ with Beppo the monkey.

“The hand organ is really a wonder,” commented the Bangor Daily News on June 16, 1908. “It has recently had an attack of asthma and has not fully recovered. It skips six measures of the Merry Widow, whistles on the seventh and eighth and whines on the ninth. Then it relapses into silence.”

The mischievous Beppo was the real attraction.

One day in front of the “Greek shoe-shining parlor” on or next to Kenduskeag Bridge, Beppo was performing stunts for pennies when he became angry and bit “a red-headed vendor of newspapers.” The “newsie” promptly threw the monkey to the ground where it “began to bark and chatter with more rapidity than a councilman discussing the library situation.”

The signor dropped the organ and attacked the newsie, who ran away. “Quiet was restored without police intervention,” the newspaper assured readers.

Such crowd scenes, which sometimes caused rioting involving dozens of people, were not uncommon in old Bangor thanks to all the street activity.

Lunch carts at busy street corners were a common sight. They sold hot dogs and other delicacies even well after dark to men working the night shift, movie goers and holiday revelers.

Charles Taylor witnessed a spectacular trolley crash late one night in 1912 near East Market Square at the intersection of Harlow, State, Park and Exchange streets. “It was going like a bullet from a gun,” said Taylor, “who had been standing near a lunch cart on Park Street when the car clattered by,” reported the Commercial on May 17.

Samuel Alpert, “a Jewish frankfurt sausage man,” was operating his food cart after midnight on July 5, 1909, at the corner of Main and Union streets when he was attacked by a street hoodlum who threw a fire cracker at him, reported the Commercial the next day. Alpert was blinded in one eye. Outraged by the event, Bangoreans raised $500 (worth about $10,000 today) to help Alpert’s family.

In the spring each year, the Bangor City Council granted licenses to street vendors and some other businesses, providing another source of information about this often overlooked segment of the economy.

A century ago this month, W. B. Merrill asked city fathers for a license to sell “novelties in the streets,” and his request was referred to the chief of police, a move often indicating the applicant had a previous run-in with the law. Likewise, J. E. Steinert’s request was tabled when he asked for a license to sell jewelry on the sidewalk at 83 Pickering Square. Both actions were written up in the newspapers on May 4 and 5, 1914.

Those receiving licenses included John E. Nelson to sell candy in Cross Street; Christopher Holland to sell candy; Max Miller to sell frankfurters; and Peter Conroy and E. C. Powers to operate lunch wagons.

Joe Kominsky was also granted a license to sell frankfurters and cream chewing candy, but not before Alderman Leadbetter took a humorous shot at him.

“I move that the chief of police stop Joe from frying onions,” said the alderman, reported the Commercial on May 4. The sentiment was echoed by others in the room who passed over the Kenduskeag Bridge where Kominsky’s establishment was located.

Not everyone was happy with the proliferation of lunch carts “in the business section of a handsome and modern city,” reported the Bangor Daily News on April 16 earlier that spring. One of them was Councilman Charles J. Bernstein who delivered a tirade on the subject during a city council meeting.

“Not long ago, “ he said, “a junk dealer was refused a license for a place in upper Washington Street on the ground that it would depreciate surrounding property. A junk shop wasn’t good enough for Washington Street, through which relatively few people pass; but the most glaring eyesores are permitted right in the heart of the business district, where everyone can see them.

“Take Exchange Street, up which hundreds of visitors pass every day. At Exchange and State streets there are four corners. On two of them are fine office buildings, on the third a theater, and on the fourth — what? A little cheese-box of a lunch cart! How members of the city council can vote thousands upon thousands for civic improvements and at the same time grant licenses for such eye-sores as this, is utterly beyond my comprehension.

“I don’t think anyone who has any pride in the city’s appearance will allow the lunch carts to remain,” Bernstein concluded. His order — blocking the renewal of lunch cart licenses — was passed in the council, but tabled by the Board of Aldermen, city government’s upper body.

Food carts would survive in force for at least awhile more, a sure sign of the Queen City’s economic health.

Wayne E. Reilly’s column on Bangor a century ago appears in the newspaper every other Monday. His latest book, Hidden History of Bangor: From Lumbering Days to the Progressive Era, is available where books are sold. Comments can be sent to him at wreilly.bdn@gmail.com.

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