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Ron Onesti: Memories with Roberta

Ron Onesti: Memories with Roberta


BACKSTAGE with Arcada Ron Onesti Theaters

Ron Onesti with Chubby Checker, scheduled to perform at 5 p.m. Sunday, July 14 at the Arcada Theater in St. Charles.
Courtesy of Onesti Entertainment

So I'm sitting here at a random cappuccino bar, trying to collect my thoughts on this week's column. Usually my weekly topics come to me, I open my computer and start typing. In my head, it's a long sentence, so if sometimes my punctuation is a little off, now you know why.

As I contemplated a comparison between Led Zeppelin and The Who, I couldn't help but notice a table of middle-aged women talking about recipes and grandchildren at the next table. I never had the privilege of meeting any of my grandparents, so I always had a soft spot for older people.

One of the ladies happens to be looking at me. She walks up to my table and says: I love your column in the Daily Herald!

After a brief blush and a thank you, I asked her who would be someone SHE would like to see at The Arcada or Des Plaines.

I'm from Bill Haley and Chubby checker era, Roberta said. It dates from the 50s and 60s, and when I read your column it often takes me back to that era.

We continued to talk about the good old days and if you're from Chicago you can't talk about them without declaring what neighborhood (or parish) you're from. She is originally from the Chicago Avenue and Cicero Avenue area. I was born on Taylor Street, then we moved to Notre-Dame-des-Anges parish, the one that experienced this tragic fire in 1958.

When we talked about neighborhoods, we were talking about what actually made up these areas. Each neighborhood had to have certain elements that qualified it to be considered a neighborhood.

There was a convenience store in every neighborhood. There were the basic necessities. We could rarely afford to go to National, Jewel Tea or A&P supermarkets. The convenience store had a Fasano Pies push bar on the door and a cash register that had a handle similar to a slot machine.

But if you wanted meat, you had to go to the local butcher. It was usually a guy with a lit cigarette in his mouth, a blood-soaked white apron cutting beef bones on a worn butcher block. The floors were covered with sawdust to absorb the gray that would make them slippery.

And then there was the bakery. It was more of a bakery with pan pizzas on the counter. The baker would cut you a slice with an old pair of black-handled metal scissors. There weren't many treats, other than a few cookies, but you could order a birthday or wedding cake at any time.

The local hardware store was a place that really looked like a builder himself. All shelves were constructed from wood and painted with gray paint. The only way to buy nails and screws was in bulk, as the counter was flanked by lead pipes and wooden bins filled with different sized nails.

Housekeepers also made up a large part of the neighborhood. In my case, my father WAS the local tailor and cleaner. The smell of steamed clothes still resonates in my nose to this day. Some of my fondest memories were playing dress up as a child with unclaimed clothes from the 50s and 60s.

The pharmacy also had this particular smell. There was an orange Rexall sign out front. I remember it looked like a chemistry set had blown up there. We could buy various items there. I never really knew what they were, but I knew where to find them! But the candy counter was unlike any other!

There was also the local children's shoe store and a florist. Every neighborhood had a pizzeria, an ice cream parlor, doctors' and dentists' offices, and a funeral home. If you were lucky, there was also a hot dog stand and a candy store. All basic necessities.

It's truly amazing that all of these services are available in just about every six-block radius in the city. I have such fond memories of these things. Now it's a quick click on an Amazon app and you're done.

When it comes to customer service, nothing compares to this era. I can only hope that future generations will somehow be able to experience what we did as children. But the reality is that all of this happened in the form of 45 rpm records and Saturday morning guitar lessons.

It was great to reminisce with Roberta. She thinks I'm doing her a favor by writing this column. If only she knew what she did for me today.

Chubby Checker appears live July 14 at the Arcada Theater. Go to for the tickets!

Ron Onesti is President and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp., Arcada Theater of St. Charles and Theater Des Plaines. Celebrity questions and comments? Send an email to [email protected].




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