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Betty Lee Drugs
thanks to:
Paul Moore '67
It was part of life for as long as I can remember.  As a young boy, I can remember going down the concrete steps and in the back door, seeing the phone booth to the left and the basement stairs behind the swinging door to the right.  A few steps past a vinyl-covered bench and we were in the store, under the watchful eye of 
Pat, Sam or Charlie, Mrs. B. or Mrs. G. 

Betty Lee Drugs was located at 19 South Washington Avenue.  It was owned by partners Samuel I. Ginsberg and Charles H. Bressler.  In addition to prescriptions and painkillers, they sold perfume and pomades.  When things got busy, especially in the Christmas season, the pharmacists would be joined by one or both wives, Adele Bressler and Eva Ginsberg.  And Pat, the cosmetics lady, was a fixture.  Mixed in were, at any given time, a couple of high school students. 

When I was in ninth grade, I went and got working papers and went to work at Betty Lee.  I can’t remember for sure but I think my hourly wage was under a dollar in 1963.  For that, I swept the floors (once Sam had taught me the proper way to do it), put out the trash, climbed a 20-foot stepladder to change light bulbs (OSHA?  I don’t think so!), and stocked shelves.  I learned how to spot shoplifters, and was taught the secret code to mark the purchase price as well as the sales price as I stocked.  (Since Sam has passed away, I can now reveal the code:  BLACK HORSE = 12345 67890.
 Now you can have the upper hand in negotiating if there is still any place left that uses those old codes!) 

Once I had proven I could be trusted, I was allowed to ring up purchases, drink one glass of soda per day from the private stock of assorted flavors (my first encounter with celery tonic and cream soda), and even get the you-know-whats from the special drawer under the register…always requested very quietly by red-faced male customers.  As hard as it was to buy those condoms, it’s amazing there weren’t more kids born to Bergenfield families!  I definitely remember the first time a shipment of birth control pills came in.

In my junior year, I got my driver’s license.  This meant that I was promoted to deliveries, which involved driving the coveted Chevy II all over town – bald tires that went flat about once a week, terrible in the snow, and if there was a heater it was hard to tell!  But still pretty sweet duty to somebody who could never get enough of driving!

Betty Lee Drugs continued to provide employment for me even during college breaks.  In the summers I worked at Floodwood, a Scout camp in the Adirondacks, but no more than a day after I’d return, the phone would ring and it would be Sam (“Mr. G” to me) saying “So are you going to lay around forever or are you coming to work?” 

There is no telling how many Bergenfield kids learned the virtue of work from the good folks at Betty Lee and the other small businesses up and down Washington Avenue.  As for me, I owe a real debt of gratitude to the Bresslers and Ginsbergs.  Theirs is the story of the real America, a land of opportunity indeed!

-Paul Moore, Class of 1967

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