The soda fountain is nearly as long as the store. It is cherry red with a white counter top. Stainless steel stools with red cushions sit on red and white checkered tile flooring. Schoolhouse pendant lights, white with red-striped glass shades, dangle over the counter. Banana splits, hot fudge sundaes, milkshakes, and cream sodas are being served. And one can almost hear the “soda jerks” behind the counter, with the white caps on their heads, singing “At the Hop.” Is it 1950? No, it’s May 25, 2007 and it’s the reopening of Dellas Five and Dime.
The original owners of Dellas Five and Dime are gone. Norman Dellas died February, 2006. He, along with his father Peter and managing partner Robert T. Sullivan purchased Faulkner’s Five and Dime in 1947 from Mr. and Mrs. Raymond V. Faulkner, who established their store in the early 30s. In the 50s the Dellas family also purchased the corner restaurant and thus, expanded and remodeled the five-and-dime.
The banner headline in the “second section” of the Cape May Star and Wave on April 29, 1954 read: New Dellas Store Opens Friday. And beneath it: 10% Discount Sale Set for April 30 and May 1. Building is Now Largest One in Cape May Area. On the back of the second section is an ad placed there by E. Finley Mixner, general contractor. It reads: “We take great pride in having built the new store of Dellas, Inc. We are sure that this fine structure will speak for itself and will, better than anything we could say, the expert workmanship, experience and mechanical know-how of which we are justly proud.”
A simpler time. A happy time. A time when Main Street, U.S.A., or in this case Washington Street, Cape May, N.J. had everything you needed right within a three block area. There were no big shopping malls. No strip centers. Just downtown Cape May. And that’s what Kim Dellas-Andrus and her husband Paul Andrus want to bring back to Cape May – an old-fashioned store, run the old-fashioned way.
“The 50s were a great time,” said Paul Andrus, co-owner of Dellas Five and Dime. “The war was over. Everyone was happy and with so many baby boomers, this is something they can walk into with the grandchildren and show them what they grew up with.”
The nostalgic feeling goes far beyond the soda fountain. The Schoolhouse pendant lights hang throughout the store. On the shelves reminders of the 50s are every where. Next to the Irish Spring soap is Lifebuoy, Lava, Lux, Colgate’s Octagon All-purpose Soap, Packers Pine Tar Soap, (which the bar says originated in 1869, Fels-Naptha Heavy Duty Laundry Soap (also good for those afflicted with poison ivy), and Grandma’s Lye Soap. In the cleaning supplies aisle, sitting between the Drano and the Clorox Bleach is Ivory Snow “Color safe bleach.” Ivory Snow advertises that it “fights tough stains.” An old-fashioned drip coffee maker can be found – please no electric cords. Longtime resident Floyd Brown’s baseball collection is on sale in a corner of the store in a glass enclosed case. And that’s how it is throughout the 5-and-10. Little treasures from the past.
“We want to bring back memories,” said Kim. “Everyone we show the store to says, ‘Oh I remember when…’ and that’s the feeling we want.”
A prime piece of property right on the Washington Street Mall – when the Hand Corp., who leased the store in the 60s from Norman Dellas with the stipulation that they keep the Dellas name, did not renew their lease last year – Kim and Paul could easily have gone the way of the trend and “gone condo.” So the question we asked; “Why not condo?”
“It’s not what the town wants,” said Kim without hesitation. “We wanted to do what the town wants. We want to keep people in town. There’s no reason for them to go up to Rio Grande. We want the tourists to be happy when they come here.” And, then she pauses, “Plus, the memory of my dad.”
Peter Dellas, Kim’s grandfather, came to Cape May in 1912 as the Singer Sewing Machine representative. At the end of that year, he opened a furniture store at 104-06-08 Jackson Street. He was there for 35 years until he moved over to Washington Street. In 1934 he and his son Norman started Dellas Agency, specializing in insurance and real estate. Norman was a fixture on the mall – an avid coach and supporter of Little League and an avid and coach and supporter of Cape May.
In tackling the renovation, Paul Andrus said they used pictures of the old store with particular attention to the lighting fixtures and the wood work. “You didn’t have aluminum in those days,” he said recently, “That’s why we wanted wooden doors and we went a step further and made them mahogany so we didn’t have the upkeep. As far as the light fixtures go, the schoolhouse light they didn’t have fluorescent lights in the 50s. We tried to use light fixtures that were in the original store.”
Dellas Real Estate Agency will be accessible from the store. The apartments upstairs got an upgrade in amenities, but for the most part were left alone.
“We left them alone,” said Paul, “because to upscale them would mean to raise the rents. Our tenants are the workforce of this mall. They don’t drive and we wanted to kept the rents reasonable so working people can have a place to live.”
And about that soda fountain – there will be someone manning the soda fountain from the early morning to late at night. Paul recalled the old days when the old men of the town gathered at Roth’s Candyland at 513 Washington Street, (now the site of The Fudge Kitchen) to drink coffee, have a sandwich and talked about business and politics and what was going on about town. Over the years there were other such spots for gathering – The Beachview Restaurant at the corner of Beach Avenue and Howard Street, the Cupboard, also on Washington Street – Paul and Kim want to bring back those times when people had time to sit and think and drink a cup of coffee or have a cream soda.
“Do you know how many major decisions were made in the coffee shops [here in Cape May]? Talk about the [Washington Street] mall began at the coffee counter in Roth’s. We wanted to bring that back and to have a year round place open for the folks at the Victorian Towers.”
“I wanted to keep it going for my dad,” said Kim. And what would he think about the new and improved Dellas Five and Dime? “I talked about it with my dad [before he died]. He’d be sitting at the ice cream stand. He’d like it.” He’d like it a lot.