Dort Mall; Flint, Michigan

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Sometimes instead of being redeveloped into strip malls and “Lifestyle Centers”, enclosed malls are simply forgotten, passed over like so much fruit cake in December. The reasons for this are varied, but mostly have to do with the fact that the area the mall lies in is no longer viable for retail, or at least the kind of retail that spawns big box and expansive strip malls.

Dort Mall, along Dort Highway on the south side of Flint, is one of these malls. Dort Mall opened as the Flint area’s first enclosed mall, in 1963, on the site of the former Dort Drive-In Theatre. In its earlier days, it was originally anchored by a Yankee store and possibly Cunningham’s and A&P. Yankee was later bought out by Zody’s, and after Zody’s disappeared it became Sears Outlet. The Sears Outlet closed somewhat recently and was split into Perani’s Hockey World, Bargain Hunterz thrift store, and a bingo hall. The north end of the mall currently houses a Big Lots which does not have access into the indoor portion of the mall. Also worth mention is the giant “Muffler man” type statue on the south end of the mall. Could this be Farmer Jack in a former Farmer Jack location?

The indoor part of Dort Mall isn’t spartan or barren by any means, like many dead malls. Today, the mall is filled with Americana like old gas station signs, advertisements and paraphernalia from General Motors products, and signs galore. However, only a couple shops exist within the mall which do not have outdoor entrances, notably one which exclusively sells T-shirts. Only a few people go inside Dort Mall today, and I don’t imagine all the old signs are that much of a draw. I took these pictures of Dort Mall in August 2005.

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49 Responses to “Dort Mall; Flint, Michigan”

  1. Wasn’t this mall featured prominently in one of the Michael Moore movies? I can’t remember which one, but I think it may have been Fahrenheit 9/11. He was talking about how military recruiters target young people in malls that exist in um, ‘economically challenged’ areas, to put it a bit more politely than he did..

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  2. That was Courtland Center, which is also quite interesting. It, however economically downtrodden, still functions as a mall, unlike this heap.

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    sarah g Reply:

    @Prangeway, The courtland center at least has dunhams and the shoe store, penny’s, the gym, jo ann’s, staples, and the movie theater. They won’t close for that alone, it’s the only one for miles.

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  3. I wish I had gotten some pics a couple years ago when I went to this mall; their collection of signs was much bigger then.

    And there never was a Farmer Jack in Dort Mall. That “statue” is really of MAD’s Alfred E. Neuman.

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  4. I had no idea Zody’s stores were anywhere but the West Coast.

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  5. Yeah, Zody’s lasted for about 15 minutes here in Michigan.

    For those unfamiliar with Michigan retail:

    * Yankee was a discounter along the lines of Kmart.

    * Cunningham’s was a drugstore in Michigan and Ohio. The Michigan stores were bought by Perry, and the Ohio ones by Gray Drug. Rite Aid bought out Perry and Gray Drug in the 1990s.

    Also, Dort Mall had a theater at the back until 1983; the theatre’s restrooms are still used as the mall restrooms, but the rest of the cinema is vacant. The cinema building still says “Cinema” on it.

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  6. In the late 70’s the Dort Mall was named the Small Mall. In the basement was a large discotech called The Light. (seriously!) It was huge the summer that I graduaated from high school in 1977. It was very popular until about 1980. It had one of those flashing light dance floors and the elevated dj booth. If I close my eyes I can still see the lights and here the whistles from Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls.” I don’t remember when it closed.

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    Michael Reply:

    @joydivision, Yes, “The Light” was a GREAT venue – with a Max Capacity of 1500, Saturday nights were the greatest, when one could always count on some action!

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  7. Bob Perani’s collection of memorabilia in this mall is absolutely breathtaking. I wept when I found it and sat in awe of all the wonderment of the past starting back at me. It is a collection of every good piece of America, the Flint we loved and knew in the 50’s-80’s before GM left town.

    This place has to be seen to be believed. It is much richer in texture and scope than the photos reveal. It’s a piece of modern, retrospective art that anyone would appreciate, if they just took a moment to realize that every piece in the collection has a story to tell.

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  8. I just found out something – the northern 1/3 of this mall has been closed off and converted to offices. Apparently this happened a while back.

    Also, at one point, there was apparently a Walgreens in the mall. Seems strange that they’d have both Walgreens and Perry, unless Perry took the old Walgreens.

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  9. Caldor: If anything, it could have been in “Roger and Me”, the mockumentary about Flint’s condition…

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  10. I love that mall. I went in there two days ago and WOW has that collection grew. I LOVE the Heli Boat!!!! I wanna fly it.

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  11. I worked at the theatre in 1976. In those days, in addition to General Cinema there was a Lanes drug store with a luncheonette attached. It was taken over by Perry Drug and they jettisoned the luncheonette, which then became Star Diner, run by the people who ran the Star Diner in the former Howard Johnsons, further north on Dort Hwy. Also in the mall was The Vogue (womens clothing), Blackstones (mens clothing) Flint Home (furniture, they occupied 2 units, one on each side of the mall in the northern half). There was a Michigan Secretary of State office Cablevision had an office there. The northern-most section on the west side was occupied by GMAC and the General Motors Institute. That big hockey equipment store that is there now had just moved in, then in a small store that had been a jewelry store. The A&P had recently left from the northern-most unit on the east side (now occupied by Big Lots). There was a little store selling sewing machines, and near the theatre there was a little shoe repair shop. In the former Zody store, they had built a bingo hall in the north-west corner and a short time later they subdivided the rest of the Zody store into a bunch of small shop spaces, leaving the southern half a large space which was occupied by a Sears outlet store. In the basement of the main mall was a banquet room with a kitchen which was a popular place to hold wedding receptions for people of limited means. The mall was owned by William Olyksen, who owned the Dort Drive-in theatre that had been on the property prior to the mall. By 1976 he was elderly and in decline, coming into the mall every evening walking and looking the place over. That year the family hired a management company to try to revitalize the mall. They remodeled the exterior front, divided the Zody store and renamed it “The Small Mall”. They were actively marketing the place separately to both the public and to merchants seeking space. By the time I left town in early 1977 they were having some success, but apparently it hasn’t lasted.

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  12. I used to work for Bob Perani about 15 yrs. ago. Besides his hockey store being the only real business in the mall and largest independent Hockey store in the world, he has turned the most of the mall into a collection of odd and unusual things. Like his mint condition Trans Am with 666 actual miles on it with the 6.6 ltr engine. He also has some vintage pinball machines that were apraised at $ 20,000 -$50,000 . And no, Bob has never asked for a fee to visit his collection, although you may have to listen for about an hour to the stories on he got them.

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    Dave Rodgers Reply:

    @Mike Carr,
    I recently acquired a large item reported to be from this collection of Mr. Perani’s in Flint, Mich. I am trying to find out more about the items origin and when it may have been acquired for this collection. If you have any suggestions, or can guide me to a source of information, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanking you in advance.
    Dave Rodgers

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  13. Well here is some good news. I am the president of a local Flint Custom Club. Our club is holding there 5th Annual Custom show in the parking lot of The Dort Mall this June on the 7th. Hopefully this will if not spark up a little interest in the Mall itself, atleast it will get people who have Never been there a chance to see it. We will let people know to be sure to visit the inside of the mall to see what it has to offer.

    I have lived in the neighborhood Directly behind the mall for the past 18 years, I would hate to see it close down.

    Our show continues to grow each year with 149 entries last year. So this maybe the new location for our annual show.

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  14. I grew up not too far from the Dort Mall. I remember going to the A&P and the movies. At that time the mall was still doing pretty good business. By the time I was in high school (early 80s) the traffic in the mall had slowed to nearly nothing as the anchor tenants disappeared.

    Dort Mall had the misfortune of being on Dort Highway about a mile from the expressway, whereas Eastland Mall (later Courtland Center) was right off the expressway 1 exit further from downtown Flint. On top of that the mile between the expressway and Dort Mall included such classy establishments as the Cinema Blue and the Tokyo massage parlor.

    I remember seeing the Dort Mall renamed to the Small Mall, and later as Mid America Plaza (a really stupid name IMHO). I’m glad it’s back to the Dort Mall. I haven’t been inside in years. Maybe next time I’m in Flint…

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  15. I remember both going to the Yankee store as a little boy and the Light as a high schooler, and many movies around back at the theater. As a boy I thought the lobby of the theater was really nice, and the original single-screen room was pretty nice too, but once they split the room into two screens it was really spartan and not such a great place to see a film. The mall holds a special place in my heart because I went to that Secretary of State office to get my first driver’s license.

    I remember that portion of town as a classic blue-collar area. South of the mall you had K-Mart, Frank’s nursery, a grocery store (Kroger’s maybe?), the Flint Cinema, and a bowling alley, and across Dort Highway you had eateries like Arby’s and Big John. I left Flint in 1984, and on the rare occasions I am back there it makes me sad to drive up Dort Highway.

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  16. I used to eat at Friar Tucks here when I was little kid

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  17. Now that I think I about it, I too went to that same Secretary of State office to get my first driver’s license. What a day that was. I grew up just off of Fenton and Atherton Road area and remember the Dort Mall area very well. There was a place across the street (by the Arby’s) that rented indoor space to work on your car. That was great in the winter.

    My mom belonged to the Slenderform Spa just down the road, next to the K-Mart I believe. And the cinema that was next to that was where I saw my first Kurt Russel film . . . “The Computer That Wore Tennis Shoes.”

    Of course, as I got older I spend my fare share of time at the clubs in that area, too. I remember The Light in the basement, and Embers Lounge across the street, and Contos just down the road a piece . . . somewhere near Jimmy Lums (is that still there?). And if we weren’t there, we were at the million dollar Mikitam (sp) and even Playland.

    Well, I left Flint at the wise old age of 20 in 1980 and return for an occasion visit now and then. It’s somewhat sad to see the sparkle and dazzle gone.

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  18. When I got married and moved to Michigan 10 years ago, one of the first places my husband took me was to the Dort Mall. Not expecting much, when I walked in, my jaw dropped open and stayed that way till we explored through all the memorabilia. I have been to many places in my 50 some years but this is the most memorable and unusual. It is on my “to do list” when anyone from out of state visits. I tell everyone I encounter here about it and surprisingly, lot of the locals have never seen the place. I love to take them there and blow them away. No trip to Dort Mall is complete without getting the Hamburger Deal at Star Coney. Mr. Perani, I have never met you but you have put together a collection not only Flint, but the entire country should be extremely proud of. Thank you from the bottom of my heart…

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  19. im a littel younger but i really like the dort mall its like a littel thers so much of flint history there and ever time i go i see somthing new

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  20. This advice is really going to help, thanks.

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  21. Sad sad sad.

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  22. I saw the Superman 3 in this theater. So it was still showing films in 1983. Sears Surplus store was open and so was Perry Drugs. At the north end, where Big Lots is now, there was a “Chuck E. Cheese type” kids pizza place called, I think “Circus Time”. Mr. Perani had the sign with clown on it re-installed a few years ago. There was also a cosmetology school in the basement known as Mr. David’s. I like to stop in to Star Brothers Coney when I’m nearby, it’s like a timecapsule. It’s very retro and the diner food is great! My friend worked for Perani and told me that the theater is now filled with shelves of hockey equipment waiting to be sold. Perani’s (the mall owners) is one of the country’s largest catalog hockey supply stores, so they must be doing some upkeep. And one last thing, the stairs that led to “The Light” are now covered by a large aquarium by the front door. I was told that the bar was intact when they stuffed it with hockey equipment.

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  23. I used to live across the street and remember the Small Mall well. I would love to be able to go down there and revisit “The Light” so Saturday Night Fever with the light up dance floor, wonder if the dance floor is still there? I remember Mr. David’s hair place and knew some people that went to school there. There used to be a ladies nighty place (Raquels) near the south end where there was like a hallway towards the back with stores.I had forgotten about Circus Time. I remember Perry’s there for a long time, I kind of worked across the street at Drugs and Things down from Big Johns and old Hamady’s warehouse, across the street Franks Beauty and barber. What about Lum’s restaurant and Bonaza down form Slenderform, Frank’s Nursery and the Cinema. Rock a rolla records, think the 11th Frame? is still there.

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  24. Hmm. Where was the Lum’s? I know where the Bonanza was, it was still open into the late 80s.

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    JR Harrison Reply:

    @TenPoundHammer (Bobby),

    Lum’s, better known as Jimmy Lum’s, was on Dort somewhere near Lipponcott I believe – close to Contos.

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  25. How about Big Johns, awesome steak and onion
    My parents owned Knapp shoes on Dort Hwy
    next to Murrays auto in from of the small mall

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  26. I worked at Star Bros. restraunt in the late 70’s it’s still there. Good food and quiet now days, i remember when the mall was hoppin! Midnight madness at the theater and the disco down stairs, their was a head shop that sold electric bongs and an upscale womens store THE VOUGE that sold furs. Once a buffet style restraunt was in there. Curtis Mathes TV store, royal coney acress the street and jimmy lums was next to ponderosa. Baker college was next door. Pier 1 and empire lounge just a block away, 2 bowling allys a block away, embers, trevies pizza, and the phaze 5, all gone…….damn.

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  27. What was the name of the buffet style restaurant located in what is now the Small Mall – I used to take my sons there when they were small – they are now in their early thirties

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  28. March 1 2010

    I read with great interest of all the comments posted on the Dort Mall. I worked in the Yankee store in 1965. I remember when the drive-in was there and disappointed when I couldn’t get to the last movie shown-Hatari before it was torn down.
    Al Rosenthal wasthe Yankee store manager, Harry Mays and Carl Doty where assistant managers. I remember when we expanded to the outside with lawn and garden because of Franks Nursery competition.
    The new Yankee stores, in my opinion, where the best designed stores then and would still hold-up today if they were still in operation. I also worked in the Davison Yankee store. It was a split store (They were separated by other stores) with softlines run by Harold Demarr, the overall manager and I ran the hardline store at the end. I left for a few years as a sale rep and then visited all Michigan Yankee stores plus other retail chains. After Our company left Michigan, I went to work at the Ballenger store-Westgate Yankees, and (I Can’t remember there first names) Realumuto was manager, Doty’s son was assistant, me and eventually Harry Mays. Although sales were falling we still were shocked when Al Natanson the District Manager told us one late bleak November morning in 1974, that Yankees were going out of business. There is nothing worse than working for a store going out of business. Joe Megdell , the founder and president who sold out in 1967 was very upset over 2000 total employees were going to lose there jobs and remarked he would never had sold out if that was ever to happen.
    If any former Yankee store alumni from those three stores I worked in -please free to e-mail me.

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    joe Reply:

    @David Stone, i rememer the drive in move place but two guys younger then dont i` m 57 there 52!
    it was at atherton and dort correct?
    thank you joe
    joezeeb@aol.com

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    david stone Reply:

    @joe,

    Yes. It was built in 1946.

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    joe Reply:

    @David Stone, am i correct betting there was a drive in theater at atherton and dort hyw. in the sixties?
    thanks joe

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    david stone Reply:

    @joe, Yes and there was a miniature golf place across Dort Hwy

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  29. Maggie,
    The name of the buffett was “The Harbor House” and it was great! Me and my friends would take the wives in and eat frog legs and ham steaks until we would almost be sick. There were a couple other locations in Michigan like down in Drayton Plains which is now Waterford. I went and saw the Godfather at the theater there. Sears outlet was there for a while. It does break your heart to drive through the old stomping grounds.

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  30. I grew up in Holly, Michigan. Going into Flint during the 60s and early 70s was something that was planned as a one day shopping trip about once a month or so. I remember all the store names that have been brought up. Some I had forgotten about, but remembered when mentioned. I always enjoyed going to Kmart and Yankees/Zodys. I usually got my Matchbox fix whenever we went shopping!

    Later as I got older the Light and Embers was a great place to hang out. Bakers Junior College was right behind the mall, so there was always plenty of good times to be had!

    Today the mall is not very populated but because of all the cool memorabilia that Peranis has on display, the mall has a great following of people who enjoy taking in the history. At any age, I dare you to walk into the mall and not get a little nostalgic and leave with a warm heart and a smile!
    Our custom bicycle club (FreakBike Nation) had a ride/scavenger hunt a couple of years ago. It started at Rocky’s and we rode over to the Dort Strip, from the mall and southward. The mall cooperated with the scavenger hunt and our Freaks loved every minute of looking at all the cool stuff. Many of the guys have gone back to it since then, some several times! This Sept. 2010 will probably see us back again for another Scavenger hunt.
    Thank you to Peranis for keeping our history and memories alive
    If anyone would be interested in the Sept. ride or any of our rides, please feel free to check us out:
    http://www.freakbikenation.com
    Look for the Great Lakes section on the bottom of the messageboard!
    Thank you all for this great walk down the past life of Dort!
    “Chainsaw” Jim Johnson

    p.s. alot of the memorabilia has been sold off. I heard that they sell stuff off every so often to make room for a bunch of new “old” stuff. I sure hope this is true, I would hate to see this place close completely.

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    sarah mascara Reply:

    @Chainsaw, unfortunately, the guy who owned the place died not too long ago and I hear his wife didn’t share in his nostalgia. I think she’s selling everything off slowly. All the cars and the big elephant are gone, I think the carousel was missing last time I was there, a bunch of costumes and other Star Wars stuff aren’t there anymore.. It’s sad. =(

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  31. My wife and I met at the “LIGHT” BAR/ DISCO 28 years ago April 15, 2010. We have been married 25 years this Aug. 3. “YA WE REMEMBER THE LIGHT AT THE MALL” !!

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    Craig Fishbaugh Reply:

    @Ken, Congrats. A lot of memories from the basement in the mall. I was up there to the end. Helped run ” The Light ” with Tony and Steve. GREAT TIMES>>>> Again…Congrats!!!!!

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  32. What was the name of the mall that had the store Vogue? In the summer the parking was transformed to an amusement park with a ferris wheel?

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  33. Walli’s was the best. Walli’s Supper Club “famous for smorgasbord” owned and operated by Arne and Fran Walli. Beluga caviar was one of the all-you-can-eat items on the smorgasbord. It was a favorite haunt of GM plant execs.

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  34. Everyone’s posts are bringing back memories that I had forgotten.

    I remember visiting the Dort Mall (Which my mother always called the “Small Mall”) with my parents in the early 1980’s; I must have been 13 or 14. I remember the memorabilia because my father worked for General Motors and he had Buick insignias on everything from tie clips to note pads.

    We would travel from Brighton to Flint to go to the mall because they had a Friar Tuck’s. This was a little restaurant that served diet food. I always thought the food had kind of an odd taste, but my mother loved the stuff.

    Walking in the entrance and there was a store on the right hand side that had floor to ceiling windows. The store frequently had mannequins wearing very expensive looking fur coats. I remember the mall having a collection of unusual stores. One was a store that carried country western and square dancing outfits. Another store was all dollhouses and dollhouse accessories. I also remember passing either a strip club or possibly a massage parlor as we were heading home (Living in Brighton, the only other time I remember seeing this type of establishment was when we were driving down 8 Mile for some reason).

    My mother did not like the general area where the mall was located. When she found another Friar Tucks, in West Bloomfield, we stopped going to the Dort Mall. While the restaurant in West Bloomfield was much nicer, the trips to the Dort Mall were always more interesting (at least from a young teenager’s perspective). Does anyone else remember these things?

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  35. I attended Baker College next to the Dort Mall in the late 1970s. Friar Tuck’s was a great place. I met my husband at The Embers Lounge on Dort Hwy. 30 years ago (we’re old now, and still married). We always went to The Light after Michigan home games with a large group of Michigan Ski Club members. Had lots of fun there.

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  36. WOW! What a walk down memory lane. I remember the A&P there vividly, my dad worked there several years in the late 60’s. It use to have a door leaving A&P into the mall. Besides Yankees, I also remember a barber shop ‘downstairs’.

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  37. @David Stone,
    Hi David, I worked for the dort mall Yankee store in 1972. What a great time, do you remember Millie and Woody in the stock room? I worked for them. A lot of good people worked there when I was there. Al was Manager and asst manager by the name of Forncrook or Fornier I think. Do you remember the last name of the tall blond in the front office? Pam was her first name. I have been racking my brain trying to figure that out. Too many years.

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  38. Hi Clutch

    As you can see I don:t look at this site too often. I believe Fornier was the name. Al has since passed and the other people mentioned draws a blank. As I go into other stores today I think Yankees still had the best look and would be around today if Joe Megdell hadn,t relinquished it too early.

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  39. Clutch, her name is Pamela Carrol. I believe she married the Assistant Mgr, David O’toole. Maria worked in the front Office and yes, Fournier was the Mgr, previously assistant Mgr and his daughter, Scotty worked in Domestics department. I worked years with Woody and Milly before moving to the Automotive department

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