Growing Up in the 50’s: The Night Two Guys Burned Down

Two Guys From HarrisonWhat were the most important events of the 1950’s? Maybe the Korean War, the Soviets launching Sputnik, or the Cuban Revolution. But for me none of those events made much of an impression. I was born on the last day of 1949 so the 50’s were the first decade of my life and I may not have been at the top of my game as far as world events go.

For me one event eclipsed all others. The night Two Guys burned down. Where was I when this life-changing event took place? I was sitting in the parking lot watching.

Two Guys was short for Two Guys from Harrison, although I believe they eventually came to be headquartered in Newark. They had a few stores but for me there was only one, in Totowa. Two Guys was a department store. You could buy clothes, records, footballs, paintings, TV’s, virtually anything. This was before New Jersey had a megamall every 10 miles so a department store was pretty cool.

2 Guys matchesThe Totowa store was a long narrow one-story building. My strategy for a Two Guys visit was to enter the last entrance at the back of the store and walk the length of the store which brought me through every department. My usual stops were sporting goods and records (45’s and albums). The front of the store was mostly clothes which held little interest for me other than the occasional sports jersey.

The Two Guys parking lot was also the setting for the carnival in Totowa. The carnival was a week long affair and I spent every night of the week there along with most of the other kids in Totowa who were old enough to go out alone at night (in the 50’s that meant being 8 or 9).

Sadly, my mom worked nights in the Two Guys cafeteria as a cashier for a little while. I say sadly because she was grossly underemployed and proved it later in life when she became the owner of a successful insurance agency business. But she also was limited by the cultural norms of the times, mothers stayed home with their children and fathers were the primary bread winners. The fact that my mother worked at all was something of an insult to dad’s masculinity.

I don’t know how we found out about the Two Guys fire. There was no Internet and no cable TV. It certainly wasn’t on one of the five or six New York TV stations that we pulled in with our rooftop antenna and we hardly ever listened to radio. Perhaps my grandparents, who entertained themselves by listening to a police radio, heard about it and called.

However we found out, as soon as my father got the word he sprung into action. Within minutes we were all in the car, me in pajamas, and headed for a prime spot in the Two Guys parking lot to watch the fire.

Two Guys burned to the ground. It was eventually rebuilt and remained a favorite shopping spot in Passaic County for another 10 or 20 years.


Some other “Growing Up in the 50’s” posts:

The Corner Store

Christmas Time in Paterson

Thinking in Ethnic Slurs

A Decade of DIY

Tricky Dick on Main Street

Bomb Scare!

The Shop


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18 Responses to Growing Up in the 50’s: The Night Two Guys Burned Down

  1. Bob West says:

    Two Guys in Totowa was rebuilt because the building is standing right now.


  2. Arleen says:

    Boy does that bring back memories. I am Cherry Hill and remembering hearing about Two Goys.


  3. The Two Guys in Elizabeth was mom’s go to place for everything.


  4. The Building was subdivided when Bradlee’s moved in after Two guys left. Parts were empty for a long time when I was a child in Totowa. I moved before the current recreation, but I do believe the internal structure is the same.


  5. Frank Mundrick says:

    Ken D. I spent many hours in the hubby department looking and buying the cool hot rod and custom car model kits. Then as I got older and was driving I purchased a full set of Keystone mag wheels for my hopped-up 66 chevy. There was a separate building across from the main store that had the auto department downstairs and a showroom of a few new cars up stairs with a glass front to see the new cars on sale. I seem to remember the second floor and roof was also burned out from from that emence fire. I had that car in 1969-69. I later bought all my chrome stuff at The House of Chrome across the street on rt46, across from Apollo Flag or the old Channel Lumber.
    Frank M


  6. nelson says:

    I worked in two guys Totowa for 1966 to 1971. I worked in sporting goods dept.


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  8. Mark says:

    My memory may be foggy, but IIRC, the Totowa Two Guys [from Harrison] burned down on its very opening day. This would have been around 1957–and in the summer. I went to a day camp in Mountain View and we were stuck in traffic on Route 46 for quite some time.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Charles E Rakowski says:

    Your right! Two Guys sold everything! Even monkeys! When my family lived in Lyndhurst, we shopped at the store in Harrison and when we moved to Totowa we shopped there ( every week ). The parking lot was huge! The traveling carnivals that past thru the area were major accidents waiting to happen!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Robert says:

    Never realized the Totowa store burned down. I do remember it very well. At the far end was a rotunda type structure that housed carpets and floor coverings; the pet department was was a long narrow room nearby. It had a cafeteria and across from it was an arcade with skeeball machines. The store then had an angle/bend in the main walkway where the records were on the left. Then to the right were toys/groceries. Clothes were at the opposite far end.

    Liked by 1 person

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