Locals discuss ‘glory days’ of Aggieville

The Campus Theater in Aggieville is now Varney's Bookstore. (File Photo | 1973 Royal Purple)

Edwin Olson Sr., owner of Olson’s Foot Health and Shoe Service, has worked in the shoe repair shop since he was around 7 years old. He said he would get “paid” with things such as new toy cars from the Duckwall store that used to be near Varney’s Book Store.

“This little two-block area called Aggieville has changed a lot,” Olson said. “They are still the same two blocks though.”

Dan Walter, Aggieville historian, said he would go to the Popcorn Palace, a frozen yogurt shop that used to be where Mr. Goodcents is, as a special treat for him and his wife.

Neither the Duckwall store nor the Popcorn Palace still occupy Aggieville. Walter and Olson both said they have lived in Manhattan for much of their lives and have seen many of the changes Aggieville has been through over the years.

Aggieville was not always so well known for its bars and used to be a full-service shopping center, according to Walter.

“The glory days of Aggieville were in the 1950s,” Walter said.

After the flood in Manhattan in 1951, many businesses moved to Aggieville while the rest of Manhattan was rebuilt. This led to the opening of a wide variety of shops, such as grocery stores, retail shops, cafes, drug stores and the Avalon Ballroom, which used to host big bands and sock hops before it burned down in the 1990s, Walter said.

More changes occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. Many restaurants switched to more fast food and pizza places. Walter said there were many disco places, and drug stores had started to move out of the area.

There have always been bars in the Aggieville area, but they have gotten cleaner and less grungy in more recent years, Olson said. These bars were for students to meet, have a beer and discuss sports and other student activities.

Olson said when he was around 12 years old, he used to go with his father after working in the shoe shop to a bar called Shamrock Tavern, which was located where Kite’s Bar and Grill is currently located. He said he would sit at the bar while his father drank a beer.

Many bars that used to be in Aggieville closed down when the drinking age changed from 18 to 21 years old, Walter said. Some stayed open, however.

Jeff Denney, owner of Auntie Mae’s Parlor, said according to legend, Auntie Mae’s opened in the 1930s as a speak-easy during the Prohibition. This cannot be confirmed due to there being no legal paperwork, but the official opening of the bar was in 1974, Denney said.

Auntie Mae’s survived the drinking age change because it has always catered to the older crowd, Denney said.

Since Denney bought the bar in 1998, he said he has seen a lot of changes.

“Spaces sit empty until some college kids decide to put a bar in them,” Denney said.

Many people think opening a bar in Aggieville would be easy money, but it is actually much harder than they think, Denney said. Every semester new bars come in and old ones leave.

There are still many “mom-and-pop shops” in Aggieville, though there are also some chain restaurants, Walter said. Although many people may associate Aggieville with its bars, Walter said there are many shops that are not related to alcohol, including creative businesses like Sisters of Sound Records and others.

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