By the late 1950's more East Orange families had cars, more people had moved to the new suburbs, and big "bargain" stores were opening on Route 46 to the north and on Route 22 to our southwest. Our early 1950's weekend family excursions that were just scenic drives, or to visit relatives, or to destinations like The Gingerbread Castle or the Mighty Mite, became combined with shopping for bargains in those big stores by the late 1950's. The ones on Route 46 seemed to be constantly opening, then "going out of business," then suffering an "accidental," catastrophic fire. But the only big store I remember well is the American Shops' Flagship Store.
It was on the part of Route 22 that has a very wide commercial median between the east and west bound lanes and the store was in the median. The Flagship had been a fixture on Route 22 in Union for a long time but not as a clothing store. A nightclub/restaurant called Donahue's was built at the location in the mid 1930's and then burned down. Another nightclub called Flagship 29* was built there in 1938 in the shape of an ocean liner and in 1942 it too burned down. It was rebuilt after WW2 again as a nightclub, hosting well-known entertainers of the day. Former Stockton student Seth McQuillan writes that it was his uncle, Charles Fitze, who owned and operated The Flagship (and Donahue's) when it was a nightclub/restaurant.
Below: the 1938 to 1942 version of The Flagship when it was called Flagship 29
Above: from Billboard, July 5, 1947
After a complete remodeling/rebuilding, on September 30, 1956, there was a "christening party" to celebrate its new incarnation as a clothing store** and about 1958 my parents decided I needed a new sport coat; I'm not sure that they knew there would be celebrity greeters at the store, but my father read the newspaper from front to back every day and knew I was a Yankees fan so the date of the shopping trip was probably intentional.
I got to meet Phil Rizzuto and Bill "Moose" Skowron, they gave me their autographs, and I was thrilled in my own subdued way (I'm sure I was thinking "Holy Cow!").
Above: from the newspaper The Independent-Leader, 9/27/1956, p.7
More great photos of The Flagship at the site of the Union Township Historical Society
*The highway there at the time was named NJ Route 29 and it consisted of the eastbound lanes of what is now called US Route 22
**It has since been another nightclub, a furniture store, a U-Haul agency, demolished, rebuilt, and occupied by various electronics retailers.
Flagship historical info courtesy of New Jersey Curiosities by Peter Genovese and of www.agilitynut.com/eateries/ships.html which also has great photos of the various incarnations of the building