Today would have marked the 89th birthday of Fair Haven’s Frank Leslie Sr., owner of the iconic Whistle Stop. In honor of that, we are sharing this piece originally posted on July 20, 2016. Happy Birthday, Mr. Leslie! Thanks for the many smiles and simple good times!
By Elaine Van Develde
Sometimes all it takes is a jawbreaker, a slice of Elio’s pizza, pinball and friends all enveloped in a gingham-curtained room with a jovial giant of a dad host to make a bunch of kids smile.
Sometimes. Some simpler time back in time.
That’s pretty much all it took a few decades ago at the Whistle Stop in Fair Haven, anyway. It was a little red house in back of the Acme. Well, it’s still there, and so are the indelible memories, but times have changed and so has it’s purpose.
It was barely a conscious business intention, the Whistle Stop. Call it a kids’ community sort of concept with a little snack and tchotchke business on the side. Frank (Sr.) and Barbara Leslie opened the little penny candy store, replete with a few seats, a microwave, a freezer for frozen candy bars, a pinball machine and a TV. Oh, and it was peppered with antiques. But, who knew?
The Whistle Stop started out as an antique store in 1970, but it turned into something entirely different in 1978 that became iconic and endured through 1984 in its physical location and beyond in many a kid’s mind’s eye.
It was a stop for kids after school or on a break — or something like that. They’d walk to the store with their allowance, buy a little something, fill their bellies with an affordable slice or hot dog, and cap it off with a frozen Milky Way and a game of pinball or some TV and kidding around — literally.
And, if you were so inclined, or at least old enough to strum and half able to hold a tune, Mrs. Leslie taught guitar lessons upstairs and ran a group dubbed the Fair Haven Folk Singers. Truth: She confessed a couple of years ago that she only taught us two chords and a little plucking. But, hey, you could play just enough to enjoy a little ditty around the campfire or in a parade strumming those two.
The place just plain made kids (and the Leslies) happy. Anyone could afford to buy a little something and they got to hang out with, well, the cool neighborhood kids. The real truth is that there was a real sense of simple belonging at the Whistle Stop.
When Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect met up with the owner of one of the new businesses (which we noticed yesterday is no longer) functioning out of the former Whistle Stop’s upstairs, she was astounded that kids even walked in this slightly more than 1 square-mile borough to recreate after school, much less enjoy a jawbreaker and frozen pizza.
But, they did. And they all remember.
So, we honor the memories of the Whistle Stop and the Leslies’ legacy with this Retro Pic of the Day that shows Mr. Leslie serving up some Charleston Chews with a smile.
Mrs. Leslie had also confessed — and we’re here to tell you it’s the truth — that no one was ever left out of the Whistle Stop fun.
If a kid came in and the Leslies saw that he or she was struggling to muster up some spare change for a slice or a piece of candy, they’d just, without a word, only a smile, just put that little something they saw them eying up in their hand.
They never wanted anyone to feel left out. And no one did.
Thank you, Frank and Barbara Leslie, for the simple fun and sense of belonging in that little gingham curtained place with paper plates and plastered grins where everyone knew your name, those last baby teeth were likely lost to a frozen candy bar and no one got in trouble for any such miscreant behavior! Why? Because they were safe and content at the Whistle Stop.