28 December 2009

Look Sharp!

Sometimes it takes an eagle eye to spot the New York history that's been covered up, built over, repainted and obscured.

I've passed by the tiny pet shop Let's Pet on Henry Street and Baltic many a time. And, despite appreciating the quasi-European, atmospheric smallness of the Brooklyn storefront, and its neighboring Chinese takeout joint, I didn't notice anything significant about the place. But a few weeks back, the setting sun hit the old wooden door at just the right angle, and I thought I saw something, near the base of the door. Some letters, almost completely hidden by several coats of paint. "Root" preceded by few more letters, including an "L" and "D."

The owner noticed I was staring at the door. "There's some words at the bottom of your door," I explained. "Wildroot!" she said. "It's a sign for Wildroot. This used to be a barbershop. You're the first person ever to notice that." Wildroot was a popular hair tonic in the early and mid-20th century. It was introduced in Buffalo, New York in 1911 with the trademark "Wildroot" registered in 1932. The company was locally owned and operated until 1959 when it purchased by the Colgate-Palmolive Co. The 1937 Wildroot office building and factory still stand at 1740 Bailey Avenue between Broadway and Sycamore Streets.

The barbershop must have been there some time ago, because Let's Pet is about 20 years old. Then I pointed out something the owner hadn't notice. Just above the "Wildroot," in small letters, were the words "Ask for." "Ask for Wildroot."

Very likely the sign was a version of the placard seen below.


Brett said...

Wildroot sponsored the old Sam Spade Detective radio show in the 40s and 50s and I think you can still find Wildroot if you look hard enough.

If you download the old Spade shows (and you should they're fantastic) they usually come with the Wildroot commercials.

Unknown said...

I used Wildroot as a kid in the 1950s growing up in the Catskills. It was a white goop in a bottle. You put a little in the palm of your hand and you mussed it into your wet hair after a shower. You combed your hair, and when it dried it formed a crust that kept every hair in place. It was the original helmet hair! After church on Sundays, my brother and I would frizz up our hair to get the crust out, and the stuff would flake out and look just like dandruff.