A small mechanical arm fetches a black vinyl record, slowly twists it around 90 degrees, and then places it upon a rubber turntable spinning at 45 RPM. Several couples walk hand-in-hand toward the jukebox and slow-dance as the Platters sing "The Great Pretender." The smell of freshly cooked chili sauce wafts across the counter where ensembles of teenagers swap the latest school gossip. A sixth grade Everett elementary student gazes at the candy counter, trying to decide if he should buy one more pack of Topps baseball cards that will surely produce that elusive Mickey Mantle.
The year is 1956. The month is April. It's 4:15 on a Friday afternoon. And if you're between 12 and 18 years old, the best location to be - and where the action is going on - is the southeast corner of Holmes Road and South Cedar. Undoubtedly, you're at JD's. And the place is alive as kids punctuate the end of a school week with a noise level noticeably above that of the night before.
JD's was the classic quintessential hangout. It wasn't fancy outside, it wasn't elegant inside, but it had a definite ambience. Only those who never went there said it was just an ordinary restaurant. For us "southenders," JD's was no more an ordinary restaurant than Magic Johnson was an ordinary basketball player. With that said, let's page back the calendar to the middle fifties.
Yup, some things just go together. And Everett was to JD's as much as Oldsmobile was to Lansing, especially financially. In the contemporary jargon of the era, it was a "swell" place to hang out. Over those years, many Everett students considered the school day incomplete without a stop at JD's. The place certainly captured much of my allowance and paper route money.
The letters "JD" came from the building's owner, John Demetrius. Gerald and Ruby Pratt leased the building from Demetrius from 1953 to 1959. Besides the JD's building, Demetrius was involved with other buildings in the line adjacent to JD's, which included a laundromat, A Kirby vacuum outlet, and Dr. Benson's medical office.
The operation of JD's was largely a family affair. Ruby managed the business, putting in many hours as a cook/waitress. Gerald, her husband, arrived at four o'clock after finishing his day job at REO. Their son Fred [better known as Bucky to us], a fellow class of '61 alum, helped out by serving Coke, candy, Hostess cup cakes, Twinkies, and Adams potato chips. Sometimes you could even catch him washing the dishes. Quite often Bucky's cousin, Rocky Terrill, manned the candy counter after school.
The exterior was veneer sandstone
and sported several octagon windows. There was an entrance from
Cedar Street as well as one from Holmes Road. Parking was available
in the back and along the Holmes Road side of the building. Once
inside, the jukebox was adjacent to three wooden booths near
the front. By the door on the Cedar Street entrance, there was
a shooting gallery game featuring a bear that growled when you
knocked him down with the beam of light emitted from a rifle.
And there was a baseball game machine by the door on the Holmes
Road entrance. With the push of a button, the pitcher's mound
spat out a chrome-plated sphere in the marble jargon known as
a "steelie." The object was to use the dual paddle
flippers at home plate to smack it into slots in the backfield
which resulted in an out, single, double, or triple - but if
you were well coordinated - up a ramp for a home run.
In the back was a glass-shrouded candy counter overlooking additional wooden booths. In that counter I can still visualize the boxes of baseball cards, wax lips, licorice moustaches, sugar-filled straws, miniature wax bottles filled with multi-colored sweet syrup, white waxed paper strips with rows of colored candy dots, and of course - all the name brand candy bars. Now doing a 180, you'd be looking at the restaurant aisle. The black composite counter was about thirty feet long. It perched above a long row of chrome plated pedestals covered with padded red oilcloth. Wisps of steam escaped from the covers of food trays as waitresses hurriedly opened them to fill orders.
From morning until night, I recall that the place was always busy. They served all three meals, but the lunch business was by far the largest volume. During lunchtime, students poured in there like water from a downspout during a thunderstorm. The food was good and the service was fast.
Occasionally during my sixth and seventh grade years at the old Everett, my mother would give me money to eat lunch at JD's. On those days, I couldn't wait to get over there for a chilidog, French fries and a root beer. Ruby made a chilidog that easily eclipsed the ones served at the A&W up Cedar Street a few blocks north.
Many students stopped at JD's after school to meet their friends, have a Coke - maybe with cherry or lime added, play one of the aforementioned games, or just listen to music. It seemed that the jukebox was playing all the time, and it was not unusual to see kids dancing. It was rare if I didn't stop after school and play one of the machines, or listen to music - or just hang out for awhile. Usually I left with some sort of treat to eat on the way home - or I'd buy a pack of baseball cards and plop that big square piece of gum between the molars before I was out the door. Boy I wish I had kept those cards!
On Friday and Saturday nights they were open until 10 p.m. It was a convenient place to stop after an athletic event at the high school, so they built up a loyal clientele from the sports-related sector. Bucky reminded me that some of Everett's sports facilities were used by the parochial schools, thus giving JD's another group of fans to serve.
On the right day you could
see Yo Yo Joe outside carving his favorite icon - "slow
boat to China," into an oversized bright red Duncan for
the kid who just won a "walking the dog" contest. Yo
Yo Joe [not his real name of course] was a slightly-built man
who appeared to be of Philippine or Indonesian descent. He would
drive his vehicle upon the concrete apron in front of JD's, adjacent
to the exit steps from the damp, dark, subterranean tunnel that
got students safely across Cedar Street by going under it. The
back of his vehicle was always crammed with Yo-Yo paraphernalia.
He'd always show you the latest tricks, let you test drive the
newest model, and was eager to top off your supply of waxed string.
And no appearance would be complete without some sort of yo-yo
contest between whoever showed up on that day. The winner always
got some neat prize and an instant elevated ego.
Since then, the building has undergone a series of renovations. In recent years, its been home to an antique record store, a wallpaper outlet, a cell phone franchise, a check cashing service and several other businesses. The current occupant is a medical maijuana service.
Yet if you were to walk in there today and use your imagination, you could almost smell the chili sauce, see the game machines scintillate and hear them clang, as Guy Mitchell belts out "Singing The Blues" from that vinyl spinning on the jukebox after another coin was dropped down it's throat en route to the cashbox. And fondly recall the icon that was inseparable from Everett for most of the '50s.
Written By Jerry Blair
With thanks to Bucky Pratt for his informational help.