Many years ago I knew a young lady who lived in Runnemede, NJ. I forget her name, why I knew her, and why I even remember as much as I’ve already written. And yet, there’s more.
Like much of south Jersey (once you push back miles from the shore, and off the farmland), Runnemede was basically nowhere. Despite the apartments and houses, businesses, schools and churches, Rotary Clubs, bars and clubs, veterans’ centers, etc., nobody ever considered Runnemede or the dozens of shrunken mini-urban/suburban clusters clinging to south Jersey’s pervasive network of broken highways as “home.”
That’s something else I remember about my Runnemedean acquaintance. She broke it down this way:
- Nobody lives here because they want to: they’re here for convenience, and that convenience has a short shelf life.
- Although everybody living here will tell you they’re getting out as soon as they can, nobody has any definite plans, so they stay.
- Nobody who moves here does so with the intention of staying here.
- Ask anybody where they’re going and they’ll tell you they haven’t got any place better to go to, which (they say) is the only reason they’re still here.
- Nobody who ever leaves comes back.
Unless other depressing Jersey crossroads like Cinnaminson, Teaneck, Shiloh, Berlin (pron: BER-lin), Brick, Griggstown, Florence, etc., for years Runnemede had something people recognized: a thriving business called Alva’s Vacuum Center. Again, I can’t tell you why. Maybe they did a lot of commercials on local UHF teevee. It sure wasn’t its glitzy decor or cutting-edge inventory. But everybody on both sides of the Delaware River knew about this successful Runnemede institution.
In fact, it was so well-regarded (my Runnemede informant assured me) that people referred to the surrounding metropolis as “Alva’s Vacuum.”
And that’s all I know, except that the cluster of stores that housed Alva’s, the Peking Chinese Kitchen, the News Plus Store, and The Singing Banana Telegram Company burned down in 1988 [via]. Alva’s moved to Bellmawr (the one with the w. Not Belmar, up near Asbury Park. Know your Jersey!). Can’t tell you about the others.