Q. My wife and I are having quite the disagreement! I recall a Grant's store on the EAST end of Belleville while my wife says I'm nuts. What do you think? We seem to agree that there was a Grant's downtown. Was that the one that moved to Bellevue Park Plaza? As a very young child I remember Santa arriving there in a helicopter and tasty burgers in their Bradford House restaurant.
-- Brad Joseph, of O'Fallon
A. I don't remember Santa's whirlybird or the Bradford burgers, but I will grant you this: In this instance, you have a much better memory than your wife. And you deserve a special pat on the back because even I forgot about that third Grant's store in Carlyle Plaza because it was, relatively speaking, gone in a flash.
Longtime residents certainly would remember the W.T. Grant's store at 100-102 E. Main St., catty-cornered from the old Kresge's. I know I'm showing my age, but I still have some of my mom's Grant's pay stubs from the time when downtown Belleville was a retail powerhouse with Sears, Grant's, Woolworth's, Carroll House, Penney's, Small's, Fellner's, etc.
Thumbing through old city directories, I found Grant's opened about 1930 as the W.T. Grant 5-Cent to a Dollar store and disappeared about 1965. By 1966, it housed Lerner's clothing and now, of course, it's where Jimmy John's starts its freaky fast deliveries.
But business in the '50s was still so good that Grant's opened a second store at Bellevue Park Plaza in about 1956. And they didn't stop there. On July 25, 1974, the company rolled out the red carpet to an 89,000-square-foot Grant City store filled with everything from washers and refrigerators to hardware and camping gear. The festivities in Carlyle Plaza included a ribbon cutting by no less than Francis Touchette, St. Clair County Board chairman at the time.
Alas, just 15 months later, all of that stock was being offered at liquidation prices as Grant's closed both remaining Belleville stores -- as well as stores in Cahokia, Collinsville and Granite City -- as it tried to survive what reportedly was the nation's second-largest bankruptcy in history up to that time.
It didn't work. By the end of the country's bicentennial celebration, Grant's retail empire, which had started in 1906 with a single store in Lynn, Mass., was dead.
Q. Now that the mosquito season is here, I pose this question: While touring old Charleston, S.C., a tour guide suggested that the reason the upper-floor windows did not have window screens was because mosquitos do not fly more than 10 feet above ground. True or false?
-- Jack Van Hoorebeke, of O'Fallon
A. Allow me to quickly take a bite out of what is either an old wives' tale -- or just a flat-out tall tale by a guide desperate to sound intelligent.
"It's false," said Joe Conlon, technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association in Mount Laurel, N.J. "No-doubt-about-it false. As a matter of fact, the primary carrier of the West Nile virus likes to hang out in the upper limbs of trees, which are well above 10 feet. And, in Singapore, they found mosquitos breeding at 17 stories up."
Now, granted, if there are lots of hosts (i.e., us) at ground level, they'll stay low, Conlon said. Why waste the energy when there are plenty of bloody good victims close to earth?
"But your salt-marsh breeders that you actually find around Charleston, they'll fly inland on sea breezes and those sea breezes are up 200, 300 feet," Conlon said. "In fact, one of the main ways mosquitoes get into houses is through bathroom vents, which are up on roofs. So if push comes to shove, they'll come in."
Mosquito, by the way, is a Spanish or Portuguese word meaning "little fly" and may have originated in North America way back in the 1500s.
Q. I seem to be hearing the word "kerfuffle" more often as a synonym for disorder or confusion. What's the origin?
-- W.M., of Belleville
A. No need to get your own knickers in a kerfuffle. It's apparently a variation of carfuffle, a mixture of the Scottish-Gaelic "cearr" for "wrong" or "awkward" and "fuffle" for "becoming disheveled." It reportedly was first used about 1946.
How far might mosquitoes fly for a meal?
Answer to Tuesday's trivia: Mention the Sahara, and many people may immediately envision nomads on camels negotiating unending stretches of sand. But that's only because the Sahara itself is so huge -- about 3.6 million square miles, which is 400,000 larger than the United States. In reality, sand dunes make up only 15 percent of the Sahara, according to the California Academy of Sciences. Another 15 percent consists of shale and limestone plateaus while 70 percent is rocky plains covered with stones and gravel.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com