In the beginning, there was only Roger Wilco. In the 1960’s, our hometown grocery store stood alone in the middle of its vast asphalt parking lot. It was one of a handful of grocery stores in the entire town of Novato. As a teenager, I remember my surprise when out-of-town friends would make fun of the quaintly-named market. I’ve read that at one time, the parking lot was dirt, with an old oak tree at its center. Kids would play on its rope swing while their mothers were inside shopping.  There was always a Post Office kiosk inside the entrance. As a child, I also remember the fascinating vacuum tube testing apparatus that sat inside the front doors. I remember my mother with her paper bag of tubes carefully removed from our dark TV set. I remember her, and later myself, writing checks to “CASH” at the check stands in those ancient days before ATMs. Over the next 20 years, Novak’s Square grew into a cornucopia of necessary shops and services, and served as my family’s base of material consumption.

     First came the the Pay-n-Save, next door. Over the years, an entire shopping center popped up: Radio Shack, Red Boy Pizza, Arthur’s Toy Town, Happy Steak, a liquor store, an ice cream parlor, a health food store.  I remember riding my bicycle to the Square on hot summer days to spend my allowance on candy or ice cream. As a teenager, I spent many afterschool afternoons loitering in the Radio Shack and the toy store. My friends and I would often get thrown out after pestering the managers endlessly and programming obscene messages to flash on the TRS-80 Personal Computers' screens.

     With the 80’s came a building boom. It seems that there was an unwritten rule that one should not have to travel more than a mile to find a shopping center. San Marin Plaza was built, with its upscale Petrini’s Market, now Harvest. The founding fathers’ names were the first to go. No longer “Novak’s Square” or “Tresch Triangle,” they became simply “The Square,” and “The Triangle.” Adolescent troublemakers hanging out in the lot became known as the “Square Rats.” The Pay-n-Save became Bill's Drugs, then Longs Drugs, even though there was already another Longs within walking distance.

Today, all that remains of the original tenants are the  liquor store and the Pay-n-Save, now a CVS Pharmacy, and yes, there is still another CVS less than a mile away. The market, having gone through multiple owners - Cala Foods, Bell Market, and DeLano's - has been vacant for several years now. There is talk of the entire center being “rezoned,” to make way for plentiful, possibly low income, housing. Slowly, the other tenants are disappearing. Sometimes they reappear across town, in the more bustling centers – Radio Shack, Red Boy, and most recently, Tagliafferi’s Deli have made the move successfully. Others have simply vanished. Gone forever are Villa Roma, Arthur’s Toy Town, Happy Steak (I still have a cardboard employees hat somewhere in my garage, filched from a high school friend’s summer job), and Henry’s Burgers. The remaining shops: a tanning center, a (fairly decent) Thai restaurant, a nail parlor, a Laundromat, a fitness center, donut shop, and a cigarette store, look like dusty faded photographs, a memory of a time before this town had 6 different supermarkets, including a Trader Joe’s and a Whole Foods. And that’s not including the Target and Costco, on the other side of the freeway.

     It’s odd living my life now in the same town in which I grew up. Although I lived in San Francisco for 16 years, met and married my wife, and saw all three of my daughters born there, I returned to Novato in 1998. Everywhere I go, I see ghosts. The old Grant’s Department Store is now a Dollar Tree, the Tijuana Taco is a Taco bell, Goodman’s Lumber is a gymnastics center. The school I attended Kindergarten at is now a housing development. Raising my girls here has superimposed a new set of memories on top of my childhood ones, but occasionally I’m reminded of how much things have changed.

     I suppose it’s only a matter of time before Novak’s Square is just a pile of rubble, and after that, just another neighborhood. Every time I drive by though, I’ll know, that's where the Roger Wilco used to be.

05Mar2013 UPDATE / CORRECTIONS: I've edited the original text to correct various inaccuracies: The original tenant of the pharmacy/drug store was Pay-n-Save, not Longs Drugs. I also added the various later tenants of the market building, and corrected several other minor errors.
Brian Leonard
3/3/2013 11:46:11 am

I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Your story is the same story that plays out across this increasingly homogeneous land we call America.

James Rittenhouse
3/3/2013 05:16:24 pm

I was an employee of Roger Wilco from 1981-1994. My family has lived on Simmons Lane since 1970. I must correct you on the drug store. It was originally a Pay n' Save when it was constructed in the 70's. Pay n' Save stores were bought out by Bill's Drugs in the early-mid 80's. It was'nt until the mid 90's that Longs Drugs took over Bill's.

Louis Block
3/3/2013 11:33:33 pm

Thanks James! That was pointed out to me elsewhere also. I had also totally forgotten about Bills Drugs. Did the two stores (the Square and the one behind the library) always share the same names?

James Rittenhouse
3/6/2013 09:21:21 pm

When Long's took over Bill's in The Square, they were known as Longs Novato West, as a way to differentiate between the 2 stores. At that time i was working for a candy and tobacco wholesaler out of San Rafael, and Longs Drugs were our biggest account

3/12/2013 10:40:11 am

That's a really good read Louis! I really enjoyed that. Bringing those days back. Wow I can still see that Tube machine. I always wondered if it ven worked...

Andrea, CA
1/27/2014 03:06:38 am

Wow, thank you for the trip down memory lane. We lived in Novato twice in my childhood. Once in the 70's and once in the 80's due to my father being in the military. Unfortunately my favorite elementary school (West Novato) which may be the same you are talking about was turned into housing. It really made me feel good when my 2nd grade teacher saw me working when I was 18 and remembered me from school after moving back. I currently live in Petaluma and am deeply saddened to see how downtown has changed. I loved the old town feeling with Pini Hardware, Novato Theatre and Officer Mendoza and the other PD of the time looking over me as I got off work at night making my way home.

Lynda Collins
4/9/2014 10:18:40 am

I have been researching Arthur's Toy Town. You say there was one in Novato when you were growing up. Do you know the year it closed? Someone else said there was one in Burlingame as well, could there have been two of them? Thanks for your help! Lynda

Lynda Collins
4/9/2014 10:20:42 am

Just wanted to be notified by email to my above post.

Louis Block
4/9/2014 01:36:58 pm

Hi Lynda,
Thanks for taking the time to read my post.
I would imagine that Arthur's Toy Town closed sometime between 1979 and 1982. I moved away in '82 for about 16 years, so I can't be absolutely sure. Although we used to jokingly call the manager "Arthur," I'm pretty sure that wasn't actually his name. I don't remember ever hearing about other stores. Seems like a somewhat common name?

Mike Webb
7/19/2014 02:43:42 pm

Lynda Doug Sadat was the owner of the Novato Arthurs his Father was Arthur the owner of the Burlingame store.

4/9/2014 02:59:09 pm

Thank you for replying so quickly! I have dollhouse furniture that has a sales sticker from Arthur's Toy Town, it is an old sticker with no other markings. When I checked online I found you and someone else with a similiar story with the exception you in Novato and she in Burlingame..just trying to figure it out.

Lynda Collins
4/9/2014 03:01:29 pm

Sorry for all the duplicates but it would not let me post or maybe I was too much in a hurry..

Kathleen Rainwater
5/4/2014 03:32:00 am

Hi Louis - great to see this! I was googling Roger Wilco because I'm writing a memoir and lived at Parkhaven from the early 70's until we moved to Petaluma in 1978.

Wasn't there an Ice Cream store that opened in Novak Square around 1976?

Kathy Rainwater
5/4/2014 03:39:41 am

Oh duh. Just read more carefully, you mentioned the ice cream parlor! =-)

Louis Block
5/4/2014 04:08:27 pm

I hope I can read your memoir some day, Kathy. I know there must've been an ice cream shop there in the 70's, but the only one I can remember by name is a Cold Stone Creamery that opened when I moved back here in '98. They lasted a few years.

8/9/2014 02:00:29 pm

Mom worked at the PO in roger wilco for many years. Owner was bill Jonas, I always assumed bill's was his too because of the few stores in the sonoma area were always by a bills drugs

Susan Stevenson
9/5/2014 01:03:17 pm

Does anyone know the name of the ice cream store next to Happy Steak in the 70's?

11/16/2014 02:46:58 pm

Bud's ice cream

3/9/2015 11:53:57 am

The name of the ice cream shop was Mary Jane Bakery and ice cream shop.

7/12/2016 11:49:36 am

The ice cream store…I worked there as one of the original employee’s. I believe it was just called the Ice Cream Parlor. It was owned by a couple that lived in town, Stalbachs or something similar to that. One unique item in the Ice Cream Parlor was one of the mechanical mannequins from Ocean Park at San Francisco. It was located in the front right corner of the store. Looking at Google, looks like the place is called Little Indian Café now.

A few other memories of the Square.

I believe the name of the steak place before it was called Happy Steak was Ponderosa and it was a chain. It was in the back part of the shopping venue, behind the liquor store. Parking options for that establishment were lousy. One had to park in the center parking lot in the main lot then walk down the hallway between the liquor store and the ice cream parlor.

The liquor store – thinking that was Perry’s Liquor’s, replaced by Savemore Discount Liquors. The night clerk from Perry’s was a push over for selling beer to us underage types, provided we were not buying cases.

There was the pizza place about 4 doors down from the Ice Cream Parlor, good pizza and it had an upscale dining area (upscale being better than Round Table on Grant)

And then Roger Wilco….I went to West Novato Elementary back in the Mid-60’s, I remember getting 10 cents from my folks, getting on my bike fitted with the banana seat, and making the trek down center road over to the store to buy a Hostess brand apple pie, wrapped in a wax paper sleeve.

We would go over to the Shell gas station on Novato Blvd, sit and eat the apple pies there. The structures that are at the square now didn’t exist before the early 70’s, just a big lot and about ½ of it was dirt.

Louis Block
7/12/2016 12:29:19 pm

Thanks EH! Not much change to the Square since I last updated in 2013. The Shell station built a "market," and Little Goan Indian Restaurant replaced the Thai restaurant.
Are you still in the area? When did you leave Novato?

7/13/2016 07:18:40 pm

Left Novato after graduating HS in the mid-70's. Served in the Navy for 10 years, through the area probably every other year when on leave. Returned to the bay area after serving, and as we all know, many changes throughout the area.

Last several years I have made it a point to go to Petaluma for the American Graffiti venue in May, I will often take a drive through town to see what has evolved.

It was a good place to grow up, good values, good standards, good neighborhoods and much more.

Leave a Reply.


    August 2013
    March 2013



    Louis Block

    I'm a freelance video/audio engineer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I see myself as a left-brainer helping right-brainers to achieve their visions.
    Occasionally I want to go on a lengthy diatribe, and this seems to be the place to do it.
    Be warned - this will probably amount to being the safest, most unhip, least edgy blog you've ever read.