I am not trying to be eye-catching or sensational, but my favorite memory of the Miracle Mile in Manhasset involves the purchase of a live alligator from the basement of J.J. Newberry’s five and dime circa 1969. That was the approximate time of my investment.
All parts of this story are true, and though more than 45 years have passed, my sisters still bring this up from time to time.
I had the unique distinction of growing up in Manhasset, just one block from Miracle Mile from 1964 to 1983. Raising four daughters, my parents relished the idea of the Miracle Mile, a walk away, where the four of us could use our babysitting money for proms and style changes.
With the grand B. Altman and Company anchored one block from my childhood home, the strolls to the surrounding lowkey, mom-and-pop shops of the times were endless.
But the purchase of a lifetime was my live pet alligator.
Newberry’s was located on the east side of Miracle Mile, down near the end, in the front facing Northern, somewhere between the current Chanel and Burberry stores. Newberry’s was a great catch-all store, which had a pet shop that sold exotic animals in the basement.
On this particular September day, just after school had started in 1969, my next door neighbor, Mitchell Reischman, and I, who were 11 or 12 at the time, decided it would be a great idea to surprise my three sisters and my very tolerant parents, who put up with my tomboy ways.
With my loyal friend Mitchell strongly encouraging my plan to own and love my own pet, we ran to Newberry’s pet section—and with no questions asked, purchased a live 14- to 16-inch alligator for a grand total of $1.89. I always did want to invest my chore money for the long-term pleasure of things. Ahhh, the warmth of a baby alligator.
We strolled out of the store and headed back home with the alligator in a bag.
When we arrived home to show off my purchase, my mother was too shocked to speak or get angry. She just picked up the house phone and called Dad at work. She told him, “Joe, Julianne has just brought home a real alligator.”
Since Dad was an obstetrician, he probably needed my shenanigans like a hole in the head. But he would always chuckle and approve. Then Mom smiled and told me to go back and purchase a glass bowl and feeding instructions.
Clearly, this kid needed a pet.
“Woop,” Mitchell and I hollered and ran right back to Newberry’s.
Due to my temporary infatuation and interest in the stories of The Arabian Nights at the time, I named my baby alligator Ali Baba.
The downside to Ali Baba?
Mom insisted, and rightfully so, that I scrub down the upstairs bathtub every time the alligator had a free swim. And, one day, my beloved little Ali Baba hissed and snapped, and bit my index finger. That was the end of the live, forced, chop-meat feedings.
Clearly, Newberry’s should have screened my home environment—and my parenting skills.
Julianne Pennisi Kavoussi lived in Manhasset until 1983 when she married and moved out of state, but not before registering at B. Altman for her wedding gifts, under her mother’s wise guidance. Her parents continued to live in their corner house on Foxcroft Road until 2010. Of her move back to the area in 2007, she acknowledges, “Needless to say, the Miracle Mile has changed quite a bit.”