Personal, Stories Told

Brant’s and South Bend’s Miami Village

In the early 1980s I was a teenager living with my family on the south side of South Bend, Indiana. I lived in a real neighborhood, with plenty of shops and other businesses within walking distance. My favorite of them was Brant’s. In days gone by, Brant’s was known as a five and 10 cent store, or a five and dime store, or just a dime store. These were the dollar stores of their day — everything was a nickel or a dime. But their day had largely passed by the 1980s, and stores like Brant’s were more commonly called variety stores. The only thing you might still get for a nickel or a dime in them was a piece of candy. But nothing Brant’s carried was particularly expensive. It was a fine store to visit when you were on a tight budget.

Brant’s centerpiece was its gleaming stainless-steel soda fountain and counter with six stools. You could get a light lunch there, a hot dog or a grilled-cheese sandwich and a cup of soup. I did that from time to time, always the grilled cheese and bean-bacon soup with a Coke. They still made Cokes by squirting syrup in the bottom of the glass, filling it the rest of the way with soda water, and stirring. That was a throwback even then. They also made Green River sodas, a sweet lime drink. But for me, the soda fountain’s crowning glory was the milkshakes, hand dipped and mixed. I drank dozens of them over the years. Make mine chocolate, with extra malt.

I often went with my brother, who loved root beer. One day at the counter he asked if it were possible to make root beer double strength, that is, to use twice the syrup. “Of course,” was the answer, and they made him one. After that, he ordered one every time we went in. He became so well known for his double-strength root beer that every time we visited, while he shopped they’d make him one and leave it on the counter for whenever he was ready for it.

Like all five-and-dimes, Brant’s carried all kinds of miscellaneous stuff in its handful of aisles. For example, Brant’s was the only store on the south side that carried photo corners. They are little black paper pockets, backed with lick-and-stick adhesive. You place one, moistened, on each of a photo’s four corners and then press the corners onto paper. Regular photo albums were crazy expensive on my meager allowance. But at Brant’s I could make affordable photo albums out of three-fastener cardboard report covers, three-hole notebook paper, and photo corners.

Brant’s also had a postal station inside. I had pen pals in other countries, and we used to make mix tapes for each other. I packaged them up and took them over to Brant’s, where owner Ray Brant always took care of me. He’d weigh the package, look up the rate, take my money, affix the postage, and make sure the letter carrier picked it up.

That was another thing about Brant’s: it was a family business. His daughters and I’m pretty sure even his wife (who drew the image at the top of this post) all worked there. The whole family came to know the many kids who came in. They tolerated all of us kids very well. My brother and I were good kids who never caused trouble. Sometimes they’d chat with us briefly at the soda fountain — once Mr. Brant shared his snack of string cheese with me — and they always let us linger over our browsing well beyond the time we needed.

I loved going to Brant’s and headed there anytime I had a little money. A Coke was just 35 cents, so it didn’t take long to save up for a trip. I even had my first date at Brant’s, at age 13, taking a sweet girl to the soda fountain for lunch. But even as long ago as the early 1980s, stepping inside Brant’s was like stepping into 1965. It was clear to me even at that age that Brant’s was a holdover from a different time.

Brant’s was part of a larger community of businesses known as Miami Village, named for the street they were all on. Here’s a photo with Brant’s in it, next to a barber shop and what I remember being a little bar. Judging by the cars, this photo was taken in the 1980s.

The History Museum (South Bend) photo

Miami Village was just a mile from my house, a short bike ride or a long walk away. This composite photo from about 1975 was taken just north of Brant’s in the same block, on Brant’s side of the street, looking south on Miami Street.

Composite of two The History Museum (South Bend) photos

Miami Village offered bars and restaurants, banks, dry cleaners, gas stations, a dairy store (a convenience store before anyone coined the term), a public library branch, a hobby store (where I bought the plastic model cars I put together in those days), and more. In this north-facing photo from abut 1975, the gas tower looms over the village. It stored coal gas used to heat homes, and was a South Bend landmark for 60 years.

The History Muesum (South Bend) photo

The south end of Miami Village was anchored by Buschbaum’s Pharmacy. I used to go in there to buy MAD Magazine and candy. This photo is from the Blizzard of 1978.

Sourced from a South Bend group on Facebook

Miami Village started to slowly decline after I moved away from South Bend in 1985. For years it seemed like every time I went home to visit, more businesses had closed along this strip. Brant’s held on for a long time, through the late 1990s or early 2000s if memory serves. By then Mr. Brant was ready to retire, and he couldn’t find someone interested in continuing his business.

Today, the only Miami Village businesses still operating since the 1980s are a pub and, of all things, a lamp shop. The library branch is still open, too. Other businesses have moved into the old spaces. I hate to say it, but they’re not of the same caliber as the businesses they replaced. A wig store has operated out of the Brant’s building for many years, one of its plate glass windows replaced with an ugly piece of particle board.

At least Miami Village was still great at a time when I’d earned enough autonomy and had a little money, and could enjoy it.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Last updated on 27 June 2020 by Jim Grey

Standard

24 thoughts on “Brant’s and South Bend’s Miami Village

  1. It is funny how if you are away from a place for a long time, it doesn’t change at all in your mind. Even if you have visited since, at least for me that is the case. My hometown has been luckier than many, it has grown and become gentrified, trendy and hip, so the businesses that have gone are replaced by antique shops, galleries and high end boutiques. I doubt I can afford to live there now, but in my memory it is the same!

    • In my memory, Ray Brant is still sitting on his usual stool at the soda fountain. It’s a good memory and I’m glad to have it! But it is shocking, and disappointing, to drive through Miami Village now and see how far it’s fallen.

  2. I grew up in a suburb developed in the late 50s and we had nothing like Brant’s. There were drug stores and dime stores in the few shopping centers, but none of them had lunch counters or soda fountains.

    When I moved to Indianapolis there was Walsh Drugs at the corner of 38th & Meridian and it had a lunch counter/soda fountain still in operation. I worked in the neighborhood starting in 1984 and may have eaten lunch there once or twice before Walsh sold out to a chain. At least the guy who ran the counter opened a breakfast/lunch place at the other end of the building for a few years before he retired too. His hamburgers and hand dipped milkshakes were mouthwatering.

  3. Cris Hanna says:

    Thanks for sharing this…I’ve made sure that Janet and Jeanie, Ray’s daughter’s see the article. Janet and I are both Class of 70 Wildcats My only other comment is that comments about the various photos have the directions turned around. For instance the picture of the bank is taken south of Brants, towards Buschbaum’s

    • Cris, thanks for passing this along! I remember the Brant daughters in the store but I would not have guessed they were 15 years older than me! I’m Riley Class of 85.

  4. Nancy Stewart says:

    Aww …. my old neighborhood … such a great place back then. Brandt’s had everything you could want in that little store. Always got a vanilla phosphate … so good. Wasn’t there a sign on the wall behind the soda counter referring to “the worst cup of coffee” ?? And we would stop at the little Burger Dairy store on the corner for milk and bread. Such a nice variety of small independently owned businesses. I had forgotten all about the tower until I saw the picture. Thanks for the memories.

    • Yes! There was a “worst cup of coffee” sign. I think it was on the menu board. I’d forgotten about it! I never tried the phosphates — always went for the chocolate malts! We were so fortunate to live near there in the 70s and 80s. There was so much for us in that neighborhood.

  5. Cris Hanna says:

    I can remember sneaking to Brant’s for lunch even in 7th and 8th Grade at the “original” Lincoln

  6. Cole Hay says:

    My memories are very similar, but of the little commercial strip on Portage Ave. just north of the former bridge over the RR tracks. Don’s Charcoal House, J&A Grill, Anita’s Pizza, Flavorite Bakery, Hillview Dairy, Roger’s Bar, Joe’s Bar, Martins Market (before they went big) Huff’s Pharmacy, Walt’s Marathon, Chimil’s Barbershop.

  7. Paul Berebitsky says:

    Before Brant moved to the Miami Street location, he had a smaller store in the 1600 block of East Ewing. This was in the 50s and maybe early 60s. This was where I bought most of my baseball cards, ice cream treats and RC cola.

  8. What a beautiful remembrance Jim! We had a similar store in Wellston when I was a kid. Although, they didn’t have the sandwich counter (We went to Woolworth’s or GC Murphy for that). Kids today don’t know what they’re missing.

  9. Paul Berebitsky says:

    Yes it does. The Brants lived in the rear of that building. From appearances, it seems the entire building is now a home. I have a photo of the rear of the house, which has a narrow walkway to the front. As kids, we often walked down the alley and took the walkway to the store entrance.

  10. Anna Young says:

    I only remember going in that store 1 X when I was a kid, I grew up in River Park, but, I was an Activity Director for Assisted Living at St. Paul’s and Ray Brant was there. He was such a neat man and one of my favorite people. So sweet and kind and I totally enjoyed having a few dances with him when we had entertainment. He is someone I will always treasure the time I had with him.

  11. Dawn Cook says:

    Don and Cleo lived just two doors from Brants. Don worked out of town and couldn’t wait to get home and take his granddaughter to the soda fountain. He would call and see if she was up from her nap so they could go.
    Any small things they carried in the store. I sure missed it. Many small sewing items.
    They were so friendly too.
    Glad I happened to see this.
    Ray and Betty Brant.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.