Back in the Day: WOW - Wonder World brings back memories of Fairfield’s past

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By Tony Wade
Originally published in the Fairfield Daily Republic on April 26, 2013

When the Fairfield Super Walmart had its grand opening (in November 2012), I braved the crowds, bought a bandwagon fan Giants World Series T-shirt and got surprised by Fairfield Visual Arts board member Cynthia Garcia — who took a horrible picture of me that she later posted on Facebook.

However splashy, Walmart’s debut had nothing on the grand opening of what many locals call the original Fairfield superstore: The Wonder World Shopping Center.

Located on North Texas Street where Food Maxx now sits, Wonder World, with “45 great departments and an ultra modern supermarket,” launched on July 29, 1964, with serious fanfare.

Free balloons for the kids. Free orchids for the women. Thousands of dollars in prizes. The grand prize was a drawing for a 21-inch, color Motorola television in a walnut cabinet.

Items for sale included:

Remco Beatles dolls for $1.11 each — they’re worth a tad more in 2011.
LP records for 48 cents in many genres including jazz, Hawaiian, show tunes and classical. The death metal and gangsta rap selections were sold out.
A Eureka floor polisher/scrubber for $15.81 — with a free 10-day home trial. This was before the dreaded 15 percent restocking fee.
A Magnus home entertainment center for $44. In ’64 home entertainment centers weren’t video game consoles — they were organs. Laugh if you’d like, but local legend has it that Ray Manzarek of the Doors actually bought one at Wonder World’s launch and used it on “Light My Fire” and other Doors hits. OK, I just started that local legend now.
A couple of days later in the Daily Republic, Wonder World thanked the more than 50,000 people who came to the grand opening.

Fifty thousand? Questionable. Still, I’m impressed by either the sheer numbers who came or the sheer chutzpah of the Wonder World PR staff that inflated them.

Wonder World had a bakery, farmers market, retail store and cafe all-in-one and you could walk in the main entrance and enter other stores inside like a mini-mall.

“You could buy anything there; clothes, food, electronics and more,” Fairfielder-turned-Vacavillian Kathleen McIntyre said. “The racks were packed and the tables stacked. Bottom line, it was cheap and convenient.”

Nearly everyone remembers Wonder World’s iconic sign with a globe stuck between two “W”s, which made the appropriate word, WOW. When I first went to Wonder World as a kid in the 1970s, I thought it was an amusement park and was disappointed. Then, wonder of wonders, one day they indeed had a carnival in the massive parking lot which, I later discovered, returned periodically. I lost serious comic book money that fell out of my pockets on the Zipper.

Locals recall the tempting smell of fresh doughnuts in the bakery upon entrance. The bakery also featured naughty cakes. I’d describe them, but would have to check every reader’s IDs first.

Helen Billings remembers a British woman who worked at the in-store café that sold cookies from her homeland. Melissa Walker, however, remembers the “greasy spoon” for another reason.

“It was where my husband Chuck first said he ‘loved’ me,” Walker said. “Chuck, his best friend Alvin Ugay and I, along with others, stopped there to eat. I had a corn dog and Alvin threw popcorn in my mustard, which I thought tasted good, which then led to a conversation about how weird I was. Chuck said, ‘I love strange things. I guess that’s why I love you.’ ”

All together everyone: “awwww.”

If you were around back then you might have witnessed:

New driver Larriane Glashoff filling up her car at the WOW gas station for 59 cents a gallon.
Lisa Duke giving away free kittens.
Rosemary Southward getting popped by the cops for drinking a beer in the parking lot on cruise night.
Michelle Roy-Davila tossing her cookies after riding the Scramble at the carnival with her dad.
Many locals shared fond memories of frequenting Wonder World’s extended shopping center, such as hardware stores Handy Fair and Ole’s and restaurants Straw Hat Pizza and Big John’s subs. Their pizza sub . . . fuggedaboutit!

Like many businesses, Wonder World eventually faded from Fairfield, but for some time after it did, the sign still stood as a memorial to what once was. WOW.