New Bedford will soon be remembering Joe Jesus, complete in a soft yellow dress shirt, white slacks, mustard yellow socks, and purple everything else, as '50s Night returns July 21 to downtown.

Anyone who knows New Bedford can't think of the downtown without picturing the empress Elaine Lima, the "Queen of Downtown."

"OMG, she's a spit-fire," Julie Lariviere Clark said chuckling, describing the peppy Lima as we sat at the West End Grill on Rockdale Avenue, recalling the good old days.

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So how did Lima's admired career start?

"Well, it ain't what you think," she retorted, saying she started out sewing, doing alterations, and from there, she began sewing original T-shirts that became very popular. "But that wasn't Elaine's T-Shirts yet; it was Elaine's Alterations and Costumes."

In her store, there were two large rooms filled with racks and racks of costumes that Lima created and sewn.

"There were hundreds of costumes. They rented them for Halloween or the Zeiterion Theater," she said. "I sold them all to a lady in Acushnet."

Asked to recall one of her favorite memories, smiling, she said "First Night."

We recalled Mitch Miller's community sing-along by City Hall, and talked about some of the major storms over the decades that she made t-shirts for, such as her "I Survived Gloria" shirt commemorating the 1985 hurricane.

Her popular store was a favorite to many, but what is Lima's favorite store? It took a while but she decided it was Dorothy Cox's Chocolate and Ice Cream.

Trying to glean little nuggets of pure gold, I asked her if there was anything she wanted the world to know?

"I never smoked," she said, making an exaggerated face. "I tried it once, and that was it for me!"

Lima, Clark, my wife Celeste and I enjoyed some spontaneous bursts of laughter, like when Lima changed the conversation abruptly with something that never occurred to anybody.

"When I had the store, people would ask, 'Are you the queen?' And I'd look all around here, there and say 'Where?'"

Elaine Lima may be humble, but that's another aspect of her royalty. Long live the Queen.

New Bedford's '50s Night Over the Years

Joe Jesus' '50s Night was a longtime staple of New Bedford's summer schedule before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Take a look at '50s Night over the years.

Downtown New Bedford Then and Now

The development of Downtown New Bedford has happened slowly and steadily. It's not something that happened overnight, but New Bedford has changed quite a bit over the past 10 or so years. Here's a look at then and now.

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