Apr 20, 2007

Main Street America

by Joan Sowards, Guest Blogger

I was lucky to be born in America when Main Street was still the center of the world. No mall or mega center has ever been able to duplicate its uniqueness.

You could find anything you needed on Main Street, be it clothes, furniture, dishes, or just a friend. Service was personable, and once a salesperson waited on you, she knew you forever and called you by name. In my hometown there were great stores such as JC Penney’s, Sears, Mollie’s Dresses, Dell’s Corsets, Stapley’s Housewares, the Co-op for feed and lawn, Everybody’s Drugs, Rexall Drug, Newberry’s, Woolworth’s, and of course the hub was Valley National Bank.

There was magic in downtown and I didn’t mind Mother pulling me along to keep up with her step as we stopped in the shops she needed to visit. Of course she had to talk to everyone she knew, which was unavoidable because our town’s population was only 60,000.

My oldest sister had the very prestigious job of Soda Miss at Newberry’s fountain. I thought she was so grown up in her striped uniform and cap. The manager had sewn the uniform pockets shut so that the fountain help couldn’t keep tips. He believed everyone should share in the profits.

Stores closed by 7pm every night except Thursday, and then doors stayed open until 9. Everyone in town knew the schedule, and the teenagers especially enjoyed gathering at the soda counter or dancing in the record shop.

All shops closed for the Sabbath. The three drugstores rotated who stayed open for emergencies and pharmaceuticals. Even the religious diehards agreed it was the right thing to do.

The magic of Main Street was at its peek at Christmastime. Bells jingled in every doorway. Nativity scenes decorated display windows everywhere. Each department store employed their own Santa, or you could find a jolly fellow handing out candy canes on almost any corner. Groups caroled on the street. Holiday music rang from speakers, and no one was afraid to call out “Merry Christmas!”

Into my early teens, Main Street thrived, but just as nothing stays the same, the day of the mall arrived sooner than anyone really wished it to. JC Penney’s was the first to move into the mall. Slowly, through the years the other shops closed their doors or moved elsewhere. A sadness came over Main Street; a sadness for what was, for the happiness and community that was once there.

But alas, all things pass and new takes its place. Even those first malls have closed and been torn down, and newer, bigger, shinier malls have sprung up elsewhere. But for malls and all their spaciousness and shine, high fashion and prices, I’d trade them all for a friendly community downtown any day, where the salesperson knows my name.


  1. Joan,
    Loved you post! I remember Main Street in the little towns I grew up in! I remember getting suckers in the bank when I walked home alone from school...as a first grader. I remember parades and catching candy thrown by the Shriners driving their little mini cars and wearing their fez. I loved the rodeo queen!

    I read an essay about malls, comparing them to old town villages and even the structure of old cathedrals in those villages. It was titled, "Hallowed Be Thy Mall," but I can't recall the author. It was thought provoking, to say the least.

    You are right! We were lucky!

  2. I'm with you, Joan! I loved the drug stores with their magazine and comic book racks. My brother and I spent a lot of time on the floor in front of them, reading the magazines. No one ever chased us away.

    And the fresh limeaids at the soda fountains! There was a flavor they had, too, that was called ironport. It made a drink kind of like a cream soda.

    Sigh. Those places don't exist any more except in our minds and hearts.

  3. I'm feeling an little envious of your trip down memory lane. My childhood was worlds away from such comforting ideals. Thanks for sharing!


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