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.