When I think back to what things were like when I was growing up, I envision stores that lined the main street of our small town. The town that I lived in was like most small towns of that era. There were no malls or even shopping plazas. Everyone shopped downtown. It was really a social event.
Christmas was a festive season with stores decorated. Extra employees were hired just for the holiday season. My first job was at a local family-owned store called Sidey's. Sidey's was a small department store with two floors, the main level and the basement.
In Dunkirk there was Central Avenue and Main Street, both with shops. Most of our time was spent on Central Avenue because there were more stores there. Sidey's carried the best in lady's fashion as well as jewelry, cosmetics, yarn, and housewares. There was a small men's department and a more than adequate children's department.
It was expensive to eat out every day so I frequently carried my lunch and went upstairs to a room provided by my employer to eat. Every once in a while I went to the lunch counter at Kresge's for lunch. If I did not go there, I ate at West Drug. They had wonderful chili and homemade soup.
My mother and aunt shopped every Friday night just for something to do. It was their night out. When they finished shopping they went for a light snack before parting. A favorite place to snack was Candyland. Although it was a very small narrow building they crammed a whole into it. The back was filled with wooden booths where patrons could relax and eat. I enjoyed many cups of cocoa there complete with a marshmallow and crackers. When I go to the Plaza in Warren it reminds me of Candyland. The decor is the same vintage.
Jayne's handled only women's wear. The Safe Store was another locally owned department store. It had things that Sidey's did not have. I remember picking out Cherry Ames books in the store basement. Also in the basement I found outfits for my Ginny doll. The Safe Store had a larger men's department. You could buy suits, shirts, ties, and even shoes.
We often stopped into Naetsker's Newsroom because a great aunt worked there. That is where I found my comic books. They sold daily newspapers, magazines, candy bars, and all sorts of smoking supplies.
There were three drug stores in one short block plus a couple shoe stores. A little further up the street were Loblaws, Nu-Way, and the A & P. I remember that the A & P had German cookies and fruitcake at Christmas. There were two furniture stores Ehler's and Graf's. My grandfather worked at Ehler's.
Today when I return to the city of my birth it is hard to picture the way it used to be. Urban renewal changed everything. Buildings were torn down. In some instances nothing was erected in their place. How sad it is to see the formerly busy street compromised.
Warren fared no better. When my children were taking guitar lessons I had an hour to shop downtown. I walked from store to store doing my Christmas shopping. I went to Betty Lee's, Morrison's, Levinson's, Valone Shoe Store, and Kresge's. I even found things at Biekarck's where the children took their lessons. I found everything I needed in the small businesses that filled the downtown area. In early December we also stayed downtown for the Christmas Walk. Usually I hurried back to the car to deposit packages so the children would not know what I purchased.
Jamestown was just across the state line from our farm so I shopped there as well. We stopped at Bigelow's, Nelson's, Lerner's, Woolworth's, and Grants. When my children bought a pizza cutter in the basement at Woolworth's my daughter promptly rounded the corner and announced that she bought the gift. Those are the memories that make Christmas special.
Jamestown also had wonderful bakeries. We stopped at Billing's or Ecklof's to buy skorper and Swedish rye bread. Of course, Rockman's had all of the Swedish delicacies that my in-laws had to have.
What happed to all those small stores? We thought we were taking a step up when the mall moved in, but was it really a step in the right direction? The small businesses could not compete with the big box retailers so they went out of business. If only we could step back in time so the young people of today could experience how it used to be!
Now our dollars are going out of the area instead of sustaining the local economy. Remember to support the small local businesses that are left. I proudly told one business owner that the reason I was shopping there was because of the support of local charities. Even if you pay a little more for something, there is an economic benefit for all of us. Those small businesses sponsor ball teams and contribute to numerous local charitable events.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org