Friday, January 8, 2010

2009 : A Retro-Retrospective

Last year at this time, one of the sites I follow on a regular basis, Jess Cliffe’s Vintage Seattle, ran a very cool retrospective highlighting the more popular posts of the previous year. Upon reading this, the second thought that came to my mind was “Wow, he’s covered some great stuff this year!” The first was “Dang, I wish I’d thought of that!”

So in the interest of originality, here goes – a quick look back at the major topics featured here in 2009. I’ve included different photos here from those that appeared originally, as a means of breathing life into musty, recycled content enhancing this encore presentation of favorites.

Note: Highlighted text links back to the original post series, unless otherwise noted.
(In my best Gene Autry “Rudolph” voice, despite Christmas being over) “But do you recallll, the most famous dead mall of all…” By a large margin, the “most famous” one is the Dixie Square Mall, the crumbling hulk of which still stands in Harvey, Illinois, a far south suburb of Chicago. Open for a mere 12 years, Dixie Square achieved dead mall immortality (how’s that for an oxymoron?) a year after its closing when it hosted the famous chase scene in the 1980 movie “The Blues Brothers”. We explored the fascinating history of Dixie Square, set to a wonderful accompaniment of classic circa-1968 photos.

The photo above dates from a bit earlier, not long after the mall’s late 1966 opening, showing (presumably) a mother and daughter leaving the Montgomery Ward store with a nice big bag of purchases. Sadly, the Wards store is the one portion of the mall that no longer exists, having been torn down about four years back.
We extended our series on the history of Kroger into the 60’s and 70’s, with special emphasis on the groundbreaking Superstores. Like stepping into an 18th century Bavarian village it was, with the added benefit of Top Value stamps! This circa-1970 photo pre-dates the Superstore era by about three years, and if you click to enlarge, you can make out details of the upscale 1960’s Kroger decor package in the background.
“Going to the movies” has been part of America’s suburban shopping culture for decades now, a phenomenon that can largely be credited to the General Cinema Corporation, a popular subject of this site early last year. GCC pioneered the idea of the shopping center theatre in the early 1950’s, but during the 60’s and 70’s the concept really took off, with hundreds of General Cinema theaters springing up at shopping centers and malls everywhere. For millions of Americans like me, the sight of the oh-so-familiar white buildings with their laconic signage (usually just the word “Cinema”) is indelibly linked with our childhood moviegoing experience.

Pictured above is the original General Cinema theatre, which opened at Shoppers World, that great pioneering outdoor mall, in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1951. The photo was taken in 1963 at the Cinema’s “grand re-opening” ceremonies (note the band playing in front of the entrance) celebrating the addition of a second auditorium. Ten years later, two additional screens would be added. My thanks to David Wodeyla, who has a great General Cinema memories site along with fine tributes to bygone days in Natick and Framingham, Massachusetts. Thanks also to Michelle McElroy, whose site, called This Is Framingham, offers an entertaining past-and-present look at that historic town, for her help.
We examined the history of Montgomery Ward from its earliest days as a mail-order house serving America’s farm families, through the early decades of its retail store development, the near-disastrous 1940’s and early 50‘s, to the beginning of “the great comeback” as a primarily mall-based chain in the late 1950’s. There’s more to the story – “to be continued”, as the old saying goes.

This photo is from the early 1960’s, showing a catalog order desk that was typical of the newer, larger mall-based Wards stores of the day. You know, I’m needing to order something from, but all of a sudden I feel really underdressed!
April Fools’ Day 2009, the day Pleasant Family Shopping “went commercial”. Painstakingly crafted fake banner ads and the tackiest product-placement copy I could dream up. Delighted some readers, confused others, and (probably) ticked off still others. Woo, won’t do that again!

The original post, which I hope you don’t read, is here.
We took an in-depth look at Winn-Dixie, a chain that once blanketed the entire Southeast and extended to Texas. Today, the company fights on valiantly in a much smaller geographic area, which includes select cities in Florida and other Gulf Coast markets. Shown in this 1967 photo is a new, as yet unopened Winn-Dixie store, location unknown. I’m hoping that the unusual blue background for the sign triggers someone’s memory.
Woolco, the long gone but widely remembered discount store division of variety store pioneer F.W. Woolworth Co. was our next subject, bringing a nice outpouring of memories from many readers. Around for just 20 years, Woolco stores eventually ended up in most regions of the country. They existed into the early 90’s in Canada. Speaking of our friendly neighbor to the north, an interesting thing happened some weeks after the series of posts on Woolco was completed. One day I noticed that the site received some 200 hits in the space of an hour that morning from the greater Toronto area. The search query was virtually the same on all of them – “what was woolco’s cafeteria called?” or “name of woolco restaurant”. I’m guessing that particular question must have come up on a radio call-in contest that morning. I sincerely hope that I helped someone win an iPhone or some equally priceless treasure. (The answer, by the way, is the “Red Grille”.)

One of the Woolco posts showed several photos of the Graceland Shopping Center store in Columbus, Ohio, taken in 1970. This photo shows that same store as it appeared near the time of its opening in 1962.
“Once you’ve shopped at Publix, you can’t get it out of your mind.” So say many of Publix’s customers over the years, especially those who’ve moved out of their market areas and no longer have easy access to Publix stores. After taking a close look at the great style of Publix stores through the years, I’m convinced of it! This photo depicts the Southgate Shopping Center location in Winter Haven, Florida, not long after its opening in 1958.
In September, we tossed our normal routine and decided to take a pleasure drive – shopping, of course – on a typical day in mid-70’s suburbia, in this case the Addison/Villa Park area in west suburban Chicago. Along the way, we stopped at no less than six fast food places. (They say that it’s healthier to eat several small meals a day, right?) Twenty-five superb photos by longtime Addison resident Joe Archie, taken in 1976, accompanied by some 5,700 words of text (or 10 pages of single-spaced Calibri –whew!). It drew many new readers and was well received by friends of the site. This photo, taken by Mr. Archie in the mid-1980’s, shows the Zayre store in Addison after the late 1970’s revamp, with the brown-and-orange striped design scheme. Their last major slogan, “We’d like to make Zayre your store”, is visible on a sign hanging in the window. I imagine the owner of the (powder blue, of course) Plymouth Duster in the foreground was stocking up on Bondo.
And then, the loyal customers of G.C. Murphy exclaimed “At last…a Mart of our own!” The Murphy’s Marts were was a bit late in coming, and even then were only around for 15 years or so, but most who remember them do so fondly. In my opinion, their store interiors were among the nicest of the early 70’s discount stores. This photo is circa 1971.
Currently, we’re exploring the history of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, which we’ll call A&P just for fun. They’ve been around for 150 years, and we’re two-thirds of the way through the timeline, most recently featuring the legendary Early American-styled “Centennial” stores. Speaking of which, here’s a nice one from 1972, a Greenwich, Connecticut store that almost looks more like a garden center on the beautiful early spring day it was photographed. The dark-colored signage on white brick makes for a nice “reverse-type” effect. Their ladder must have been a bit too short to reach the peak when they were hanging the pennant streamer across the facade - reminds me of our Christmas lights one year. To be continued….

Well, I’ve enjoyed reliving memories of reliving memories with you. Hope we’ve gotten to some of your favorite old retail subjects. If not, maybe this year!


  1. The Dixie Square Wards may have been torn down, but near-identical door handles and vestibule mats survive (for now) in Wisconsin.

  2. These are some great photos! The feel of these pictures are different. I can't quite pinpoint why, but the difference is in an underdog but good quality kind of way if that even makes sense.

    I'll be the first to admit, the latter part of 2009 for me was rather difficult but it was always nice to know that this blog was still here and updated regularly with some wonderful posts that surely brightened many of my days, difficult or not. Thanks, Dave!

  3. The Winn Dixie has S&H green stamp logos that S&H dropped during 1965.

  4. Dave, If only TV could repackage reruns so well! I really enjoyed the new photos and hope you might cover Dixie Square Mall again. I had never heard of it til you covered it. However I am fascinated by it. I really love that Woolco photo!

  5. It's I reread your Kroger series of posts and took note of the SupeRx Drug installment--especially the part about Kroger's purchase of the Indianapolis based Hook Drug chain.

    Then I turned on the TV and went to the On Demand section my cable offers. One of my favorite channels there is called Something Weird, that features offbeat/cult/camp film offerings of everything from old-time soft core sex romps to corporate promotional shorts.

    I pick one to watched called "The Busters". The opening credits state it as a production of the Indiana State Police...."sponsored by Hook's Drugs"

    The best way to describe this is
    to think of an episode of THE MOD SQUAD that looks like the films they showed you in school assembly. An undercover policeman infiltrated the drug world, befriending a small-time pusher who leads him to the Big Man supplier, setting him up for a bust.

    The cars and clothes date this as circa 1972. The climax where the dealer goes down was filmed in the parking lot of the Speedway Shopping Center (named for the suburb where the Brickyard is located), with both a Hook's Drug and a J.C. Penney. They also shot exteriors and interiors at another Hook location (arresting someone using phony prescriptions to get uppers), and there is also a scene of shoplifting in a clothing department--which presumably was at the Zayre store in Eagledale as listed in the credits (I couldn't find it listed as a town, so I don't know if it is a speciic area or just the name of some plaza).

    While it was produced and directed by a State Police lieutenant, with a cast made up of local actors and law enforcement officers, it doesn't have a writing credit. But I wouldn't be surprised if it was someone in the Hook organization.
    The script hammered home only the economic costs of drug abuse--higher retail prices due to shoplifting, the monetary privation of crime victims, monies diverted to organized crime and "the loss of citizens to a productive society"--in other words, things that presumably would preclude increased spending at Hook Drug.
    No mention whatsoever that drugs could cause injury or death to someone abusing them.

  6. I just found this site a few months ago, and I was sucked in by the in-depth look at Wards' history. I never expected it to be so colorful or crazy - how many store owners have had the Army come after them?

    It's really neat to look back at how the shopping experience in every sub-area has changed over the years. It makes you wonder how people will look at this era 40-50 years from now.

  7. Andrew – Looks like one to keep an eye on – maybe you can snag those handles if they decide to tear that one down as well!

    Didi – I like them too, and think some of them are better than the ones from the original posts. Sorry to hear you’ve had a rough few months! Your blog postings have been excellent lately, nonetheless. And I always appreciate what you have to say over here!

    Anonymous – Thanks for pointing that out. The photo came from an advertisement that appeared in a 1967 ad (in Architectural Record magazine), but the pic could easily been a couple of years old when they used it. I wouldn’t think it’s much older than 1965, though, based on the look of the store.

    Dwayne – Thanks very much! Kind of like Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore filming new intros to their shows, yet still being in their thirties. (Or something like that!)

    I agree on the Woolco photo, and if come across or can think of anything additional on Dixie Square, there’s nothing I’d like more than to revisit it!

    Paul – Thiose old corporate-sponsored films are fascinating, if more than a little morally relative! I’ll have to check out “The Busters” if I ever get the chance! I know that the Speedway Shopping Center had a Woolco store – maybe that was the site of the clothing department scene. Thanks!

    Mela – Thank you - I’m glad you found it! That part of the Montgomery Ward story is intriguing, for sure – definitely some high drama there! Most people are surprised when they hear about the Army takeover. Retail history can be fun!

  8. Hi, has been a great year on your blog and I look forward to your 2010 posts!

  9. Prior to Kmart and now Home Depot, A&P sold more garden supply and plants than any retailer in America. Also more donuts, more than 9 million Jane Parker donuts were baked and sold each week.

    Thanks again for the exceptional posts celebrating Great A&P's 150 years setting America's dinner table. The various centennial store photos really bring back fantastic memories.

  10. Holy cow! That A&P sure looked different about fifteen years later when I worked there! They'd significantly updated the facade, but the entrances (only one really visible here) remained in the same place. It turned into a Food Emporium a few years after I left. No idea what it is today. It was on the Post Road and directly across the street was its competition, Grand Union.