Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A 1950's Christmas in Martinsburg


It’s always amazed me how Kodachrome film can make an over 50-year old scene look like it took place last night. That’s certainly the case here in this beautiful night shot of a Christmas shopping crowd at a Peoples Drug store in Martinsburg, West Virginia, from an original slide I bought some time back.

But this was well over fifty years ago, probably closer to sixty, an infinitely simpler time compared to today’s warp drive existence. This was prior to the “shopping center era” for most communities across America, and prior to the “mall era” for all but a handful. These were the early postwar years, just before the boom, a time when doing a big chunk of one’s Christmas shopping at the corner drugstore was still an entirely reasonable proposition. When the main Christmas gifts one received, oftentimes, were the ones that still matter most today –time spent and meals shared with loved ones.  Oh, and maybe a new Falcon Pipe for Dad and a bottle of Tussy Wind and Weather Lotion for Mom, of course.

Peoples Drug, the leading drugstore chain in the greater Washington, D.C. area, had a history that spanned the 20th century itself, save for a few years on either end.  Founded in 1904 with a single store at 824 7th Street in D.C., the company had grown to nearly 160 stores by the end of 1955, with locations in six states (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Tennessee) in addition to those in the District. The Peoples name lasted until the early 90’s, a few years after their acquisition by CVS.

I don’t know the address of this location, and being a night photo there aren’t enough visible details to date the building with any accuracy. As always, I’m hoping someone can help us here. The signage, however, sports the wonderful late 30’s/early 40’s deco lettering (“drugs”) that many drug chains (and variety chains like Kresge and Murphy) used from time to time on corner locations.

To the extreme right of the photo you’ll notice another retail icon – a tower sign for the Acme grocery store. Now there have been lots of Acmes out there – Acme of Akron, Acme of Virginia, Acme Co. (makers of rocket-powered roller skates, dehydrated boulders and the “Do-it-Yourself Tornado Kit”), but I think this store was part of the best known Acme of all, the Acme Markets division of the Philadelphia-based American Stores Company. For many years they operated a small number of stores in the West Virginia panhandle.   

All I know is I’d have loved to have done at least some of my Christmas shopping there.  A Stetson hat and a time machine, and I’m there!   
     
One quick note - I’m so sorry for the long gap between posts. I’d like to be able to say I was “waiting for the end of the world” as the Mayans would put it (or was that Elvis Costello – I never get these things straight), but I can’t. I’m working on some new things to put up here, some holiday related and some not, between now and Christmas.

In any event, I hope each one of you is off to a great holiday season, or will be soon! 

25 comments:

  1. I remember the last few ACMEs in DC -- they were sorry sights at the end. Many of us yet miss Peoples, and remember several stores with signage like this up to the conversion; CVS is just not the same. The former Peoples Drug Warehouse in DC, near Florida and New York Avenues NW at P St NW, is today the Peoples Building of the Government of the District of Columbia.

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    1. Seain, Wish I could've seen one of these in person! I think there's a definite parallel between the nostalgia for department store chains that fell (for lack of a better word) to Macy's and the many strong regional drug chains that are now CVS or Walgreens.

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  2. Such a gorgeous picture! I love the old timey feel of drug stores and most if not all was before my time. Walking into a CVS or Walgreen's these days does not evoke the same feel. At all.

    It's always great to see your posts back in action, Dave. No matter how much time has passed.

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    1. It's a great one, Didi, I agree.

      And thanks! :)

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  3. Thanks for sharing the picture! My grandmother and her sister worked for a couple of local drug chains in the era of that photo (Evans and Crank's - there is apparently another Crank Drug that was larger; I know little about that one except I have heard ads for it on old KAAY 1090 in Little Rock, AR air checks). My grandmother loved working in those places! Drug stores as she described them were fine places just to gather - one could shop AND dine, at the lunch counter of course! Sign me up for a time machine too!

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    1. You're welcome, Mike!

      One of Crank's claims to fame was the fact that David Glass, who took over the helm of Wal-Mart after Sam Walton died, came up through their management ranks.

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  4. Stuff planned for Christmas? Awesome! Maybe the J.C. Penney supermarkets? :)

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    1. Ah, Penneys. That's Project Number One for me after the first of the year.

      I'll do my best to make it worth the wait.

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  5. That is a beautiful picture. I love the "drugs" sign wrapping around the facade. Building signage is a lot more dull and boring these days.

    "A Stetson hat and a time machine, and I’m there! "
    No bowtie? For shame. Bowties are cool!

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    1. "...and a bowtie."

      Don't know how I could leave that out, Michael! ;)

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  6. Another wonderful post. Thanks and as always, I'm looking forward to what is next.

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  7. This was on Queen Street, the main drag running through Martinsburg. I grew up there, and People's was the main hangout for young teens.

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    1. Great to hear that information, thanks so much. I'll bet it was a great place to hang out!

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    2. I am someone who was born and raised in Martinsburg, 4 blocks north on King St. Me and my family always frequented Peoples Drug on the main street of Queen and Burke. They had a great cafe inside as well, and always packed. Sure do miss those days!@

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  8. Merry Christmas. A beautiful essay, as usual, without getting maudlin or mundane!!!!
    Mitch-your Audubon Shopping Center buddy... PS Miss those Acmes (in Philly, it was pronounced "ak-uh-mee")

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    1. That's high praise, Mitch - thanks very much.

      "Ak-uh-mee" - I love that! And their NFL team is known as the "Iggles", right? ;)

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  9. Being 74 years old I remember this scene very clearly. Used to love the store to store shopping and Christmas was a wonderful time in Martinsburg.

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  10. Born in 1963, I was early enough to see the final years of old-fashioned drug stores. I bought many a comic book from their spinner racks. We had several local ones here in Pine Bluff: Central Pharmacy, Cherry Street Drugs. Oak Park Drugs, Murray-Hart Drugs, Conery Rexall Drugs--all gone now.

    I don't know how to make links in this commenting format, but just put "Coyote v. Acme" into your favorite search engine and see what happens. ^_^

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    1. I neglected to mention our strong regional chain, USA Drug, which rose to prominence in the 1980s and beyond. Walgreens recently bought them out, though the management of Walgreens has not seen fit to change the stores' names (USA Drug and four other names) to Walgreens.

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    2. Hamfast RuddyneckMarch 9, 2013 at 5:03 PM

      Since my 12/22/12 post, Walgreen's has converted the USA stores in Pine Bluff to Walgreen's stores, except for the USA store which anchored a strip mall, which they simply shut down after they built a free-standing Walgreen's across the street.

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  11. I lived in the DC area as a kid (67-72) and People's is intertwined in some of my earliest memories. Looking forward to those Christmas posts!

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  12. The Acme that i usually think of was a meat packing company in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Among whose employees in 1919 was one Earl "Curly" Lambeau, who talked Acme Packing into sponsoring a football team, which to this day is known as...the Green Bay Packers.

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  13. I was born and raised in Martinsburg. That People's Drug was downtown on Queen Street.

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  14. I would shop in that People's Drug store for all my school supplies, and games. It was a great store! Good food too, as well as the McCroys' just up the next block

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