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!