Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Shop Till You Drop

A typical Woolworth diner in the 1950's ~ the kind where we ate in downtown Lubbock after a morning of shopping.

         This time of year always makes me think of the elaborate preparations we made each August in anticipation of a new school year. There were clothes to buy, maybe a new lunchbox or school bag (I don't think we had backpacks then!), and all the required school supplies. We had never heard the term “Shop Till You Drop” when I was a kid. But that’s exactly what we did each August before school started.
We often shopped at Hagood’s Dry Goods store on Petersburg’s Main Street, but for things not available on the home front, we made a day-long trip to Lubbock with a long shopping list.
            At the risk of “dating” myself, this was long before the mall opened in Lubbock and even pre-dated the shopping centers that later sprang up along 34th Street.
An early start was essential in order to reach Lubbock by the time the stores opened. Mama and my sister Mary Beth and I made the trip, often accompanied by Mary Beth’s sidekick, Vondell. We would drive straight to Broadway Street in Lubbock and leave our car in either a parking garage downtown or at a parking meter. Then we would hit the stores lining either side of Broadway.
            J.C. Penney was one of my favorite places to go because of the elevator. We would proudly step inside the cage when the doors opened and tell the elevator attendant what floor we wanted. I remember she sat on a stool in the corner, dressed up in a straight skirt and high heel shoes with white gloves, and would very professionally turn the crank to close the door and get us to the requested floor. I dreamed of having such a glamorous job as hers!
The Levine’s store on the opposite side of the street, however, didn’t have such a first-class elevator. It had an open-cage design where you watched the dark brick walls race past as it took you to the 2nd floor. (I later learned that after the Great Plains Life Building opened in 1955, Mary Beth and her friends found it adventurous to ride the elevator all 20 floors to the top. But she never quite got over her elephobia ~ that’s a fear of elevators, not elephants! She was always frightened by the elevator in Levine’s and claims to this day that her elephobia began there!)
            The original Hemphill Wells store was also fascinating because it was the first store in Lubbock to install an escalator. We rode up and down, elegantly gliding our way from one floor to the next.
Some of the department stores used carriers like you see at drive-in banks to whisk your money up to the business office in order to make change. I would stare in fascination, hear the WHOOSH, then watch the carrier travel like magic up the tube to the office. I guess we were just easily entertained in those days!
The Jones Roberts shoe store was another place I liked because there was a large Red Goose figurine on the counter, and I remember when Mama bought me a pair of shoes, the Red Goose laid an egg that had a prize inside for me to take home. I always hoped they would let me examine my feet in the X-Ray machine; what we didn’t know was that those routine X-Rays were actually probably hazardous to our health!
            The typical shopping strategy was to purchase my clothes and shoes first, since I was inclined to get tired and cranky and it was in everyone’s best interest to get me outfitted before that happened.  Once we accomplished that daunting task, we would set out for Woolworth’s and perch on stools at the counter and order our lunch. Being a child who liked consistency, I always ordered a chicken salad sandwich.
            Besides eating lunch, we were entertained by the Dumb Waiter that brought our food from some mysterious place, and later disappeared with our dirty dishes. Once lunch was over, I was usually allowed to choose one or two comic books and then we would set out for the next phase of our shopping trip. Hemphill Wells had a Ladies Lounge on the mezzanine between the first and second floors—a large sitting room with couches and chairs, opening into the adjoining women’s restroom. My mother would park me in the Ladies Lounge with my comic books while she and my sister and Vondell went to finish their own shopping. Leaving children alone like that today would never be acceptable; Mama would probably have been accused of child abuse. But it was a safer time and place then, and I was perfectly content to rest there while they finished without me. They were usually in the same store, or one nearby, and would pop in to check on me often.
            Sometimes, at the end of the day (if I had behaved myself for the most part and not caused too much trouble), I would be allowed to go back to “Woolie’s” or Kress’s Five and Dime store and pick out a toy or a book to take home as my reward. They weren’t expensive toys, just things like a Golden Book or a water pistol, or maybe a book of paper dolls. My sister remembers that there was a small bookstore located on the Hemphill Wells Mezzanine and, although I am certain she was not as well-behaved as I was, she would often be allowed to purchase a Nancy Drew book.
            Once the shopping ordeal was complete, we would load everything into our un-air-conditioned car and head for home, sometimes stopping at the Hidy-Ho Drive-In for a coke on the way.
We usually got home about the time Daddy came home from work, and Mother would have to fix supper after we carried in all our purchases. I’m sure by then she was exhausted from dragging the three of us all over downtown Lubbock in the heat, with me whining and complaining and with two teenage girls giggling and making jokes about everything we did. Just the logistics of getting us there and trying to help everyone make sensible purchases without spending either a fortune or an inordinate amount of time must have taxed her patience. But that was how it was, shopping for school clothes in the 50’s.
One of our favorite places to shop in Lubbock, Texas

The kind of petticoat girls wore under our "full skirts" in the 50's,sometimes layered to form really BIG skirts!