Shopping has come a long way since the 1950s. Malls didn't exist. There were "downtown" areas in every town that featured one or two department stores like Kresge's or Sears...Macy's if it was an upscale town. These stores would decorate their windows to lure shoppers inside. In New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's in Herald Square and Abraham and Strauss in Brooklyn were famous for their holiday windows. The stores were decorated with trees (before they became politically incorrect) and festooned with garlands and giant Christmas balls. They also featured elaborate Santa's Workshops where kids bundled in snowsuits would wait in line to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas and have their pictures taken. The scenes in the movie "A Christmas Story" where little Ralphie and his family visit Higbee's Department Store got it exactly right.
I find it interesting that 1950s kids believed in Santa Claus for so long compared to today's kids who mostly pretend just to ensure their gifts appear under the tree. We really didn't have a lot, and we needed the hope that a magical fat man in a red suit might bring the things we so badly wanted, even though we knew our parents couldn't afford them. Oh sure, we had doubts, but wanted to dream that we had a shot at that big Erector Set or the snazzy Shwinn bike we would eye greedily in the store window. We would diligently make up our Christmas gift list, putting the thing we wanted most on top, double-underlined. We wished we could pool the money that well-meaning aunts would spend on practical things like clothes and books, and use it to buy the Red Ryder BB Gun that every boy wanted but knew in his heart he never could have.
In our neighborhood, a lot of shopping was done locally. We had a Woolworths, a John's Bargain Store, Vim Furniture, and all the stores along Pitkin Avenue. There were shoe stores like Thom McAn, Buster Brown, and A.S. Beck (where Tony Boots worked part time), McCrory's Department Store and clothing stores like Moe Ginsberg's and Abe Stark (who gave away free suits to any ballplayer who hit their outfield sign in Ebbets Field). Downtown Brooklyn was another shopper's mecca with A&S, Mays, Martins (where the lovely Jasmine worked in the bridal department after school) and a new chain, E.J. Korvette's. There was no online shopping, no gift cards, and no credit cards...just cash or a check if you were well off enough to have an account.
These are wonderful memories for me. If you've seen the movie "A Christmas Story" (soon to open on Broadway by the way) you will know exactly what my holidays were like. Those times with family and friends will stay with me no matter how much more senile I may get.
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