We Went Shopping
"Downtown, everything's waiting for you..."
Petula Clark, "Downtown", Warner Brothers (USA), 1964
Mall? What mall? You can see the mall where we shopped on the Downtown Little Rock page HERE. The first enclosed shopping mall in the United States opened in Minnesota in 1956, but one would not arrive in Arkansas for many more years. Until the strip malls began to arrive in the late 1950s, we went “downtown” to go shopping. Our mothers wore a hat, gloves, and high heels. Parking meters cost a penny at first, later on a nickel. There were few parking lots, but it didn’t matter because my mother would have burned a gallon of gas to find an empty penny parking meter before she would have paid for a parking lot. It made sense. Parking lots cost a quarter but a gallon of gasoline was only 19 cents.
If you wanted to cross Fifth and Main from National Shirt Shops to Walgreen's Drugs on the opposite corner (catty-corner?) in downtown Little Rock, you had to wait through two lights to first cross one street, then the other. Then on June 14, 1955, came the amazing Denver Light System, where the single traffic light in the middle of the intersection turned to "WALK" for all four corners at the same time and you could walk in the middle of the street to go directly to the opposite corner. It took a while for them to catch on because people were nervous walking in the middle of an intersection. Check out Fifth and Main and the Denver Lights on the Downtown Little Rock page HERE. The Denver Light at the right was clipped from the downtown page.
One factor that caused shoppers to abandon downtown in favor of the malls was parking. As the number of cars grew, downtown parking gridlocked. Downtown employees took all-day parking spots closest to businesses and customers had to walk for blocks to shop. The city fathers' response was to make money off of the situation, so the first parking meters were installed in April of 1956, at first on Main, Scott, Louisiana, and the major cross streets. When the malls came in with their unlimited free parking, downtown was doomed.
Before parking meters, and also outside the parking meter zones, parking limits were enforced by a policeman who drove around on a Harley Davidson three wheeled motorcycle with a big box on the back (known as a servi-car.) He carried a stick with a piece of chalk on it and when he passed your car he marked the rear tire. When he came back around an hour later, if your tire was marked, he wrote you a parking ticket. It was standard practice to carry a wet rag wrapped in newpapers in your trunk (we predated plastic baggies), so that while you were shopping you could run back and wipe the chalk off of your tire. Seems like a lot of trouble, but it was the pre-technological equivalent of running back to put another quarter in the parking meter.
Shopping downtown meant a free spoonfull of hot roasted Spanish peanuts from the Planter’s Peanut Shop on Main. A person in a paper mache Mr. Peanut suit (we preceded plastic) dutifully distributed them from a silver Mr. Peanut serving spoon that had an engraved Mr. Peanut handle (you could buy the serving spoons in the store then, and you can buy them on EBay today). You got one Mr. Peanut spoonful and no more, and you didn’t fool Mr. Peanut by going by a second time with a lady you didn’t know. Sadly, by 1954 the Planter's Peanut store was gone. You could still buy the peanuts from the peanut counter inside Walgreen Drugs at Capitol and Main, but it wasn't the same.
The Fun Shop was on Second Street, two doors down from Main. There you could buy a buzzer that let you zap somebody when you shook hands with them. You could also buy a bullshit necktie. It had the word "bullshit" inscribed in fancy script down the tie, next to a mirror image of the word. The only way to see the word was to hold the tie sideways, otherwise it just looked like a fancy design. I wore it to all the Mabelvale dress-up occasions. Once I made a special point to shake hands with Mr. Taylor while I was wearing my bullshit tie. One Sunday I was sitting in church (Meadowcliff Baptist), and I looked up and saw to my horror that my father was wearing my bullshit necktie. I hid it well when we got home, and I got rid of it when I went into the Navy, to prevent any future accidents.
Gus Blass at 4th and Main and Pfeifer's at 6th and Main were the big department stores. Gus Blass had the first escalator in Arkansas, and families came for miles around to shop at the store and ride the escalator. Mostly to ride the escalator.
M. M. Cohn at 510 Main.
Ila Lowe Milinary at 705 Main. “The finest store in town.” Upscale ladies hats.
Pre-PETA, Bensky Furriers at 811 Main.
Irma Dumas Dress Shop in Park Hill in North Little Rock.
Jimmy Karam’s clothing store on Main. Jimmy Karam was a staunch segregationist who not only participated in, but was also one of the principal instigators of the rioting outside Little Rock Central High in the fall of 1957. He eventually had a change of heart, but the damage was done and his contribution to that time will not be forgotten.
I suppose today's "popular priced" men's clothing store is Men's Wearhouse, but until the late 1960s it was Robert Hall's, and the one in Little Rock was at 701 West Third. Robert Hall's sold men's suits from $19.95 to $38.95.
Sears, Roebuck, & Co. on Main at Seventh had a fluoroscope in the shoe department. Most shoe stores had them. You could see your feet inside your shoes, to see whether you had a good fit. They were banned in the mid-fifties because by then we knew the high levels of radiation they emitted were dangerous, and because they were poorly constructed and some of the machines could fry your feet in a short time.
Montgomery Ward was on Main at 4th.
Moses Melody Shop on Main. Spinner Sanctum on 5th (Owner was KGHI disk jockey Cliff Ford).
Pattison Jewelers on Capitol a few doors from Main, Charles Stifft Jewelers at 511 main and Cave's Jewelers at 619 Main. The Cave's clock, which used to stand in front of the store, has been maintained, although it has been moved to Capitol and Main. See my November, 2005 picture of the big clock HERE.
Boren Bicycle Shop at 812 Main. I knew it was futile to take my dad there, but I tried anyway. (The only reason he went with me was that Boren also sold lawn mowers.) You could get an "English bike" there. They had -- get this -- three speeds. They also had little skinny tires. "You don't need three speeds. Those other two speeds are just 'cause you're too lazy to pedal." "You don't need skinny tires. Those skinny little tires'll never hold you up. You need to get a bike with real tires." But the kicker was that they cost $56.95 in 1954 (which translates to $402.55 in 2005). "You think money grows on trees? We'll go to Sears and Roebuck an' you'll git a real bike." At Sears, the cost of a J. C. Higgins, with one speed and fat tires, was a more acceptable $19.95 ($141.43) for the economy model, which had fenders, and $24.95 ($176.88) for the deluxe, which added a "gas tank", passenger seat, and lights. I would never own a deluxe.
Nearby, wherever you lived, was a shopping area consisting of a grocery store, a drug store, a barber, a beauty shop, a shoe repair store, maybe a bakery, and at least three “service stations”: maybe a Gulf or a Lion or a Sinclair or a DX or a Texaco or a Cities Service or a Pan-Am or a Phillips 66 or a Skelly. Or maybe an Esso, which changed its name to Exxon in 1972.
There were about two dozen Model Market grocers scattered all over town. They were, I suppose, the equivalent of today's IGA stores.
Every neighborhood had a little grocery store, and every little neighborhood grocery store had a screen door with plastic lettering on it that said, “Colonial is Good Bread”, like the one at the right.
In addition to Colonial Bread, you could get Wonder Bread ("Builds Strong Bodies Eight Ways"), Franke's Bread "In The Orange And Blue Wrapper", and Meyer's Bread ("Wrapped In Blue Gingham").
In the dairy case at your local grocery you had your choice of milk from Borden, Boyd, Coleman, Dean, Dixon, Midwest, Parker Mayflower, Prickett, Shackleford, Singley, and Terry dairies. Any of these would also deliver to your door.
You couldn't get Terry Dairy products for long. Union workers struck the company in March of 1955 and were replaced with non-union workers. Then it got nasty, with the nastiest occurring in July when dynamite charges exploded at the plant, causing $150,000 in damages. The union denied any involvement. The strike remained unresolved, and in February of 1956 Terry sold out to Borden, and all of Terry's employees, union and non-union, were sent packing.
Later, in the 1960s, Coleman Dairy acquired Dixon and Midwest. Don't know what happened to Shackleford Dairy, but if you buy a home in western Little Rock in the Villages of Wellington you can own a piece of their pasture.
Eventually, the malls came. Among the first were the Town and Country on the Northwest corner of Asher and University, and Village Shopping Center on the Southeast corner. You could get your discount clothes at Shainbergs in the former and West Department Store in the latter.
Where we shopped depended on one thing: which brand of trading stamps they gave. I remember four choices: S&H Green Stamps, Top Value Stamps, Plaid Stamps, and Gold Bond Stamps. My mother saved Top Value Stamps. Kroger gave Top Value Stamps and that was the closest grocery and the largest weekly expenditure. You stuck with one or the other because it took a LOT of stamps to get that new floor lamp for the living room.
You could get cheap gas at Caldwell’s at 5223 New Benton Highway. When everybody else in town was charging 25 cents a gallon, Caldwell’s price was 24 cents.
Occasionally there were gas wars where the price of regular leaded gas dropped from 24 cents to 10 cents a gallon.
Five and Dime stores were places where you could buy things for, ahem, five cents and ten cents. Even after inflation drove their wares to a dollar, Woolworth's continued to display the 5c & 10c on their sign.
Wiley Cavin's Sportmans One-Stop, on East Broadway in North Little Rock.
Spaulding's Athletics at 513 Center.
Joe's Hobby Shop, on Kavanaugh at the base of Kavanaugh Hill next to Hocott's Florist. There, he was on the bus line next to a bus stop so people all over the city could take the bus to his shop. Later, as bus usage started to slow, so did his business, so he moved to a shopping center on Cantrell Road.
Village Hobby and Art Shop in the Village Shopping Center. Owned by Richard Sparrow's (class of 1960) mother.
Spatz's Bakery at 2809 Kavanaugh in Hillcrest. Arkansas Gazette paperboys lined up at 5:00 in the morning to get free day-old pastries when Mister Spatz arrived to begin his workday. We had to take the broken and irregular stuff, though, because Mr. Spatz saved the good ones for an orphanage he supported.
Bennie Besser’s Hardware store on Asher. If you couldn’t find it there, they didn’t make it. At one time there were two Besser’s Hardware Stores on Asher, and the unsubstantiated rumor was that two brothers disagreed on how to run the business and one went off in a snit and started his own store. That may or may not have been true, but Bennie was the apparent winner, and his store lasted well into the 70s. Kaufman Lumber Company bought the other one out. Besser’s Hardware is at 1015 Main Street now, but these days it’s an Ace Hardware franchise.
Freddie Wallach TV & Appliances on Asher.
Porky Davis Tire Company on Asher.
In the summer of '58 the Village Shopping Center was built and Little Rock changed a little more. The Schuster family moved to Little Rock from Tulsa and in the corner of the shopping center they opened Bargain City, a discount furniture store. Roy Schuster believed in the power of television and radio advertising and in contrast to the stoic Seventh Street dealers flooded the airwaves with free delivery, two for the price of ones, monthly "going out of business" sales, and other high intensity commercials the likes of which Little Rock had never experienced before. When Roy retired, his son Marshall moved Bargain City across Asher Avenue to the new University Plaza Shopping Center and carried on the family tradition. You can't argue with success. The Schusters furniturized central Arkansas.
Woody’s Liquor Store on Asher where (I won't say who) could buy beer because in the 11th grade he looked like he was older than 21.
You could get your drugs at Baseline Pharmacy at Baseline and Chicot, Wade’s Drugstore at Wright Avenue and Wolfe, King’s Drug Store at 15th and Gaines, Frederica Pharmacy on West Capitol, Snodgrass & Bracy at 110 Main, Lane Rexall on Main, or Aday's at 13th and Pine. Johnson Apothecary in the Donaghey Building, Battery Street Drugs at 1100 Battery. Hillcrest Drugs at Kavanaugh and Beech. Ponder’s Drug Store at 16th & Park. Oak Forest Drugs at 12th and Fair Park. Tedford Drug Store at 915 E. 9th. Economy Drug on Markham at Kavanaugh. Village Drugs in the Village Shopping Center at Asher & University or across the intersection to Town And Country Drugs. Smith’s Drug Store on the curve just before Kavanaugh headed west toward the Heights Theatre. Buice’s on West Markham. The Buice sign at the right still hangs above the old store at Stifft Station.
Guy stuff was at the Western Auto store in the Village Shopping Center or their biggest competitor, Oklahoma Tire and Supply (OTASCO) at Town And Country. The discount stores, Stirling on Main and Gibson’s on east Markham, ran them both out of town, and Wal-Mart ran the discounts out of business.
The New Benton Highway (the section of Interstate 30 between the University-Asher intersection to Benton) was built to replace what is now Highway 5, once the main route from Little Rock to Benton and points south, and one of the first businesses to locate at the county line was the Cliff Packer Auto Ranch. "Cuzzin Cliff" was a big advertiser on Brother Hal's number one morning radio show (woops, did I just admit I listened to Brother Hal?), and the dealership became one of the largest in the region. Spurred by this success, the New Benton Highway soon became the "miracle mile" packed with new and used car dealers.
Blue laws forced grocers to close on Sunday. You couldn’t buy anything on Sunday that you had to labor to prepare. But the blue laws didn’t have a religious basis, it was just the government exercising its right to regulate commerce. Yeah. Right.