It was always exciting to go downtown to shop. Walking down the street taking in all the beautiful displays in the department store windows. Watching the people moving here and there. Cabs whizzing by. People sitting on benches talking. That’s the way it was growing up in the fifties.
My favorite store was the JL Brandeis & Sons in Omaha Nebraska. It had eight floors of awesomeness. Although it had escalators my favorite way to ‘travel’ was in the elevator. They weren’t automatic like they are now. Each elevator was operated by an elevator operator who sat on a stool and used a lever to make the elevator move up and down and to open the door. The opening had two doors, one of which was a metal gate that she had to reach over and open manually. Sometimes it would take several tries to get the elevator level with the floor. But everyone was polite in those days and waited patiently to make their exit.
I can still hear the ding ding of the tube transfer system the sales clerks used to transfer money and receipts. There were plenty of sales people in each department to help with all your needs.
You couldn’t spend a day shopping without trying one of the special places to eat in the store. There was the Pompeian Room, the Tea Room, Hamburger Heaven and a cafeteria. The women shopped in their nice dresses with their hats and gloves. It was an atmosphere of elegance.
At Christmastime downtown lit up with all the decorations hanging overhead from each side of the street. And, of course, again the window displays were a work of art. The best part for me was the tenth floor at Brandeis. The whole floor was made into a Santa’s workshop called Toy Land. The trip up in the elevator was like heading to the North Pole. We would stand in line for what seemed like forever waiting to tell Santa what we wanted for Christmas.
Shopping malls became the place to shop.
For most cities in the U.S. downtown shopping is now a thing of the past. It was replaced by the early sixties with shopping malls. The big draw was the convenience of all the stores in one place under a roof to keep the elements out. And you had plenty of space to park. These malls were built in the newly developed suburbs so there was no need to drive all the way downtown.
Eventually stores began to close their downtown locations in most cities as the shopping mall became more popular. As a teen in the sixties the place to be on Saturdays was at the mall with all your friends. Back in those days, though, we weren’t causing trouble, we were actually shopping. At that time there were no food courts but lots of little food places throughout the mall that offered hot dogs, cotton candy and drinks.
Time has a way of bringing things back around.
But time has a way of bringing things back around. The glory days of the shopping mall mostly seems a way of the past. More and more malls are closing. Some are old and deteriorating and the cost of maintenance is causing higher rent for stores. Other’s find themselves in older neighborhoods that are not as wealthy as they used to be. And some mall owners are fed up with the unruly teens of today that want to cause more trouble than shop.
So, more and more stores are moving out of the malls and into stand-alone buildings. They are opening up alongside big box stores such as Kohls or Mervyn’s. Where the shopping malls advertised one stop shopping people nowadays want to drive to each store and be able to park close to the entrance and get in and out. It’s a whole different mindset.
One thing I have noticed is that these stand-alone stores seem to build in common areas where there are still big parking lots for those who still only want to park once and walk. Hhhmm, sounds similar to a mall concept to me. Maybe someone in the future will come up with the brilliant idea of enclosing it all for shopper’s convenience. They could call it a shopping mall! After all, what goes around comes around.
For me, though, the best shopping will always be downtown. I hope more and more cities come to realize the specialness of their downtown area and bring them back to life. The Brandeis store in Omaha is gone now. The historic building is still there but it has been turned into condos. If only the owners had had a vision of the future and realized how special downtown was and still could be.
Where do you prefer to shop? Downtown, mall, stand-alone big box store?