Every medium or large city had a central downtown department store. In Portland, it was Meier and Frank. In the photo montage above you can see from left to right the store, the Georgian Tea Room, the clock and the warehouse. In Chicago my grandmother swore by Marshall Fields. In Seattle friends praised Frederick and Nelson. When I was in Boston I went to Jordan’s for my winter coat.
Department stores had a heyday throughout the first 2/3 of the 20th century before they were replaced by shopping malls. They were where I went once I was old enough(12) to take the bus downtown and shop by myself. Meier and Frank had everything I needed, including a fabric department, a stamp and coin department, and a clothing department. Sears had been all right when I was little, but I needed to see and try things on now. I was very small throughout elementary school and bought everything in the childrens’ department.
Everyone knew a great place to meet was under the clock on the first floor of the store. There were three places to eat lunch, including a men’s only room, the Georgian Tea Room and a cafeteria with counters in a snakelike pattern to seat more customers. I stuck to the cafeteria, though I did eat with my grandmother in the Tea Room. The stores downtown knew that no one wanted to carry packages around when they were eating lunch. All the major department stores would gladly deliver any purchase you made for no fee.
Credit cards had just become available and my parents had one for Meier and Frank. While I generally bought things with my own baby sitting earnings, I could also charge things on their account. All I needed was a note from my mother. If there was any question the clerk simply called home.
Were those better times? I doubt it, but I still prefer stores with windows and doors to the outside rather than the artificial landscape of the mall. Apparently I am not alone. The “newest” trend here is “lifestyle retail.” More on in a later post.