In the 1960’s Xenia got its first “superstore.” It was called Rink’s and shortly after it opened its doors the name became synonymous with cheap goods. A Wal-mart precursor without the class, it was a phenomenon due, if nothing else to its size. It was located on the west side of town, right across from Cox Elementary School‘s campus, which sat in front of Cox Field, our high school football stadium.
I remember people flocking to Rink’s because it was a different kind of shopping than we were used to. In those days Xenia had a JC Penny’s downtown and an assortment of other local businesses. We had Eichman’s Appliances, the Famous Cheap Store–an eclectic adventure to say the least, Western Auto, and a lot of apparel stores. Krakoff’s catered to the younger female crowd, Litt’s and Gibneys to the older females. Gibney’s was the more upscale of the two. If you wanted hose, for example, you would go in and a very well dressed woman ( white of course, black people did not work downtown except as the occasional elevator operator in a couple of office buildings, or cleaning offices at night), would ask you what you wanted. She would then pull a small box down, sometimes having to get the ladder that rolled along the shelves if your size or color was up high, take the top off the box, fold back the tissue paper and put her hand in the stocking so that you could see the color. It never occurred to any of them evidently that the stocking would not be the same color on my leg that it was on her hand, but that was okay, I knew what color I needed.
A similar process was required if you wanted to buy a slip, a slender box was plucked from the shelf, the tissue paper was folded back and black, beige or ivory silk was exposed for your perusal. When I saw the first Harry Potter movie and he went to Ollivander’s to select a wand, I had a flashback to Gibney’s and the retrieval of the boxes ceremony.
If you had serious money you could buy your women’s clothes at Singer’s. But, we are talking designer here. I had only two items of clothing from Singer’s a white bathing suit decorated with so many gold things that it was obvious it was not supposed to go in the water and my crowning glory a camel hair coat with a raccoon collar.I am going to presume in retrospect that they must have been having a serious sale on both items!
Kingsbury’s, the Criterion and McDormands catered to the men. We also had shoe stores, Rich’s and Schiff’s. We had a Kresges with a great lunch counter ( I am not sure if it was ever segregated, I remember eating there from a very early age) .There were a lot of jewelry stores, Tiffany’s, Braun’s, and Rich’s. And, lots of other little stores and businesses.
But, we did not have anything like Rink’s. Cheap dry goods, clothes that hung in quantity on racks, no boxes and tissue paper here, auto supplies, cleaning supplies, everything in one place! What a concept.
The primary thing Rink’s had, however, was a weekly drawing for money. You had to be there to win and the parking lot began to fill up quickly on the evenings of the drawing. I think the drawings were on Wednesdays but I am not sure. Anyway, half the town would be at Rink’s waiting for the drawing. There was a festive atmosphere, with entire families camping out in the parking lot. The truly prepared brought lawn chairs and cooler, the rest of the folks simply sat in the cars with their doors open if it was hot, or sat on the car hoods or the roof of the car. Kids ran everywhere, it is a miracle that no child ever got killed at the Rink’s drawing.
Before Rink’s came to town the primary drawing and gambling opportunity had been the drawing sponsored monthly by St. Brigid School. St. Brigid sat just a little to the west of the main part of downtown. The sisters of St. Brigid wore white habits, at least some of them did, and they glided around like they did not have feet. I sincerely wanted to be a nun when I was about 8. My mother had to explain to me that no matter how cool the outfits were, being Baptist there was no chance I could ever be a nun.
I am not sure how the Rink’s drawings impacted the St. Brigid drawings, but probably not much. I do not think the tickets for the Rink;s drawing cost anything, you just had to go into the store to get one and stay there for hours until the winning number was called. Needless to say most people probably bought something while they were there. It was events like the Rink’s drawing that helped make the sense of community that small towns had then. Say something about the Rink’s drawing and everyone knew what you were talking about, it was not unique to race, class or age. As a matter of fact it was at the Rink’s drawings that I began to have my first inkling that white kids my age and I had something in common, that they were not alien beings with totally different lives, expectations and experiences. I had a hard time letting go of my Cleaver ( Beaver, not Eldridge) view of white folks though. I was sorely disappointed when I was integrated to find that my white classmate’s mothers did not vacuum in pearls, they did not have dinner at tables set with expensive matching china each night, they did not live in spotless mini-mansions and that their lives were nothing like the Cleavers. Heck, a lot of my white classmates seemed to live a lot farther from Beaver-life than I did! My mother equated being middle class with ceremony and certain standards. The idea of not sitting down to dinner together each evening would have been as alien to her as not wearing a hat and gloves to church!
So, we too participated in the rite of Rink’s drawings. I do not think my parents ever won any money,but we did have a good time talking to friends, neighbors and folks we did not even know. Commonality of purpose goes a long way in breaking down artificial barriers to human interaction.
Years later, I think it was the late sixties or early seventies, the Chamber of Commerce or someone came up with the idea of an Old Fashioned Days celebration. The downtown merchants would decorate their windows with mannequins dressed in period costumes, there would be a parade and sidewalk sales for all of the stores. Citizens were encouraged to wear costumes from times gone by and there would be demonstrations of old time crafts.
Sounded like a great idea, and it was great fun. Of course, as with most things planned in Xenia at the time there was probably not a lot of thought given to the black community. For example, I do not suppose it ever occurred to the planners that Xenia in the 1880’s for black people was probably quite a different experience than for white folks. The displays of wash boards, etc., brought up entirely different memories for much of the black community ( we used to do the white folks’ laundry remember) than for the white population. I am sure there was no overt intention to ignore our history, but….
I will not even go there for the few Native Americans who may have still been in the area who would have had an entirely different take on white settlement of the area. Instead of trying to honor the Indians who had been the original settlers, myths were made up like the one that claimed Tecumseh, a man who loved his people and was proud of his heritage, fell in love with a 16 year old white girl, Rebecca Galloway, who supposedly taught him to read!
Anyway, I loved Old Fashioned Days, lack of cultural awareness and all! Being an historian by trade I loved the costumes, the high wheeled bikes in the parade, the fun and festival, the parade and getting to hang out with my fellow Xenians. Another example of custom and commonality. Everyone knew about Old Fashioned Days, no matter what they thought of it. And most people participated.
I was very saddened to read in the Xenia Daily Gazette ( we called it The Regret–it was always a bad newspaper, but now it is not locally connected and is truly dreadful) online that Old Fashioned Days was canceled this year due to lack of funds. Damn, first no Rink’s Drawings, now no Old Fashioned Days. When will it end?