Tales of Xenia: Some Downtown Stores circa 1950-1966

16 Jan

Downtown Xenia used to be a vibrant, functioning place. Besides the gorgeous Gothic courthouse, which I was always proud of, we had all kinds of businesses to cater to whatever whim or fancy you might have.

Starting at the corner of Whiteman ( yes that is the name of the street, not sure about its origins) and Main Street on the south side of the street was Montgomery Wards, you could buy clothes, shoes, household products, even furniture there. I remember the stairs seemed so steep and high to me and there was an area upstairs that you could stand and look down on the floor below. My parents did not shop there much, they both had some fairly healthy contempt for old Wards for some reason. I remember my mother buying sheets there once and I know she went in there when I was about 5 looking for the hottest toy on the market, a ” Little Ricky” doll. Lucille Ball had a baby boy and one of the toy companies put out a Little Ricky doll. Long before Cabbage Patch mania, those dolls were sought after and rare. My mother took me with her to Wards because she heard they had received a shipment of this latest fad. I truly do not remember even asking for a Little Ricky doll, but I might have. I doubt it though because children did not watch television  in those days the way they do now. I am not sure I would know a Little Ricky doll from a Betsy Wetsy–which I already had.

Anyway my mother set out on her quest and took me along, presuming , erroneously as it turned out, that I could be kept in the dark about the purpose of the errand. She sent me upstairs to look at some toys and bought the doll downstairs ( how times have changed, now if a mother sent her child to a different floor of a department store someone would call Children’s Services!) I, being prone to standing in the area where you could see downstairs, of course, saw the entire transaction. I was not particularly thrilled with the prospect of having my own Little Ricky doll, but I am pretty sure my mother felt that she had made a maternal coup.

A couple of doors down from Montgomery Wards was Gallighers or Gallihers, something like that, drugstore. I always loved the doors there, because you came in one and went out another. I do not remember them having a lunch counter, but they might have. I remember buying candy there, but of course I bought candy at most stores where you can buy candy. I believe when Galligers closed Krakoffs a women’s store that tried to cater to teenagers moved into their space. I bought my first outfit ever with my own money from Krakoffs, it was a new fabric, polyester, it had brown pants and a brown and white checkered zip up jacket and I loved it! I wore it to a Cleveland Browns game years later and the zipper broke , it was plastic and came apart, when I stood up to cheer. Fortunately since we were in Cleveland I had on a coat and did not have to sit there with my bra showing for the rest of the game.

Next to Galligers was the Famous Cheap Store, which sold virtually everything imaginable for farms and homes. I do not think they sold clothes, although  they may have sold overalls. I remember sleds, stoves, pots and pans, and a wide assortment of things I had not idea what their purpose was, but my favorite thing at the FCS was the huge yolk that hung over the stairwell that went downstairs to the basement. I presume it was for a horse, but I remember looking at the enormous leather thing and fantasizing that it could possibly be a yolk for a dragon or an elephant.

The next store I will walk you through is JC Penny. Our Pennys had a wide variety of things, household goods, clothes, etc and at the rear of the store was the catalog counter. You could order virtually anything and have it sent to the store for you to pick up, something considered very advanced and avant garde for the time. Pennys was in a building so old that the stairs, which curved up to the second floor, creaked when you walked on them. At one point Pennys tried to be more of a boutique type store for women, keeping their stockings and scarves and other accessories in small, flat boxes stacked up on shelves and minded by clerks who would retrieve the box and show you the item. That went by the wayside like so many modern ” improvement” and they became much more like current retailers–you are on your own until you want to pay, and may have some difficulty finding someone to take your money then.

Pennys was one of the first downtown stores to hire a black clerk. My sister in law used to run the elevator at JCP when she was in high school. Elevators in those days were much different creatures than they are now. In order to make the elevator move you had to close an iron gate and then turn a handle. It took some skill to make the elevator stop level with the entrance to the floor, and if the operator missed you had to endure lots of jerking back and forth until he/she got it even.

Walking west towards Detroit Street after leaving Pennys you would go past the Candy Kitchen ( It may have been the Kandy Kitchen) I am not sure how it was spelled, but it was mainly called Dirty Greeks. Black people were not welcome there. My memory of the place was that it was in something that resembled a trailer. It sat on the other side of a forbidding alley beside Pennys.

The next major store was McVays a great store that sold paint, wallpaper, dishes and other items to make your house a home. But, my favorite thing about McVays was that they were the only vendor of Ginny dolls, the precursor of Barbies. Ginny dolls did not have enormous breasts and high heels, they were chubby cheeked little girls , but they had wardrobes that would put Barbie to shame. McVays had their Ginny dolls on shelves built into the side windows next to their door and they would have them in different outfits. I used to look forward to going downtown so that I could see if there was a new outfit I did not have. I may have to go on Ebay and see if I can find a Ginny doll, although I imagine they would cost so much I would have to sell a kidney to get one.  Needless to say there were no black Ginny dolls, but it never occurred to me that Ginny was not for such as me. She was one of my favorite dolls, or I should say they were some of my favorite dolls, since I believe I ended up with five of them.

After McVays you would encounter Litts ( or Sols, I cannot remember which came first, but we will go with Litts) a truly unique women’s clothing store for a variety of reasons. One of my most vivid memories of Litts was witnessing a fight between two white women, a mother and daughter, that I did not know. I was about 12 and went to Litts for what my mother usually sent me to Litts for, a slip– for those of you under 35, a slip is something women used to wear under dresses or skirts. I find that young women have never heard of such things and when I attempt to explain it to them they tend to look doubtful. Anyway, I was in Litts looking for a new black slip when noise erupted from the back of the store where the dressing rooms were.

The dressing rooms in Litts were tiny little plywood walled cells with a ratty curtain in the front for privacy. On this day the mother and daughter –the daughter appeared to be a little older than I was, were having words. The daughter was in the dressing room trying on something and the mother had launched into a lecture about what to wear and how to wear it. The daughter finally got tired of yelling back and forth and burst out of the curtains in her bra and panties to yell in her mother’s face. I was not sure whether to be more impressed with her hubris and lack of modesty or with the fact her mother did not smack her. I remember thinking that distinctly, although my mother had never smacked me, but then I had never pushed the envelope like that either.

Okay this is getting too long, only three more stores to this post. Next we get to Sols owned by the Arnovitz family.Antisemitism being what it was in Xenia I never realized that a lot of the criticism about Sols was because the owners were Jewish until I was much older. It was funny to go to Sols because you were accosted almost immediately, usually by Mrs. Arnovitz and I can remember she always wanted to sell you socks. No matter what I went in there for she tried very hard to push the socks. The main reason I went to Sols was to buy our required, hideous gym uniforms. For some reason, even though the colors of Xenia High were blue and white, the gym suits were a puke green. They were one piece things, shorts and a short sleeved top all in one  which required that you step into it. They closed with snaps which would not stay snapped during any kind of movement unless you belonged to the IBT club. ( Youngsters ask your parents or better yet your grandparents what that means) So, every late summer I had to make the pilgrimage to Sols to buy my gym suit and fend off Mrs. A to keep her from pressing new socks on me.

Next to Sols was the Reliable Shoe Store. When I was small, and before we knew that x-rays were not good for you, they had a machine where you could put on a pair of shoes, stick your foot under the x-ray and see where your foot was–or more accurately the bones in your foot were–in relation to the front of the shoe. It was heralded as a great advance in the technology of making sure shoes fit, until, of course, they found out that exposure to radiation was not particularly good for you.

Finally, there was the bank on the corner.

There was a store called the Card Shop in that stretch of Main Street in later years, but I cannot for the life of me remember where it was. Old Xenians, weigh in please!:-)


Posted by on January 16, 2011 in Childhood, Xenia


11 responses to “Tales of Xenia: Some Downtown Stores circa 1950-1966

  1. Duchess Harris

    January 16, 2011 at 2:55 am

    I was a member of the IBT Club until I was 20!

    • minerva5

      January 16, 2011 at 3:47 am

      My first bra, in 6th grade was a 36 B, I never made the IBT club. One of my fantasies used to be to go to the grocery store with just a tee shirt on!

      • Valerie Vandevier Rexrode

        January 29, 2013 at 5:49 pm

        These memories of the stores in Xenia are priceless to me! I left Xenia in 1976. I remember most of the stores mentioned here. I have to laugh over your description of the gym suits that would only stay closed if you were a member of “IBT” club. Heh heh- yes I belonged to that club, & still recall my little sister Vickie & I, playing in our front yard, only to hear 2 boys on thier bicycles riding by & shouting “Flatsies! Flatsies!” at us! (to the tune of the song on the commercial, no less!) I laugh now, but we were crushed! Flatsies were a doll- yes, she was flat, like paper almost, seems like? This would have been around 1967 maybe? I loved downtown Xenia! When I was in jr. high, it was not a good weekend unless I got to go “downtown”. I never had any money (rarely did) but loved to window shop back then! Sometimes after school we would go to the Frische’s on the corner, it had those small “juke boxes” on the tables. We only had money for a Coke! Wonderful days. Thank you to everyone for sharing- loved the story from S.E. Ward remembering “spying” on her dad & brother from the upstairs of Montgomery Ward! I remember Penney’s & those old timey ceiling fans! I went to an eye doctor in downtown Xenia, I no longer remember his name, but never forgot something he had on his wall. “I had no shoes & felt sorry for myself. And then I met a man who had no feet.” Some things you never forget.

  2. Chery Cason

    January 16, 2011 at 3:30 am

    I also was a member of the IBC until I was 25 lol

  3. Dennis Rector

    January 16, 2011 at 5:12 am

    The Card Shop was next door to the bank, what was it Citizen’s National I think, which later closed and became Frisch’s Big Boy.

    I had almost forgotten about Mrs. A and the socks! LOL Remember how the walls there were lined with shoe boxes?

  4. Kevin

    January 16, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    For a hot second, I worked in the old Sol’s, which I think had been a jewelers once, when Fast Fashions opened. I was their first stock clerk. It was a very sad version of Chess King. But you could buy double belts there all day long!
    I remember the corner bank became a diner and you could play music at your table. There was a comic book shop there, for a few years and I practically lived in that place on Wednesdays.

  5. Shirley in SW Ohio

    January 17, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    There was also a Card Shop in the vicinity of the now defunct Oasis, closer to the Main Street/Detroit Street intersection. Remember when Friday night was the night to shop because 1.) it was payday and 2.) all the stores stayed open until (gasp!) 9 PM!!

  6. Catherine Wilson

    January 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Whiteman Street was named after Benjamin Whiteman, a War of 1812 general and early settler of Beavercreek Twp and Clifton. His stone house, built in 1804, is still near Clifton.

    • minerva5

      January 26, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      Thanks for the info about Whiteman Street, I have wondered about it since I was a teenager.

  7. S. E. Ward

    March 20, 2011 at 4:34 am

    Oh the memories! I remember that 2nd floor of Wards. We hardly went up there, but I remember once my Mom did for some reason and I thought it was so cool to be up there and spy down on my Dad and brother. Hey, Xenia kids had to get their thrills where they could! Hated to see Penney’s go in the early 90’s in think it was. I know it was still open in ’89 because I was expecting then and remember the little infant dresses they had on sale and I had considered buying a couple. My mother and sister, who were the baby sexing experts of the time, as well as my Dr. nurse were positive it looked like a girl ( this was before routine ultrasound) . I’m glad I waited because wearing them would probable have traumatized my son Andrew. I used to go up there in the 80’s to buy my bras. I wore an untypical size then, 38 B, and they had a style that I bought over and over. I remember parking in the back and going in the back door. Also in winter, walking home from CJH stopping into Penney’s to warm up, the staff never seemed to mind. I also remember those stairs and that elevator. As a teenager Dad taking us to Sol’s to get shoes when i always wanted to go to Gallenkamps. It was hard to get out of there without buying anything, Sol was a character, but i managed to reject every pair he showed me, even though It probably ment I would end up with a pair from Rink’s. And those green gymsuits! The year I started J.R. High they went with a new style of gymsuit, navy blue bottoms with a blue striped top. You bought them at Penney’s and they were the ungodly sum of twelve or thirteen dollars. But you could buy and old gymsuit that had been left at the school from the school for a dollar, so thats what I got. I think I was only one of 3 girls in the school who had the old green ugly suits. Fourtunately when I started eighth the Gods smiled on me and I was able to get a blue one, even though they had changed them a bit, putting the zipper in front so it wouldnt hurt the back during sit-ups.

  8. DebFrot

    September 10, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    Krakoffs was my favorite store. They gave out teen charge accounts cards (1972) back when women could not get a credit card. My limit was $10 and I had to pay $1 every week. It was awesome & so important. It accurately help me get my 1st real credit card at Rikes. Thank you Krakoffs.


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