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!:-)