Xenia Tales:More downtown memories

20 Jan

Virgin Pin

Okay boys and girls, last time we walked from Whiteman Street to Detroit Street on the south side of the street. Today we are going to cross Detroit, presuming there is no train on the tracks at the moment running down the middle of the street, and walk down South Detroit towards Second Street.

The Corner Pharmacy held pride of place on the corner, in the Allen Building, a venerable old structure. It had all the accouterments of a small town pharmacy and a crazy pharmacist named Tuffy S. He was loud, profane and funny, nothing like what one would expect a pharmacist to be. His domain was a raised counter near the back of the store that ran along wall on the south side of the building.

Dr. Ray, the eye doctor was on the second floor above the pharmacy. His suite of offices was a study in small town, old-fashioned decor. Large windows and there were always dust mites dancing in the sunshine in his waiting room. I never knew if they came from the outdated magazines or the ancient upholstery and rugs. My favorite thing in Dr. Ray’s office was a human head in a large glass jar. I never asked whose head it was,or how he came by it,  but I was sorely tempted to do so.

Next to the Corner Pharmacy was Schiffs Shoe Store. Schiffs was the bargain store for cheap shoes. My mother turned her nose up at Schiffs offerings and I was glad we did not shop there since they did not have the cool x-ray machine to let you see the bones of your feet and how the shoes fit. In those days, before there were many brand names to brag about having your Buster Brown or Stride-Right shoes meant status. No name brands from Schiffs meant you were poor. And, in those days credit cards were virtually unknown, although house accounts were common. My mother had a house account at Litts and Gibneys and my father had accounts at the Criterion and McDormands.

I am not sure my parents ever had a credit card before the late 1960’s. Purchasing was done by cash, check or house account only. Frequently we were limited as to where we could purchase things depending on whether or not my parents had an account there.

Next to Schiffs was Tiffany Jewelers, no not that Tiffany, our local version, a nice, little narrow jewelry store where lots of Virgin Pins were purchased in the 1960s. Virgin Pins were circular pins made of gold or silver tone metal. I suppose some girls actually had Virgin Pins made of real gold or silver, but I do not think mine were. There was some talk that if you switched the side you wore your Virgin Pin on, from the right side to the left side, it announced you were no longer a virgin, but I think that may have been a rumor, probably started by some enemy of a young lady who chose to wear hers on the opposite side from the masses. I believe my first charm bracelet came from Tiffanys. It was real silver and like the faddy and overpriced Pandora bracelets of today, the charm bracelet was popular partially because it gave your family, or boyfriend an easy Christmas/birthday/Valentine’s Day gift to buy–a new charm.

The star of the west side of Detroit in that block was the next store, Kresges Dime Store. Its name was written in gold on a red background and it was a magical place, from its wonderful lunch counter with the best grilled cheese an root beer floats in history to its pet department where you could buy a little turtle and a plastic bowl, complete with a plastic palm tree, to keep him in.  They also had a spectacular candy counter where you could buy root beer barrels, Mary Janes, Kits, Bit o Honeys, and Black Jacks, usually for around two for a penny. If Kresges did not sell it, you probably did not need it. Kresges was a great place to go hang out, even if you did not have any money, simply walking around and looking at things could take up quite a bit of time and if you had a dime to get a float or fifteen cents for a sundae it was simply glorious to sit in the red vinyl stools with the chrome backs that swiveled and look at yourself in the mirrors that lined the wall across from the lunch counter.

After having your grilled cheese at Kresges you could head on down past McDormands Mens Store and pop into Donges Drug Store. Donges had  a real, old fashioned soda fountain and I had my first ever ice cream soda there. Donges’ stools did not have backs, but did twirl nicely. Donges had ( and did until it closed in the 90’s) everything imaginable that a drug store might carry. When I got my small pox vaccination as a small child my mother took me to Donges to buy a small clear plastic dome to wear over the sore spot, which would eventually form a nasty looking scab. Want to know what they looked like after the scab fell off? Ask someone over fifty to see where they got their smallpox shot.Like Sols had a monopoly on the required gym suits, Donges had a monopoly of the little covers for small pox vaccination sites.

The little domes were considered the latest thing in accessories for children, not everyone had one and the scabs were prone to get caught on clothes if you did not cover them, but the doctors  told people not to cover them. The domes were the mothers’ way to protect the spot and not disobey the doctor, but they did cost money,so weer kind of a status symbol. I thought they were disgusting because they showed off your nasty inflamed and swollen vaccine site.

I remember taking swimming in college and needing a swimming cap in the dead of winter. I tried to find one everywhere and finally went to Donges. The man behind the counter looked pensive when I asked him if he might have a swimming cap left over from the summer. After thinking for a few minutes he went to the ladder on wheels that was attached to a track close to the ceiling, pushed it down the wall a ways, climbed it, pulled out a dusty box and came back down the ladder.  In the box there were about a dozen swimming caps. Magic! When Harry Potter went to buy his wand at Ollivanders in the first book and the owner was climbing ladders and pulling down boxes to retrieve wands I thought about Donges.

One of my favorite discoveries at Donges when I got to be an adult was Bag Balm. Bag Balm is a greasy ointment evidently originally designed and I presume still used to keep the udders of cows from chafing. It comes in a cute little green metal box with clovers and a cow on it. It smells horrific, but if you have very dry skin it is miraculous. Winters in Ohio tend to be particularly hard on one’s heels and Bag Balm applied to the heels will have them soft and silky in days. Of course, you cannot put it on when you are going out of the house  or people will turn up their noses at the smell. Now that Donges is closed I am not sure where one would find Bag Balm, although I imagine it is available online, like virtually everything else.

Going past Donges you would pass Kingsbury’s Mens Store and then Hitchcocks Jewelers. Hitchcocks did not run to the trendy like Tiffanys did . They sold more classic jewelry, wrist watches and demure necklaces with small pendants.

Next to Hitchcocks was Lords, a cheap clothing store that specialized in dresses that were poorly made and a variety of clothes that would probably not survive more than a couple of washings before they became unwearable.

Ah memories! The stores of Xenia were many and varied and each one had its own pecking order in how desirable their goods were. It was marvelous to grow up in a town where everyone knew the rules and all you had to do was follow them to  achieve some status. I do not remember there being a difference in what the black kids thought you should wear  or how you should look and where should come from and what the white kids liked, hair being aside of course. We will talk about 1960’s hair in a future post.We were , in retrospect pretty simple individuals, with modest bellwethers for our guide.

Life is much more complicated today.


Posted by on January 20, 2011 in Childhood, Uncategorized, Xenia


4 responses to “Xenia Tales:More downtown memories

  1. S. E. Ward

    January 21, 2011 at 1:14 am

    I remember my half-sisters, who went to high school int the 60s also talking about virgin pins. remind me of my junior high years during the 70s and VietNam years. P.O.W. bracelets were popular for girls. Each had the name and serial number of a P.O.W. and the rumor was that if you ever took the bracelet off the solider would not make it home. I love hearing your memories.

  2. Miriam Mann Harris

    January 21, 2011 at 1:21 am

    Interesting as usual.

  3. Catherine Wilson

    January 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    You can still get Bag Balm – I have a tin under the sink in my bathroom. Check your local Walgreens.

    • minerva5

      January 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm

      Lol I never run out of Bag Balm. I think I have the original can I bought fifteen years ago! If not it is only the second one in 15 years. 🙂


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