The 100 block of West Evans was a shopping mecca in the 1950’s. Downtown Florence had everything a kid could want, all in one block. Of course, we had our share of department stores and grownups did a lot of shopping in those. But for us kids, the five and ten cent stores were the place to go.
Saturday when the movie was over and it was too early to go home, you went dime-store window shopping. And if sometimes you had to go present shopping, naturally you had to make the rounds to be sure you got the best thing.
One Saturday in early June, I declared my desire to pick out daddy’s Father’s Day present all by myself without mama tagging along looking at every blooming thing in the store. With a smile and shake of the head, she gave me some extra cash for my trip downtown.
After the latest Hopalong Cassidy movie at the Carolina Theater, I went shopping. I turned left on Dargan toward Evans Street, crossed at the light and turned in to Kresses Five and Ten Cents Store. I really loved Kresses. The dark wood floor had a substantial sound when you walked on it, and there was usually something interesting smelling in the air, as well as a nice echoey sound when people talked.
One plate-glass window in the front featured a lady dummy with painted-on hair, wearing a short-sleeve summer dress. Another window had a little kid dummy wearing a sunsuit and carrying a sand pail. Stores were big on dummies. Most of them had heads in the dime stores. Some of the department store dummies were missing their heads, I never knew why…
At Kresses and Woolworth’s there were lots of waist-high counters arranged in a rectangle with a saleslady and her cash register in the middle.
Shallow bins with wooden dividers were arranged around the counter tops. One might contain embroidered hankies, the next one after-shave lotion. After you perused the stuff in the bins and decided on something, the saleslady rang you up and gave back your purchase in a thin paper bag. Then you went on down the aisle to another counter and another saleslady.
Down the right-hand wall in Kresses were racks of ladies undies, nighties and hand-bags, all different colors and sizes. Down the left side of the store was a lunch counter with a big sign picturing an oval-shaped chopped steak and mashed potatoes covered with shiny brown gravy, garden peas, a dinner roll and a glass of iced tea for a “Reasonable Price.”
I didn’t eat there. Daddy wouldn’t have considered any price reasonable if it wasn’t Sunday after church, and Kresses wasn’t open on Sundays.
At the back of the store there were flat tables low to the floor piled with bolts of cloth. Pyramid- shaped shelves held sewing scissors, spools of thread and dress patterns. If you turned right and headed toward Dargan Street, you found the housewares and toy sections with pots and pans, hammers and nails, and every kind of toy imaginable from Red Ryder cap guns to cry-baby dolls.
After Thanksgiving, the Dargan Street windows would gurgle with bubble lights on decorated Christmas trees, Lionel trains running around in circles underneath the trees.
This summer day, I merely glanced at the ladies and kids’ stuff as I browsed through the store, examining Old Spice cologne and cotton handerkerchiefs, billfolds and pocket knives, making careful note of prices as I went.
I considered a little leatherette travel kit with toothbrush, dental floss and toothpaste, but they wanted too much money for that and daddy didn’t travel much anyway. That saleslady gave me a closed-mouth smile like she didn’t believe I actually had any money to spend. I smiled back as I left her counter.
McLellan’s was on the other side of the street so I looked both ways before crossing in the middle of the block. McLellan’s had something the other stores didn’t — long counters and cash registers lined up like cattle stalls near the front door.
You loaded whatever you wanted in a buggy, unloaded the buggy onto the counter and paid for everything right there in one spot. It cut down on hiring so many salesladies, I guess, but McLellan’s didn’t last long. Maybe Florence wasn’t ready for that much self-service.
I didn’t find anything good for daddy in McLellan’s. Walking on down the street, I stopped and pressed my face to the window at several shops to see inside a little better. Painted neckties, Bulova watches and wing-tip shoes were all out of my price range.
Woolworth’s (at the corner of Evans and Irby) had some things Kresses and McLellan’s didn’t have, like floor lamps and big paintings of seascapes. At the back of the store, two ladies discussed pickle recipes over a shelf of glass jars.
Woolworth’s wasn’t as much fun as Kresses but it had pretty neat stuff on sale sometimes. Sure enough, oxblood shoe polish was on sale, but Daddy didn’t wear oxblood-colored shoes. I was running out of options.
Then an aisle display of “Restore Your Patent Leather Shine” black liquid polish and “Long-Lasting Woven Shoelaces” caught my eye. As she bagged up my selections, the nice saleslady said they were sure to please my dad, and I was pleased and relieved to come up with something good for Father’s Day on my very own.
I even had enough coins left over for a cherry coke at the corner drug store on the way home. Not a bad shopping trip for a kid in downtown Florence, in the 1950’s.