December 24, 2008

When downtown was only mall

Online shopping is probably the easiest way to shop for Christmas gifts, other than buying the one-size-fits-all perfect gift: The gift card.

In Christmases past — make that many Christmases past — Logansport’s downtown was the only mall many people knew. If you grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s or 1960s in Logansport, downtown was the first stop for Christmas shopping, and probably the last, too.

It all started for many people with something called a Christmas club. Banks and savings and loans such as First Federal, now Security Federal, promoted Christmas club one-year savings accounts as a way to save ahead during tough times. Few people do that any more to prepare for times like these. Maybe there’s a lesson there.

In my case, I saved $1 a week, with great help and prompting from my parents and their friends. When the day finally came to cash out the Christmas club sometime after Thanksgiving, the list-making began. The Sears catalog was a terrific source for toy shopping and the envy of boys and girls who could never have enough toys.

Before there was a Logansport Mall, downtown was a perfect place for a youngster just out of elementary school to walk to a parent’s office and shop with minimal supervision.

Virtually every resident of Cass County at that time knew what the inside of The Golden Rule Department store looked like. Fragrances were prominently displayed at the entrance, which was framed by the city’s best front window displays. A shoe department once headed by Ray Plotner was in the back and there were notions and bolts of cloth on the east side of the store. The Golden Rule was not the only department store in Logansport, but it was the largest and most complete. It even had its own baby shop and a furniture department.

Olsen’s was the Market Street version of The Golden Rule. It was housed in what is now The Gallery. Olsen’s had a mezzanine, and the best period “bird cage” elevator in the city. Some also may remember a change trolly, an intricate tube system that allowed clerks to make change from various counters throughout the store. It was sort of a miniature version of the tube system at a drive-through bank.

Montgomery Ward’s was housed in what are now the law offices of Kelly Leeman and Lisa Traylor Wolff. It had three floors and a basement of just about anything imaginable.

For a kid on a tight budget, there were bargains to be found. In stores like David’s, which was in the 500 block where Coonie’s was most recently located, hardware and homewares were plentiful and affordable. David’s survived many decades, and even survived the Cabbage Patch craze that rallied dozens of parents outside its doors in the 1980s.

Timberlake’s had two locations. Its first was in the 200 block of Fourth Street. Owner Grover Timberlake later moved the store to the 300 block of East Broadway just east of the present-day chamber of commerce office. Timberlake’s was stocked with boxed candy, cards, magazines and gift items.

No downtown would be complete without men’s and women’s stores, and Logansport has had its share. Plotner’s Style Shop was a destination with entrances on East Broadway and Fourth. The Fashion Shop and Viola’s were stereo stores in the 400 block of East Broadway, and both stores no doubt benefited from the fortuitous location next to a city bus stop. The city had its own bus system when fewer people drove.

For men’s wear, J. Adkins at Fifth and Broadway continues a tradition established by the Bailey family in the same building. On East Market, Greensfelder’s was housed in a building that still stands, and customers could not only buy gifts, but basketball tickets. Only in Indiana, would that happen.

Children in particular migrated to Sportland-Giftland beneath the Knights of Columbus Hall. The store, which was victimized by the K of C fire in the early 1980s, had hundreds of gifts and toys for less than $5.

Across the street was the mecca for most boys and girls in the community. Bickel’s had Schwinn bicycles in every color available, a race track for cars in the basement and various dolls that performed various tasks, along with Lincoln Logs, chemistry sets and board games by Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers.

And if all those attractions weren’t enough, Kresge’s and Woolworth’s were both in the 400 block of East Broadway at a point that is now a vacant lot. Toys and household items were everywhere in the stores, and the lunch counter in Kresge’s was always frequented by some customers. Kresge’s, much like the old Porter’s Drug Store, always had a special aroma of roasted nuts this time of year.

Sears had its own department store where The Gray Mill is now, and J.C. Penney had its own store in the 300 block of East Market. It fell victim to the greatest of downtown fires in the late 1960s.

Other stores have faded from sight, but not from memory. But to those of us who lived through that era of Logansport retailing or grew up with it, those were the places where we made our loved ones and friends happy during the holidays — and where they returned the favor.

Dave Kitchell is a veteran political columnist who teaches journalism at Ball State University. He can be reached through the newspaper at