When, why?

A remark on the Life’s A Stitch blog the other day got me to thinking about department stores.  It seems to me that they’ve evolved into being mostly a clothing store with small sections for perfumes, purses, china, and linens. 

When I graduated from high school, I worked as a secretary at one of our local department stores.  It seems to me you could buy almost anything there … appliances, car tires and batteries and other accessories, sporting goods, toys, luggage, furniture, get your hair done, eat in one of the restaurants, buy books and stationery, good cigars and pipe tobacco, purchase sewing fabric or needlework supplies, and even hire a decorator to help you design and decorate rooms in your home.  There were sales clerks behind the counters who would help you make your selections, ring up your sales, and bag your items. 

Two departments which disappeared somewhere along the line were the bakery department and the candy department.  These were usually adjacent to each other.  At the one you could get bread or cakes or other baked items.  I especially remember some pecan muffins.  I haven’t thought of or had one in years but they were a favorite treat.  Our local department store’s bakery also made a wonderful cheesecake.  In the candy department, clerks would scoop loose candies, pieces either wrapped or unwrapped, into the vessel on the scale.  These were then tipped into a white bag for you to take with you.  You could also buy loose chocolates or you could get a box of the store’s house brand of boxed chocolates which were as good as any on the market.

When did department stores change?  Why did departments like the bakery and candy departments disappear?  I suppose the answer will be that “management” decided they weren’t profitable enough to occupy the floor space.  But I sure miss them.  At this point, I don’t know where you can go to buy candy by the scoop.  The bakeries are now found in supermarkets but their products don’t measure up to my memories. 

It’s sad but in a way, the closest thing to the old-time department stores these days is Wal-Mart.  Maybe that’s why so many of us shop there.

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1 Response to When, why?

  1. fillyjonk says:

    When I was a kid, the O’Neils department store in Stow (I think it was Stow…) had a nice candy counter and also a little bakery (it was part of the Hough Bakery chain, a well-loved Akron bakery).

    I don’t know when the stuff like that disappeared but it seems that it was still there in the 80s when I was in high school.

    I’m guessing that malls, with all their specialty stores, kind of started the decline, and then the big-box stores finished them off. I do kind of miss the big old downtown department stores that had a coffee shop (and maybe an even fancier restaurant) and a candy counter and all those things…the needlework department was pretty much gone by the time I was around (though the little Dodds department store in the town where I lived had one).

    I suppose Wal-mart is the modern equivalent to the department store but it’s not as fun, somehow. And not as stylish. And it’s often hard to find someone to help you when you need it, whereas in the “old” department stores, there were attendants in every department who knew the stock well and were usually friendly and helpful.

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