When Grandpa John Was a Kid - Downtown in the Thirties

During the 1930’s the department stores in Oklahoma City were grouped together along four blocks of Main street. Montgomery Wards and Sears Roebuck were national chains, but all the rest were home-owned stores. Mrs. John A. Brown was active in the management of her store, which had grown to cover a city block.

I liked to tag along with Mother in Kerrs department store so I could ride the elevator. My eyes would be glued to the round, polished brass controller with a handle on the top. The elevator operator moved the handle to make the elevator go up or down. She would jiggle the handle back and forth to insure that the car was level with the floor. As she made this maneuver, she called out the names of the departments which were located on that floor. I was sure that when I grew up, I could operate an elevator.

Downtown was an exciting place during the Christmas season. Standing on the sidewalk, I looked through the plate glass storefront at Christmas scenes. Inside every department store was a Santa’s helper. Each one looked like Santa, but I knew he was just a helper, because there was only one real Santa. I talked with Mother about what I should ask Santa for, because she knew what he could and couldn’t deliver to our house.

When Mother selected something to buy in the store, she gave her money to the clerk who put the sales slip with the money in a cylinder that was slipped into a vacuum pipe. The cylinder was whisked away to the office where change was made before the cylinder was sent back to the clerk.

Main street was wide enough to accommodate streetcar tracks going both ways with room left over for cars. There wasn’t much parking, but not much was needed because many shoppers came on the streetcar. As I boarded the streetcar, I could either put a dime in the glass box or buy two tokens for fifteen cents. Throughout the depression of the thirties, the fare remained the same.

Sometimes while Mother shopped, Daddy would take my brother and me to a nearby barbershop for a fifteen cent haircut. Often after seeing my mother, brother, sister, and me safely aboard the streetcar headed home, Daddy would walk home to save the fare. I knew I was truly a big boy on the day I got to walk home with him.

Copyright 1998 by John C. Westervelt

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