Lately I have been thinking about how much I adored North Wells Street in Chicago’s Old Town in my youth. My parents took us to Old Town on occasion and every single trip was imbued with magic. I’m not alone in this adoration – in my research I found quite a few blogs devoted to this unique street. Of course Old Town is far more than Wells St. – it consists of the charming, tree-lined residential and historic district defined by the triangle formed by North Avenue, Clark Street, and Ogden Avenue. Commercial Old Town is the busy stretch of North Wells running from Division Street roughly north to Lincoln Avenue and a small piece of North Ave., east and west. To residents in the 1960s to 70s, North Wells was a fabricated medley of oddities targeted at suburbanites and tourists looking for an edgy, artsy thrill in the big city. This June 7, 1964 Chicago Tribune article certainly implies North Wells was a Disneyfied tourist attraction. “It’s far from the true Bohemian atmosphere the tourists think they are savoring, but North Wells street is fascinating, lively, colorful, crowded and a pot of gold for the merchants. Like any night-life addict, Old Town’s Wells street sleeps until just before noon when it opens one reluctant eye to welcome the day’s first visitors: the suburban matrons. Sleek and well-dressed, they motor in from the north shore or the far western suburbs to infiltrate the shops and restaurants. ‘They arrive at 11:30,’ says Kris Perkins, co-proprietor of Charlie’s General Store, citing their movements as precisely as an almanac predicts the orbits of the heavenly bodies. ‘They eat lunch until 12:30, then shop until 3 O’clock when they all leave at once to beat the traffic and get home before their husbands.’”
This article is strictly about discount and department stores with locations in Lincolnwood and nearby. I am saving some stores for my next article on Skokie. I won’t be waxing nostalgic about Marshall Field’s here, because such a venerable store deserves a post of its own. I covered select Chicago area stores in a 2011 blog called Windy City Memories … of the Way Department Stores Were. I may mention a few of the same stores again, however, in such instances, I’ve endeavored to unearth new intriguing facts and photos. Shoppers World opened on August 15, 1962 across from Lincoln Village at 6211 Lincoln Ave at McCormick. Shoppers flocked to the opening as seen in the photo. I really don’t remember Shoppers World because I was too young, but do have vague recollections of Community Discount, which I believe acquired Shoppers World in the late 1960s. When Community Discount closed, Zayre opened at this site. By the end of 1966, Zayre had 92 stores with major concentrations in Greater Chicago, Miami, and its home base Boston. Zayre Corp. wanted to buy the Marshalls chain, which didn’t pan out, so they founded and opened the first T.J. Maxx in 1977. Ten years later, T.J. Maxx was acquired by TJX Companies, the parent company of Marshalls and subsequently other stores. Zayre went belly up in 1990 after several years of financial losses. I still find vintage socks and other sealed items marked Zayre. Home Depot has been at the 6211 Lincoln Ave site for a number of years.
Howard Clothes was a name I heard throughout my childhood, as my dad regaled us with tales of his youth. However, I never took the time to learn more until recently, which proved quite a challenge. My 92-year-old dad has a spectacular memory, but I was seeking concrete information on this rather obscure clothing company that has seemingly been lost to history. The first Howard Clothes store opened in New York in 1924 and was founded by Samuel Kappel, Joseph Langerman, and Henry Marks – named after Langerman’s son Howard. A corporation was subsequently organized in New York in 1925 under the name Howard Clothes Inc. and was later changed to Howard Stores Corporation. The company operated a massive factory in Brooklyn, just on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge, in the neighborhood now known as Dumbo. They sponsored a radio show called Howard Dandies, broadcast on WABC. Their line was limited to men’s clothing, with a major competitor being Bond Stores. Bond operated numerous retail outlets across the U.S., with a factory in Rochester, N.Y. and a flagship store at 372 Fifth Avenue at 35th Street in NYC. Although Bond was primarily a men’s clothier, by the mid-1950s some stores carried women’s clothing, and in their heyday, like Howard Clothes, they also had around 150 stores.
I have been experiencing a wave of nostalgia – it comes with age and recent losses of dear friends and our beloved little kitty Pepper. For me, the holidays seem to inspire reflections on the past – thinking back to how much New York City used to mean to me at Christmas. I have been digging up wonderful Christmas-related NYC photos from the Library of Congress and decided to delve into my own archives to see what I could find. When I was a child and up through about 2004, my parents would visit NYC every December for an annual psychiatric meeting at the Waldorf Astoria. While my dad was attending lectures, my mom would go window shopping with some of her friends. As children, my sisters and I always looked forward to my parents coming home with intriguing presents. My dad would also visit Russ & Daughters and purchase obscene amounts of candy that he had shipped home. Chocolate covered coffee beans, pastel chocolate mint lentils, and chocolate covered raspberry rings are the candies that I remember most. He would tell me stories about buying pretzels and roasted chestnuts from street vendors, shopping at B. Altman, Gimbels, and other now defunct stores; telling me tales that made it sound so magical.
While cleaning out my parent’s basement, I discovered a bunch of old newspaper clips from the Apollo 11 moon landing, dated July 21, 22, 23, and 24, 1969. The clips themselves are intriguing, although essentially worthless from a monetary standpoint. I actually found myself more fascinated by the ads. I have highlighted a few of the business of yesteryear that once upon a time graced the Windy City. Although I have blogged about other defunct Chi-Town shops, this article only features retail stores for which I found ads – a subsequent article will cover a few cultural venues unearthed in these clips. Benson-Rixon Benson-Rixon men’s store had multiple locations, including the flagship location at 230 South State Street – now home to a McDonalds on the ground level. This is not a store that my dad frequented – he was a Brooks Brothers guy through and through! This store has a fascinating history – in the ad it is called Benson-Rixon, but other references refer to the store as Benson & Rixon. Hans A. Rixon, born in 1864, the son of a German manufacturer of woolen goods, immigrated to Chicago with his family. In 1886, he started clerking for Charles Rixon at 701 Milwaukee Avenue and served as the store’s general manager. In 1890, he opened his own gent’s clothing shop at 851 North Avenue, continuing this business until 1895. He then combined his business with Mr. Rixon’s business, moving to 1730 Milwaukee Avenue. In 1896, Mr. Rixon became a partner and vice president of the Benson-Rixon store, originally established by Paul J. Benson and Albert Rixon in 1889. According to an excerpt from the History of Cook County, Illinois, by 1909, the gentlemen owned three stores.
I am a sucker for off-rack clothing stores because I love bargain shopping. I am a fan of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, and Nordstrom Rack – although I don’t shop as frequently now that I am self-employed. There were also a few more obscure stores that I frequented many years ago that are all out of business – Dimensions in Fashion, Extreme Value, Value City, etc. I am forever amazed when I walk into a Burlington Coat Factory. I have purchased items here over the years, but the ugliness factor of their clothing has increased at a greater rate than inflation. And going to one location in particular is as good as Walmart for people-watching – and I am being kind. Nowadays, if I am in the neighborhood, I walk in here for sheer amusement, not expecting to buy anything. Most of the clothes are so hideous that I cannot believe that they were made in the first place, and secondly, that anybody would buy them. I have never seen a single soul parading around in some of the freakish creations they sell on the racks here.
While Jeff and I have been very happily cohabitating with our kitty Pepper for more than a decade, we chose to opt out of the commercialization of Valentine’s Day about 11 years ago. While neither of us was ever that keen on this holiday, what sent me over the proverbial cliff was when Jeff bought me wilted roses at Dominick’s as a show of his undying affection. I think not, honey, dear, sweetie – jerk! What ensued was that I fled the house and treated myself to a really fattening meal at my favorite neighborhood burger joint, Fratellos. A hamburger and some of the best French fries east of the Mississippi helped put things in perspective and calm me down. So after the fallout – and the extra padding on my love handles, we made a pact to never celebrate Valentine’s Day in a traditional way ever again. Now I can tell you that more than 10 years later and flower-free, our relationship has weathered quite a bit and our deep bond has grown stronger.
With Christmas just around the corner and millions of kids eagerly waiting to open presents, I thought it was a good time to look back at a few toys of the past. Considering the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) didn’t exist before 1972, late Baby Boomers got away with playing with a lot of toys in the 1960s-early 1970s that would never pass muster today. Some of these were toys I blogged about when I was waxing nostalgic for the Sears Wish Book of my youth. Kids who have been playing computer games since they were in diapers, with all sorts of other high-tech toys at their disposal, would likely turn up their noses at a few beloved toys of yesteryear. Bicycles Without a doubt, the most dangerous toy of the 1960s-1970s was not a toy at all, but a bicycle. And biking continues to be a dangerous activity, but at least far more kids are wearing helmets now. Still, according to the CPSC, there were 276,425 children 18 and younger treated for bicycle-related injuries at U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2012. I cannot remember anyone wearing a bike helmet when I was a kid and somehow my friends and I all escaped with minor injuries. It’s not that we were more resilient or had harder skulls – it’s because no injury surveillance systems were in place monitoring these injuries. Deadly biking accidents weren’t publicized and if any prevention organizations existed, they certainly weren’t as active as they are today. My friend Myra once fell off her bike and suffered some bad scrapes on both knees and an elbow. And I had an incident with younger boys in the neighborhood chasing me on their bikes and trying to knock me off mine. I was wearing flip-flops (I know, really brilliant), and when one of…
My love of jewels, cabochons, beads, gemstones, rhinestones, vintage jewelry and other baubles goes way back to my early childhood. So it was with great anticipation and near glee, when I stumbled upon a terrific article heralding a wonderful hidden treasure trove of such things in NYC. The 17 Apart article prepared me to some degree, but when my friend Barb and I actually ventured into CJS Sales last month, we were dumbstruck. This was a dream come true for me – reminding me of my youth, but on a much grander scale. When my younger sister Janet and I were very little – probably 3 and 8 respectively, we had a secret stash of jewels in a little cardboard jigsaw puzzle box. We carried this beloved stash on outings, including when our mom traded in her massive light blue Chevy station wagon for a new car. Much to my dismay – Janet was really too young to panic – after we drove out in our new vehicle, I realized it had been left behind, hidden under the seat. Luckily, we were able to reclaim it and we had this box for at least another 5 years, adding to its content here and there.
It’s a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. That is what one of the many intriguing characters I met in NYC during my 10-day trip said about Chicago. I guess I feel the same way about NYC, but I have to say, it is easier to engage in discussion with people in the Big Apple. Everybody wants to tell you his or her story. This makes for great conversation and good memories, but is ever so fleeting. You could be talking to somebody really interesting on the subway … and a few seconds later, poof – they are gone without even a goodbye. John and Alfred How delighted I was upon returning from a day uptown on the first Monday of my stay, when my daughter said, “There’s John Lithgow with some other guy walking down the street in our direction.” Of course she always sees celebrities, including Hugh Jackman, who goes to her health club, but for me this was a treat. Turns out they were shooting scenes for Love is Strange starring Lithgow, Alfred Molina, and Marisa Tomei, who unfortunately was not in these scenes. This shoot literally took place half a block away from my daughter’s apartment. After we went back to her apartment, I dropped off my stuff and went back out to shoot pictures with the other gawkers gathered on Seventh Avenue. The actors seemed bemused by all of this and I got some good shots.