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prolificus's avatar

What do you miss about department stores that have changed or disappeared over the years?

Asked by prolificus (6583points) March 27th, 2010 from iPhone

KMart, Woolwooth’s, and Two Guys were frequent family shopping grounds during my childhood.  KMart is the only remaining store since Wal-Mart’s monopoly takeover.  I remember the days of blue light specials, when bargain hunting was an adventure.  I recall Mel’s Diner-type waitresses serving greasy spoon specials at the family-style restaurants within the walls of KMart and Woolworth’s.

For many years my hard-working mom brought home countless stories and frustrations of making a living in retail.  As a child, I would scrape together change in order to take public transit from home to the store. I loved hanging out where my mom worked, window-shopping, and putting stuff on layaway (stuff I would most likely never pay for in full).  Thanks to the store’s endlessly looping background music, I have embedded in me a huge repertoire of 80’s music – mostly from the best of Heart.

Some of my most treasured childhood possessions came from department stores—I associate having owned them with the process of saving up allowances, begging my mom to take me to the store in her Toyota 2-door Tercel, and carefully selecting the desired possession.

Perhaps these department store memories are associated with other familiar experiences, but for some reason, I no longer view chain-store shopping in the same regard.  As an adult, I find the task to be more of a frustration than a joy.

Are there any departmet store experiences from your childhood that you remember fondly?  What specific experiences do you miss?  Do you wish modern-day department stores would recapture some of those former ways, or are satisfied with how things have changed?

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37 Answers

jaytkay's avatar

Grilled-cheese sandwich at Woolworth’s.

Megan64's avatar

@jaytkay – exactly what I was thinking. With a pickle and a little bag of salty chips.

As for department stores, I miss help/customer service, which is why I love Nordstrom’s.

lilikoi's avatar

Liberty House.

Just_Justine's avatar

Not really I don’t really like department stores. But I do remember a sweet shop outside my school in the UK. It was owned by a portly man, chubby with white hair, and the shelves were lined with beautiful glass jars of wonderful sweets, that seemed to have real taste. Unlike today. There were liquorish wheels, Bonbon’s, with real powder coated toffee.

The sweets were placed in a brown paper bag and the till was old fashioned and made those funny cling cling noises. I used to spend my whole weeks “dinner” money every Monday on sweets there.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I’m old enough to remember the department stores of the 60’s and 70’s. It seemed they had more class. We dressed up to go out shopping. The women behind the cosmetic counters were always gorgeous. There was much more service. Most likely the prices were much higher too.
Being cheap Americans we chose to shop at stores that offered commodity products, and no service. It is acceptable to go shopping at Wally World in ripped sweat pants. Anything to save a buck.
We got what we deserved.

stratman37's avatar

I grew up in Mount Prospect, Il. and we had Randhurst mall. Triangular shaped, the anchor stores were Wiebolts, Montgomery Ward, and Carson Perie Scott & Co. I remember Mom and Dad taking us kids there when it time to buy shoes, and one of the stores had this cool device that you just put your foot into and four walls would come in from the sides and measure your foot. Not the Brannock, but much bigger and electric.

I also enjoyed playing on the escalators. It’s a wonder that we never got injured on those. And talk about service! P.J.‘s Trick Shop trained their employees to perform all the magic tricks that they sold, so when you wanted to see how the effect would look, they’d show the presentation. That was very neat.

janbb's avatar

Fitting room attendants who took away what you didn’t want and would get things in another size if you needed them. Also, department store lunchrooms which were always magical places.

Just_Justine's avatar

@janbb don’t they do that now ?

janbb's avatar

None of the few remaining department stores I visit have fitting room attendants any more; haven’t for years.

john65pennington's avatar

Of the remaing department stores, i cannot recall one that serves real ice cream in a milkshake. matter of fact, i cannot recall any store or restaurant, other than Hardees, that serves real ice cream anymore. most now have a fancy name for their generic ice cream, like Blizzard and Soft Serve.

iam2smart99037's avatar

@john65pennington – You gotta come to Oklahoma! (or Texas, Kansas, anywhere within a day’s drive) There’s a local dairy called Braum’s that has stores all over the region, all within a day’s drive so everythings fresh. Best chocolate shake in the world made from real ice cream from their own dairy herd. AMAZING.

janbb's avatar

@iam2smart99037 Best reason to come to Oklahoma I’ve ever read!

prolificus's avatar

@janbb – Yes!! Magical!!!

janbb's avatar

@prolificus Our local department store “tearoom” used to have finger sandwiches and hot fudge profiteroles. (sigh)

neverawake's avatar

i miss…shoplifting.

MrsDufresne's avatar

Wow, Two Guys, that was a flashback from my early childhood. I remember going to KMart and getting Blue Icees while looking at the rows and rows of florescent lights on the ceiling while in the shopping cart. Sears was a great place for Swedish Fish and chocolate chip cookies. And there was a store called Akron that had the best fruit punch beverage in the world. They used to sell hot fudge sundaes at Sav-on, that were just divine, and they still have the ice cream cones at Thrifties (now Rite-Aid), but I haven’t gotten one in months. I remember the food the most.

Tropical_Willie's avatar


I remember the elevator operator and the mezzanine bookstore.

galileogirl's avatar

Back in the 50’s in my suburb, pop 12,000, we had a J.C. Penny. That’s where we bought linens, kid’s clothes, underwear, makeup and notions. Some things were very seasonal. In August the kids department had racks of school uniforms that were relegated to one rack of shirts/blouses in a back corner the rest of the year. There was an ebb and flow of boys suits peaking in November and March with fluffy Easter dresses, girls’ hats and gloves and First Communion white dresses in veils in April. There was a shoe department with all kinds of children’s footwear but mostly work shoes for adults. Everybody had credit accounts and you just signed for your purchase. The sales ladies knew everyone. If the parents wanted to buy party clothes or even toys at Christmas they had to go into the City to the White House, City of Paris, Magnins or Macy’s. I didn’t see a shopping center until I was 15.

faye's avatar

Chicken salad sandwiches at Kresge’s. My kids got to see it before it was turned anadult something. Kids loved eating there too. My first job was at Woolworth’s, $1.45/hr!

stratman37's avatar

@faye You’re showin’ your age, girl!

faye's avatar

And I got a raise to $1.50!

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i’m missing this stuff and i wasn’t even born to see it.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Those old stores are better gone. Those are the Wal*Mart’s and Targets of the babyboomers.We’re better off as a society without them.

faye's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy Why do you think that? just curious. I think it was the babyboomers parents- that Woolworth’s I worked in was ooolld!

thriftymaid's avatar

So many of the large stores have closed or been consumed; yes I miss them. I still mostly shop at family-owned stores though.

galileogirl's avatar

@thriftymaid What Captain Fantasy misses is that those pre-mall stores offered was merchandise that met local needs, not decided by buyers in New York. They certainly were nothing like Walmart and Target because they sold quality merchandise not the disposable/indistinguishable crap in the mall today.

thriftymaid's avatar

@galileogirl I still shop at locally owned stores; most of them participate in fair trade which is important to me.

trailsillustrated's avatar

the lift operator! we used to hammer the button and my mum would get all aggro

Siren's avatar

@prolificus: I have similar memories as you, and thank you for the eloquent and vivid description which brought back some of my own childhood memories.

I agree with the comment that department stores were much more classy venues than they are now. I think they were the place to be back then. I think the whole mall concept took over, so that became the place to be and you could even sit down in a food court. Now that the mall charm is wearing off as a social venue I think it’s become more about convenience and time-management and perhaps developers are now designing the shopping experience around that. Just guessing here.

But, I wistfully recall the good old days and it was nice going down memory lane with your question.

YARNLADY's avatar

I remember what we called the Five and Dime store. Mom would take us there while she went shopping for groceries, and we put our choices for spending our allowance in the hand basket that you carry around with you, then Mom would take out the one or two we were allowed to buy. We would then all go to the corner drug store, where there was a soda fountain and we would sit at the counter and get hot dogs, potato chips and ice cream sodas, none of which we were allowed to have at home.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Woke-up this morning and remember the cashiers tube. The vacuum tube that sent the $20 bill up to the main cashier upstairs to make change. Okay I only remember once, on vacation at a store in the mid of the US in the 1950’s.

janbb's avatar

@Tropical_Willie I’ve read about those but have never seen one.

Tropical_Willie's avatar


I think it was a JC Penney in Nebraska or Iowa.

galileogirl's avatar

There was 1 in our Penney’s in California too

thriftymaid's avatar

In high school I worked in a department store during Christmas break. They had the vacuum tube system. The charge slips were sent to the credit department and I disbursed them. It was a fun job.

funkytown444's avatar

gold circle, baskin robbins when they REALLY had 31 flavors of ice cream. Things have changed because the way people view and see things have changed . I guess people view convienance, price, effeciciency, wanting everything fast,fast, fast…. verses quality, service, etc.. There are disadvantages and advantages to both. I guess its what you value most. Its too bad that they couldnt bring the nostalgic of the past with the convience/selection of the future.

mattbrowne's avatar

Meg Ryan reading books to children.

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