On December 14, 2022

Remembering Christmas from yesteryear

By Mary Ellen Shaw

Remembering Christmas from the ’50s and ’60s has become a topic for my column every December. From a child’s point of view downtown Rutland was a magical place with lighted garlands strung across Merchants Row, Center Street and West Street. Santa Claus was waiting for my visit inside the Economy Store.  The toy departments of several downtown stores were full of the latest and most desirable toys. Excitement was in the air!

When I looked online to refresh my memories about downtown stores “back in the day,” I found a video on the Rutland Historical Society website produced by Ray Mooney and Ben Burdge. It’s called “‘Twas a Christmas in Rutland.” I think many would enjoy watching it. It’s nostalgic for people in my generation. I will share with you the memories narrated by Mooney along with some of my own memories.

Downtown was the place to shop for whatever you needed. All the store windows were beautifully decorated. Every year my parents took me downtown at night so we could enjoy the window decorations and colorful lights. You could hear Christmas music as you walked from store to store. The small white lights that are so popular now were not used  back in the day!  Everything was multi-colored and the size of the lights was large compared to the popular miniature lights of today.

One of the most memorable decorations was Santa in his sleigh being pulled by reindeer. It was strung across Merchants Row from the Rutland County National Bank to Woolworths. The video shows a wonderful picture taken by the gifted Rutland Herald photographer, Aldo Merusi. It’s a nighttime photo showing the lighted sleigh and reindeer. Snow was falling and it looks like a scene from a Christmas movie.

In the narration of the video Mooney tells about a store named Toy Town located on Evelyn Street. Several stores such as The Economy, Woolworth’s, Kresge’s and Fishman’s had toy departments but having an entire store devoted strictly to toys would have been heaven to a kid. It was only open seasonally, but I bet it did a booming business in that short period of time.

A store where you wouldn’t expect to find a toy section was Wilson Sports on Center Street. However, Mooney recalls that at Christmas time that store had toys ranging from educational to those that were just for fun.

There is no doubt about it. When shopping for toys in downtown Rutland you had lots of options in yesteryear.

Tree lighting in Depot Park occurred as far back as the 1930s and is still being held today. Santa was often the one who “pulled the switch.” Back in 1943 there is a picture of Santa coming down a ladder from the Mead Building, which is across from Depot Park. You never knew where you might find the jolly old soul!

Kids were on the “giving end” and not just the “receiving end” when it came to Christmas presents.

I remember two of my friends going downtown with me to get gifts for our mothers. We used our allowance money and got perfume and bubble bath at Woolworth’s. Knowing now, what I didn’t know then, the brands we chose and the price we paid was certainly not indicative of a “high class” product. But our mothers showed enthusiasm on Christmas morning when they opened our gifts to them. It was living proof that “It’s the thought that counts!”

One downtown store had a rather unique feature. The interior of the Wilson Clothing Store curved around in such a way that it could be entered from either Merchants Row or Center Street. At Christmas time well dressed youngsters, wearing ties, would be stationed at both doors to open them for customers.

Just a short distance up the hill from the downtown stores was one of my mother’s favorite places to shop every Christmas. It was Little’s Lodge and Gift Shop on the corner of Center and Nickwackett Street. The owner, Thelma Little, was always so pleasant and helpful when my mother was looking for a special gift. I remember her selecting a beautiful miniature china cup and saucer for a relative who had a knick-knack shelf.

There was one item on my mother’s shopping list that was purchased annually at Little’s Gift Shop. It was a box of unscented soap for the nun who was my teacher that year. If all the other mothers thought the way my mother did then each nun probably got 20+ boxes of unscented soap. Let’s face it, gift options were certainly limited when buying for a nun. Another example of “It’s the thought that counts!”

I told Mooney that watching “‘Twas a Christmas in Rutland” should become an annual tradition for us “locals” just like viewing “It’s A Wonderful World” is for so many people.

‘Tis the season for making new memories…Some day you will be looking back at yours and I hope you will enjoy them just as much as I do every year when I look back at mine.

Merry Christmas and have a wonderful holiday season!

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