By Mary Ellen Shaw
When I meet someone on the street or in a store they often like to reminisce about the “good old days.” For my age group that pretty much covers the period from the 1950s through the 1970s. A common topic of conversation is how much fun it was to shop in two downtown department stores. They ere The Economy Store and Montgomery Ward. Let’s take a look at what made these stores so special.
Within the walls of both stores you could totally “outfit” both you and your house!
The Economy was located at 63-67 Merchants Row. It had a fun feature in the form of an elevator, complete with an operator, who took you from the bottom to the top floor. The basement level of The Economy was the place to go for pots, pans, dishes and other household items. Leona’s Yarn Shop was also down there for a period of time. During the Christmas season customers were told to head to the basement if they wanted items gift wrapped. The bottom level had another purpose for many teenagers. The “Ladies’ Room” down there was a popular place for that particular age group to smoke! Fortunately, I wasn’t one of them. One puff on a cigarette was enough for me. Thank goodness that habit never happened!
As you walked from the street onto the main floor of The Economy the men’s clothing section was on your left and casual clothing for women was on your right. I remember books and stationery were toward the back of the first floor.
The second floor was home to women’s dresses and coats. And let’s not forget the corset department where women were actually fitted to the proper size bra and girdle. I remember my mother wearing a full length bra that hooked onto a tight girdle with garters to hold up her nylon stockings. Talk about torture! I knew at a young age that I never wanted that arrangement.
As I browsed the H. A. Manning directories for that time period I found a few features of The Economy that I had forgotten about. There was a bridal section and also a hair salon. That combination assured that the bride would look her best on her special day.
When it was time to shop for your home you headed to the furniture section on the top floor. You could select couches, chairs, beds and also carpet. If you needed curtains or drapes to complete the décor, no problem! They had those too. According to the 1965 Manning directory the store also had a seamstress, Mrs. Adelaide Eddy, to handle alterations. Talk about “one stop shopping”…and all under one roof!
Just in case you wanted to “shop around” Montgomery Ward at 26-28 Merchants Row was another option. This department store had clothes, furniture and appliances. Their ad mentions TV “sales and repair service.” So they not only sold you a television but they also fixed it if something went wrong. That store made sure you didn’t miss your favorite show!
I remember my mother used to shop for window treatments at Montgomery Ward. She always wanted to deal with Connie Barrett who was a long time legend in that department. She really knew about the items in her section and offered great suggestions.
I will always remember with humor a friend who was shopping for a mattress with her husband at Montgomery Ward. They were pretty worn out from lack of sleep due to busy lives with small children. When they lay down to test a mattress they fell asleep and a store employee found them much later. I don’t remember if they purchased the mattress but they certainly knew firsthand how comfortable it was!
Department stores like the two described above will probably never be a part of Rutland again. But for those of us who had the experience of shopping in them we certainly have fond memories. Looking back at them never grows old.