411 Focus

Stores lined Broadway, from 4th Avenue through midtown, and across the expressway, even spilling over to Washington and Massachusetts!

Contributed By:Dorothy Nevils maslivend@sbcglobal.net

Window shopping

Going downtown in Gary was always fun. It reminded me of childhood days in Mounds and Cairo, and then, when I was in school, of a larger, bigger time in Carbondale… different times, different places, but so much in common.

I was a kid when I was introduced to shopping, and the places, though different, were a lot alike. There were, to my young eyes, “great big” brick buildings with huge expanses of glass in front, and standing just on the other side were too-white mannequins, mostly female, with too-white arms extended to the bright, brown eyes that met the painted ones. It didn’t matter to a five- or ten-year-old that they never changed. They welcomed, and with my mother, dressed as if she didn’t need another dress, I walked with mounting expectation to the door – it, too, glass – and entered.

The door opened to wonder after wonder, stacked to the left and right, especially along the walls, things that, like a cute puppy, whispered, “Can I follow you home?” My mother walked me toward the little girls’ section and, after I had fallen in love with a flouncy dress and a pair of patent leather shoes, a woman almost as pale as the mannequins, took her money, hit some magic I couldn’t see, and put it in the pop-out drawer.

Then, the day’s purchase in one hand, she took mine, and we headed to Uncle Ed’s house/store, where Aunt Edna tried her darnedest to make up for all the days I’d missed since last she saw me, oblivious to the disapproval he dared not utter, lest she give him a tongue lashing nobody else in Cairo dared even think about.

In college I did a lot of “shopping,” only then there was no hand to guide me. I passed the Cairo-like stores, but did venture through the doors of larger “department” stores. They, too, had a few smiling whiter-than-other-whites, poised, their arms in unnatural positions, but my eyes went to the bottom shelf at Ben Franklin’s where fabrics at 3 yards for a dollar lay folded. Responsible now for my own clothes (and everything else!) this was as close to free as I could get.

My diploma took me to Gary. With a steady paycheck, except for summer, I could window – and “real” shop! Stores lined Broadway, from 4th Avenue through midtown, and across the expressway, even spilling over to Washington and Massachusetts! Anything anybody thought they wanted, or dreamed about when they slept, could be found in Gary – and, if it was clothing, always there were the mannequins, dressed and inviting, welcoming passersby with extended hand and a bit more aloof expression on the face.

The familiar “press-then-pull-to-open” doors still separated late night window shoppers so that, no matter what the time, strollers or riders on nearly full busses with the lit-up signs could assemble a mental “wish list” … like the sharp “three quarter length” leather coat at Goldblatt’s my brother would get for graduation… or the velvety red house shoes and black and white double-breasted “house-pants” with the red corduroy buttons down the front for my mother. The stores were lit and the “pretend people” poised behind the panes welcomed shoppers all night long!

Back then, though, no matter how the chalk folk welcomed, the people waited. If they wanted something they saw the night before, they came early the next morning. There was no alarm to deactivate, no heavy gates to pull back at nine, and the only cameras were the ones for sale, not to provide an ID of the driver who rammed a stolen car through the door for jewelry or gym shoes to sell from the trunk of yet another car.

Things are different now. People say that nonchalantly, as if it is a given, an expectation… natural, like summer follows spring… Why? What has changed? Are we not still people?

It’s not things, people. It’s people… and no matter how you naturalize it, I will not accept it. Never!

Story Posted:12/22/2017

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