Throw It on Dayton’s Wall and See If It Sticks

Today’s post comes from Northshorer.

The last time Sandy was in Dayton’s downtown, when it was still a Dayton’s, she looked up at a large photo mural on an upper floor and spotted herself in the photo. We were going to try to get there with our daughter and family to see it, but health issues prevented us before it closed. But a friend of hers took a photo of it and sent it to us.

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Sandy is walking beside her friend Maggie. I will leave it to you to find them, which is rather easy to do. The photo was taken in about 1953 when they were in junior high. It was a big adventure for them to ride the bus downtown from the Camden Park neighborhood where they lived. Would parents allow that today? Sandy can tell stories about having to deal with sexual predators of various degrees, so perhaps the age was no more innocent than today.

There was something about the downtown, whether in a major city or a small town.

What exactly was it about downtowns that is absent from our culture today?

57 thoughts on “Throw It on Dayton’s Wall and See If It Sticks”

  1. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Things missing in downtowns:

    Traffic–highways no longer go through downtowns, rather traffic goes on bypasses. This is great for “making time” when traveling, but terrible for commerce.

    Dime stores (except in Grand Marais which still has a Ben Franklin).

    Grocery stores–these are now “Big Boxes” that are located near the bypasses.

    The drug store fountain.

    Friday Night Excitement–we used to go downtown Friday nights when I was a child. “Everybody” was there talking, honking, shopping, eating out, seeing, being seen. Farm families would bring the entire family, dump the kids out around 5pm, and expect the kids back about 9pm as the stores closed. In our town, the disabled adult son of an infamously indolent family would panhandle on the big corner in front of the First National Bank. His name was Leon. He was a smiling, talkative, friendly guy who supported the rest of his family on the coins gathered that night. His father and brothers drank up a lot of the money later Friday night if the mother did not come get him in time to claim the bounty.

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  2. What Jacque said. Luverne didn’t have a soda fountain anymore by the time time I arrived, but downtown was the place to go, especially on Thursday night, when the stores stayed open until 8.

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      1. Dragging Broadway involved two lanes going each direction north and south. The driving south route dead ended at Island Park, so the left lane turned left ; the right to the right. Circle the block and go north to 4th avenue at the depot. Right out of American Graffiti. Always best when you could roll down the windows and let people hear your favorite radio station. AM, of course.

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  3. Part of what’s now missing is the feeling of a community gathering place. Thanks to Southdale, the “mall under one roof” caught hold and people are always looking for something new and different. Even in small towns, they abandoned the downtown and went out to the new mall at the edge of town. A community grew up out there, too, but now things were split between two places – there wasn’t just one place where you could expect to meet people.

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  4. Daytons was the highlight of our summer visit with my grandparents…(my moms folks who didn’t have their cabin up here until I was in HS…my dads folks were here in the ’20s)

    We had to dress in our ‘Sunday best’ to drive & park up the huge ramp parking and then proceed to the restaurant that was on the top floor. (I think it was the top)

    The one Christmas we were here I remember walking the sidewalks to view the enchanting windows particularly Dsytons. And ALL the lights….coming from a small town in Kansas, downtown Minneapolis was a fairy land of displays & lights at Christmas.

    I don’t get downtown anymore…..so can’t say what I miss. I just have some glorious memories from childhood.

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  5. My history encapsulates the major trends affecting downtown. When I was a kid in Ames in the 1950s, both commerce and entertainment were centered in downtown. Downtown Ames looked exactly like downtown Bedford Falls in the opening scenes of It’s a Wonderful Life.

    By the time our family moved to Minnesota in 1960 the hot place to go for commerce and entertainment was the malls, principally the “Dales” sprinkled throughout suburbs. Many trends contributed to this, principally the impact of the automobile.

    Now malls are falling on hard times, with commerce and entertainment moving to new models reflecting the power of the internet. Physically, the internet is everywhere and nowhere. Much more entertainment and commerce now happen in people’s homes. People generally have vastly more options now.

    I remember how exotic Dayton’s once seemed. When I was a grad student in the early 1960s the best escape from my narrow life was to go to Dayton’s. That involved walking from the U of MN to Dayton’s, a trip whose length I cant guess now but it took at least an hour and half of determined walking . . . a long hike in winter!

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  6. downtown got revitalized int he last 10 years. it is the place to be again. maybe not for 60 year olds but for the movers and shakers. there is a bedroom coimmunity of mall rats and suburban hiousewives who would never venture to the big city where questionable charachters hand out but all the good joints and brew pubs and clubs and music venues and theater are int he city. the suburban attempts are there but sad. applebees is a pretty sterile environment.
    i hate the malls and the freeway exit food fare but many do not know any different. the dales popped up when richfield no longer was a second ring suburb of nminneapolis and became a true suburb. edina morningside was as sleepy as st loius park until the 60’s when urban sprawl took the cornfields and turned them into little boxes
    today all the little boxes are falling into disrepair after 60 years of existance. the boomers are moving into the retirement homes and the taurus drivers shop at amazon. (did you see yesterday amazons value is twice that of walmart?)
    small town iowa.. i dont know. i talked to someone moving to rapid city the other day and told tem i really like rapid city. it is a great vibrant community with no civilization within hundreds of miles. fargo too
    reviti;ize winona, marshall, mankato, brainerd, green bay, dickenson, maybe it is more possible now than ever with work at home being as easy as it is. you dont have to live in metro madness to work. you can do it online and chose where the internet signal signal comes from.
    life has changed. i walk through macys or a big o;d retsail dinasaur and see all the workers standing there. how do they pay for them. at costco i am amazed that the lines just keep backing up at the cash registers as fast as the bting on the help to work the registers. cart after cart after cart. amazon will do it witrh a warehouse drone deliveruy system . i am convinced. the city will be the connection to the social hour and the happening places. the burbs will get applebees and ames will have a great steak joint a brewery or two and local merchants with walmart and target trying to keep the doors open when amazon builds a 2,000,000 square foot warehouse to deliver all the goods the town needs by autonomous vehicle

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  7. I sometimes reflect on all the jobs that no longer exist. People supported families on their wages selling shoes or fixing televisions.

    The glory days of Dayton’s coincided with that moment when downtown was the place to be. People could make a middle class salary as “window decorators” for stores like Dayton’s. They would arrange mannequins or mechanized figures in exotic settings meant to stop people walking by and maybe tempt them to step inside. Dayton’s Christmas displays were famous. Spring didn’t officially come until Dayton’s had its annual flower show. Several things caused window displays to fade in relevance, including the depopulation of downtown and the impact of skyways.

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    1. I agree with your comment about vanished jobs. Many of my friends growing up had fathers who supported large families on jobs that would not adequately support an individual today.

      But in the early ’70s I was one of those window dressers at Dayton’s and later Donaldson’s and even in that economy I doubt that you could have called it middle class, especially not for a family. I think Dayton’s paid me $1.18 an hour. My cohorts in the display department were young and most were unmarried.

      I suspect that by that time the display windows had lost some of the importance they had enjoyed in earlier decades, but there was still substantial pedestrian traffic at street level. The skyways were limited and discontinuous. All I can say is that we had very little budget for any new props for the windows or in the stores; our window displays were only as exotic as we could construct out of materials at hand in the display department.

      I do remember from my younger days when the Dayton’s Christmas windows were a reason to go downtown. If I remember correctly, the mechanized figures—the elves, etc.—were concentrated on the 8th St. side of the store. Those mechanized figures were ultimately moved up to the 8th floor themed Christmas display where I think they served, with changes of costume each year, right up to the end of Dayton’s.

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        1. I remember taking some slides for the records of the display department, but the windows were a collaborative effort and not something any one person would claim personal credit for. We were more often relieved to have come up with something acceptable. Besides, in those pre-digital days, most people didn’t just happen to have a camera at hand and didn’t take photos of just anything and everything.

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      1. I remember when Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary Richard’s friend on the MTM show, was the window designer at Hempl’s Department store. Did you know her? 😉

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    2. Rhoda Morgenstern, though she lived in a nice neighborhood, had a sort of starving-artist existence rather then a middle-class one, from the look of her teeny third-floor efficiency. As compared to Mary Richards’ spacious quarters ont he second floor.

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  8. In 1965 right after we became engaged, Sandy and I went downtown on a Sat. to pick up my new glasses, my first bifocals. She decided to inculcate in my the Dayton’s mystique with my first foray into the store. She is still a devotee, still hopes one will open here, still thinks everything sold there was better by fiat. The whole charm has escaped me; it seemed and always did like a larger Glass Block (the local Duluth downtown department store). We rode escalators up to the upper floors. When we started back down I could not find the step among my two lenses. I think she was ready to end the engagement right there as the crowds piled up behind us.
    That year we went to My Fair Lady and the Sound of Music in downtown theaters. They appealed to me.
    Downtown Mpls. to me back then reached out to so many levels, Dime stores, department stores, restaurants of various appeals, shoe shine places, the news stand (What was its name), and the place where all buses met to exchange passengers such as me going to Jefferson Jr. High from Prospect Park to teach. Hamburger joints, I think a white Castle.

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    1. Downtown Duluth: Glass Block, Medical Arts building, J.C. Penny, Woolworth, Kresge, Kindy Lyon optical, Jolly Fisher restaurant, hole in the wall dinners, a bakery/restaurant the name of which leaves me, WEBC in a glass booth up on top of a building by the bus depot, Surplus store, Sears.
      Twice in Junior high I rode the bus in the morning to Duluth to pick up new glasses, which came frequently in those years. I had three hours in downtown until I caught the bus home, an adventure my mother wanted me to have I am sure.

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  9. One of the major trends in merchandising has been the decline of general stores and the rise of big box specialty stores.

    It is hard to remember now that Dayton’s once was the place to go in Minneapolis for hunting and fishing stuff. They had an outdoors store on about the fourth floor. Now sportsmen go to places like Gander Mountain or Dick’s, stores that sell nothing but outdoor recreation gear. Those stores now are about the size of the bottom two stories of the old Dayton’s.

    People who are nostalgic about the old Dayton’s might not remember when it was where people might go to buy a firearm. A friend of mine bought a .357 magnum at Dayton’s, using it hours later to commit suicide. I think that sale–which became notorious–led Dayton’s to get out of that whole area of marketing.

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      1. I remember once going to the record department on the lower level. I was looking for a record by the Deighton Family Singers. I asked the young clerk who worked there if they had it. He looked at me in astonishment and said: No, I didn’t even know the Dayton’s had made a record.

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      2. I spent a lot of time in the Daytons record department trying to date a young lady there. When I finally got up the nerve to ask, she declined (very nicely). But I probably stopped hanging out there so much after that…

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  10. I worked downtown from the early ’70s to about 1983. That was a period of dramatic and extreme change. The IDS tower was brand new. There were still many remnants of an earlier era and one of the things I would do on my lunch hours was to explore the downtown at the edges. All the department stores were still in business and you could go down to Young Quinlan’s for a genteel lunch of chicken salad. Donaldson’s had its own lunch counter on the main floor. A high school classmate of mine ran the elevator (wearing white gloves) at Powers. There was a good used bookstore up on about 11th and Marquette and Eagle Magic store was down at about 5th Avenue South. Pyramid Records, of which I’ve mentioned before, was over on north 1st St.
    There were inexpensive cafeterias that working stiffs on a budget knew about. The Tudor Cafe was in the basement of the wonderful art deco Rand Tower. The Tudor was just a basement room with tudor architectural embellishments and backlit scenes in faux windows. There was also a cafeteria in the medical arts building.
    At some point in the late ’70s, I joined the downtown YMCA and would spend my lunch hour jogging through the Kenwood hills, grabbing a yogurt sundae in Lasalle Court on my way back to work.

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  11. I’ve told this story before. Dayton’s was the cathedral where my mother loved to shop. It’s pro-consumer attitudes amazed her. She once bought a particularly expensive sofa. Dayton’s delivered it days later. She took one look at the sofa in her home (now Crystal Bay’s home) and knew she had made a colossal mistake.

    She went back to the furniture department at Dayton’s to ask them to take it back (actually, to ask them to drive out again, load it up and fully refund the purchase price). A pleasant young man graciously promised to do all of that. My mother was overwhelmed with relief.

    Leaving the furniture area, she spotted a tall woman wearing a tag identifying her as a supervisor. My mother told her the whole story, then said, “I sure hope that nice young man doesn’t get in trouble for being so accommodating with me.”

    The supervisor looked surprised, then amused. “That was Bruce Dayton,” she said. “You shouldn’t worry. His position here is quite secure.”

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  12. I hail from a city that doesn’t really have a great downtown – St. Louis – so I don’t have a lot to contribute. Even today with all the attempts to gentrify the downtown area, it just doesn’t have any real life to it. If it weren’t for the Arch and the waterfront and the Courthouse where the Dred Scott decision was made, nobody would go downtown except for work.

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    1. When I was at SIU, once a year someone from the university’s student services would charter a bus to take a busload of us to St. Louis to go shopping. There was a small fee involved, don’t remember how much, but if I could afford to go, it was cheap. We’d be dropped off in downtown St. Louis in front of Famous-Barr, a grand old department store affiliated with Macy’s, I think. At any rate, I went on two of those excursions. I don’t really recall a lot of details about those trips except that we also visited the Arch, and were free to meander around and take in the sights. At the end of the day we’d be picked up in front of Famous-Barr.

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  13. I have a lot of memories of both Dayton’s stores. When I was a teenager it was a pretty big deal to take a Greyhound bus to downtown St. Paul and do a little shopping there. I remember buying a tapestry purse for sister for Christmas one year. At that time there was a floor of furniture as well as all the clothing and such.

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  14. Later, when I was in my late teens, I used to commute through downtown St. Paul on a daily basis. My bus trip included a downtown transfer. I liked to stop in Dayton’s and occasionally buy something at the candy counter, which was on the Cedar Street level then. They had a mint meltaway candy bar that regularly called out to me. Tey also had a bargain basement. The book department was in the basement, too. I spent quite a bit of time there. In those years, there were two restaurants. The River Room was the place the ladies went when they were taking a break from buying shoes and hats, and the Iron Horse on the lower level catered to businessmen having a three martini lunch.

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  15. When I was in my twenties I went to the downtown Minneapolis store every year at Christmas time. Later I worked in downtown Minneapolis, and had many opportunites to go through on lunch breaks. I remember many holiday auditorium shows, and flower shows in the spring. I remember being there the day after Christmas one year when some over-zealous shoppers knocked over some display Christmas trees and there were shattered glass ornaments strewn everywhere.

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  16. I usually passed up the elevators and opted to take the escalators to the 8th floor for the auditorium shows. There was something anticipatory about following the escaltor route snaking up through the building.

    I was at the last Christmas auditorium show last December – it had stalled on A Day In the Life of An Elf for a number of years – and the last flower show in the spring of 2016.

    I ate at the River Room on its last day of operation, and a few months ago, at the Oak Grill Room on its last day.

    Both of the stores were hard to say goodbye to, although they had become Macy’s and changed so much over the years. Being in the space which had once been Dayton’s felt sort of like stepping into Brigadoon. You could always see the store as it had once been.

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    1. Sorry to hear that even “A Day…Elf” are no more, and the flower show.
      In Iowa our “Daytons” was Younkers – the bigger towns like Marshalltown had them, and my aunt worked in the Ladies Apparel dept. in Sioux City. The Des Moines store was the best, though, many floors and departments, escalators…. I remember my grandma taking shopping trips to Younkers in Des Moines.

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