CITY BEAT: FOND MEMORIES OF ANOTHER ERA IN DOWNTOWN DECATUR
This week’s “Scrapbook” feature (pages 4 and 5 of print and online edition) is about some of the places in downtown Decatur that, if only for a day, I’d like to travel back in time and visit again — and soak up the atmosphere. My mother always loved downtown Decatur and enjoyed shopping at the department stores and small businesses that lined Water and Main streets.
A half century and more ago, downtown Decatur was filled with so many places where a person could shop, eat lunch, go to a dentist or doctor’s appointment, enjoy a movie and do a host of other activities that would take up an entire day. I recall the “all-day” parking lots that were present in the downtown area back then where people would park their cars in the morning and “do all of their business” in downtown and stay until evening.
When I started my business in the 1960s, I never thought about beginning anywhere else but in downtown Decatur. It was the “big city” to me back then. However, downtown has changed a lot since the 1960s, and those of us who were downtown all of those decades ago, sometimes look out at parking lots and remember all of the stores that were once located there. I’ve listed a few of the places I would like to go back in time and visit on pages 4 and 5, but there are so many more I didn’t have space to list and I’m sure many of you reading this column have a list of stores of your own and past experiences you miss and have a special memory about.
• ONE of the places I mentioned as wanting to visit again was the mezzanine cafeteria in Walgreen’s in the Citizens Office Building at North Water and William streets. That building is one that is still standing and the Walgreen’s location on the first floor has been transformed a couple of times since Walgreen’s moved out many years ago.
The Citizens National Bank and its successors remodeled the bank and that first floor and used it for years as part of its banking operation. I visited Ron James, who was my loan officer and who later became president of the bank, many times about getting a loan to continue publishing the Tribune. Ron never turned me down and I paid every penny back with interest. When I would talk with Ron, I would sometimes look up at the mezzanine and remember the times I ate there when Walgreen’s was in that space.
• YEARS later, WSOY and its sister stations moved into the first floor where the Citizens Bank had been located and every Thursday morning I went to the building to join Brian Byers of WSOYs Byers & Co. and always looked up at the mezzanine level which was office space, and thought of those lunches at Walgreen’s. Ironically, the broadcast studio where I sat was located in what was once a conference room where Ron James and I would often meet to talk about a loan. Maybe even more ironic, Ron James appeared on Byers & Co. during the hour following my appearance, so we always saw each other and chatted between the shows.
• LATE last year, Neuhoff Media including Byers & Co., moved out of the Citizens Office Building and into new studios on the sixth floor of Millikin Court Building where our offices are located on the fourth floor. When I did the last Byers & Co. show at the old location, the only two people left on that floor were Brian, the host, and Nick in the control room — and a lot of boxes and odds and ends scattered about from the process of moving. After I finished my “City Hall Insider” portion of the show and was walking out, I paused to take a final look at the inside of the building and the mezzanine level knowing, after all of the decades the building was part of my downtown experience, I’d probably never be inside of it again. I’ll also never chat with Ron James again who shared many of the same memories of the building because he passed away not that long ago. Our downtown buildings, whether they remain or not, are not what the memories are about — they are where memories are made and fondly thought about from time to time.
• CONGRATS to the Millikin University Women’s Basketball Team that advanced to the sectional round of the 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament defeating Wisconsin-Eau Claire 59-56 in the Regional Final on March 5 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The last time the women’s team from Millikin was in the tournament in 2005, under Coach Lori Kerans, they won the championship. I was mayor at the time and got to officially share in a lot of the excitement and honor the team brought to our city. Best wishes to this season’s amazing team in the NCAA tourney.
• MacARTHUR High School girls and boys basketball teams also had great seasons with the girls team winning the regional championship and the boys team advancing to the sectional championship game before losing. That matched as far as the Generals have ever gone.
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00. I always enjoy talking with Brian — even without the Walgreen’s mezzanine looming in the distance.