Downtown Decatur stores of the past are some of my favorite subjects to feature in our “Scrapbook” series on pages 4 and 5 of the print and online editions.
When I became editor and publisher of the Decatur Tribune in 1969, downtown was alive with countless storefronts, major department, hardware and furniture stores, drug stores and restaurants. Most have disappeared but I have so many fond memories of walking up and down Water and Main streets and finding whatever I was looking for at a downtown business.
Some of my favorite places were the “dime stores” including Kresge’s, Woolworth’s and W. T. Grant — all located on Water Street. As this week’s “Scrapbook” indicates, when Kresge’s opened its remodeled store in the 300 block of North Water Street in 1959, over 10,000 customers came to the store during the first day! The majority of those people also shopped at other stores while they were downtown.
Can you imagine 10,000 people coming to a store in the downtown area today? That shows you how heavy the shopper traffic was in 1959.
However, as the article points out, only 18 years after it opened, and attracted 10,000 shoppers in one day, Kresge’s closed it doors for good. Today, all those buildings in the 300 block that were there in 1959 are gone — replaced by a park.
• TROPHIES UPDATE — I’ve had several calls since my recent “Viewpoint” column on the missing Decatur High School/Stephen Decatur High School trophies, plaques and photos. As I’ve written before, the high school was legendary in its time in athletic achievements winning four state basketball championships when there was only one class of schools — meaning the Reds played any school to win those championships regardless of their size or location in the state.
The comments in the phone calls I’ve received are a mixture ranging from all of the memorabilia being destroyed by an uncaring superintendent to still existing in a warehouse or other storage facility.
• A FORMER teacher at MacArthur High School told me that the DHS/SDHS trophies, plaques and photos were in a storage closet at the school — moved there following the renovation of the school. She told me that she saw them when she was looking for something else when she was a teacher there not that long ago. She also said that MacArthur was designated to keep the DHS/SDHS materials and Eisenhower was designated to keep the Lakeview High School materials.
“Those materials were there when I taught there,” she told me. “I saw them when I was in that large closet looking for something else.”
• I AM withholding the names of the people I’ve talked with because some of what they’ve told me, which is connected to what I’ve mentioned, is probably something they don’t want their name connected to — even though most have retired.
With so many views about if and where all of that DHS/SDHS material exists, I think it would be a positive move for the school board to ask the superintendent to provide information on the location of the trophies, plaques and photos. The former MacArthur teacher’s revelation of where she saw those materials not that long ago, seems to me to be a pretty solid lead.
Decatur High School/Stephen Decatur High School wrote a huge, impressive chapter in our city’s history and I believe there are a lot of people who are connected to those years, and their families, who would like to know the answer to where that tangible evidence of that history is located.
I have sent an inquiry to the school district asking if those trophies, plaques and photographs still exist and, if they do, where they are located. Those special high school awards should be on permanent display — and we will then know for sure they have been preserved.
• I HOPE everyone had a great Christmas and the New Year beginning on a positive note. Thanks for all the ways you have supported this newspaper over the past 54 years. No one appreciates it more than I do.
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00 for the City Hall Insider.