Boston Shopping, circa 1935-1950
December 27, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In this month’s Perspective New England (an on-line magazine) I was featured touring readers around my favorite Wellesley, MA shops. When packing up the Christmas ornaments today into an old hat box, I was intrigued by the box from C. Crawford Hollidge, which is a defunct Wellesley shop. I called a dear family friend with a keen memory to recall the old Boston stores. One, called Gilchrist’s (my maiden name and to which I am related) was a department store founded in the early 19th century.
My source said: “I do, indeed, remember Crawford Hollidge. It was always fun and exciting to go into town to shop. Around the 1930′s and early 40′s we would walk through the Common and the Public Garden to shop on Newbury Street and Boylston Street. There was R.H. Stearns and Jay’s on Temple Place for clothing and fun, fashion jewelry. If we were meeting a friend in town, we would meet her at Stearns’ glove counter where there were low stools in front of the counter where ladies were fitted for kid gloves. There was a wonderful notions counter where one could find all sorts of intriguing things that could not be found at Woolworths. There was also a cosmetics counter where my mother purchased powder. I was intrigued to watch the salesperson mix the powder to match my mother’s skin. Stearns sold childrens’ clothing as well ladies’ dresses and a china department on the top floor.
“Also on Temple Place was Thayer McNeil where all of the children would get their shoes. There was a machine that you stood on a platform and inserted your feet into an x-ray machine; it would show the sales person how to fit the child’s feet. Years later they figured out it was probably not a good idea to x-ray childrens’ feet…Many of my evening dresses came from Fredley’s on Boylston Street. They had wonderful gowns. Carbones was up the street with Italian pottery, and, of course, there was Shreve, Crump and Low… and on Newbury Street there was Daree for hats and Cooley – a terrific china shop. Also where the current Burberry is was a ladies shoe shop named Joseph Antell. Above it on the second floor as Ethel Atkins, a milliner, who moved there from Arlington Street. Very expensive hats. It was THE place to go. To reach the second floor you rode on an ancient elevator that creaked and moaned all the way up.
“Bonwit Teller was in the Louis building, which once belonged to MIT. It was the Museum of Natural History and MIT was in an adjacent building before they moved across the River. Bonwit Teller remodeled that building and it was “the talk of the town” when it opened. It was a wonderful store and carried lovely evening gowns. Further along Newbury Street was F.A.O. Schwarz where there was always a wonderful array of toys. There was a saleslady who stood next to the displays and would not let you touch any of the toys – you could only look!”
Back to Tremont, Washington and Summer Streets – “there was Chandler’s, Filenes, Jordan Marsh, and wonderful small shops on the second floor of many of the buildings along Washington Street. Then there was Brine’s where camp clothes and sporting equipment was purchased. Brine’s was near the Parker House and King’s Chapel. Slatterys and Gilchrist were larger department stores, the latter on Winter Street. Gilchrist’s was famous for their almond macaroons. After shopping, we would go to Bailey’s for an ice cream sundae or to Schraffts for lunch. Salad or chicken pot pie… EVERYONE went.”
Where the current Four Seasons stands used to be row houses – brownstones with shops on the first floor. In one was the Womens Educational Industrial Union (which I remember later moved down Boylston past Shreves). When I went in my twenties, there was smocked baby clothes and a variety of handicrafts. My dear friend remembers it in the old building where one could buy silk lampshades with hand painted motifs (like flowers).
M.T Bird was the only place that Brahmins would procure their invitations, calling cards and writing paper from, and of course everything was copper engraved (“I have a million little copper plates still scattered around”). Everything left the shop in distinctive lavender colored boxes.
She continues: “Firestone and Parsons was in the Ritz, as was a boutique called Tat Saunders; Delano was a shop dedicated to high end ladies sportswear, TD Whitney is where we bought sheets, bedding and curtains” and and further down Boylston, almost at Copley Square, “was a British wool shop called Romain & Patterson where men bought tweeds and the ladies bought tartan kilts. Close by was Sawyers, a men’s shop, run by a funny little man. And then of course there was Bigelow’s which had sterling silver candlesticks and very fine jewelry.”
Best & Co. was out of town, in Brookline…”and Peck & Peck came later in the 50′s”.
“I could go on forever… however when malls were built after the War, unhappily many of the old-time shops disappeared.”
Lastly, in 1960-70′s, we’d go to FAO Schwartz in Newbury Street. The woman the had been there “for about a thousand years” would not let the kids touch anything!