We all have family stories that are told over and over, and chuckled at no less at the latest telling than at the first. In my family, one such story was about a neighborhood friend back in Framingham, Massachusetts. Jeannie Gormley lived down the street, and played with both my brother and me. She was a solemn child, with straight brown hair in a Dutch boy cut.
A Dairy Queen had just moved into town, and my father offered to take us for an ice cream cone, inviting Jeannie, who was visiting. Jeannie, shocking us all, turned him down. “Why?” he asked. “Don’t you like ice cream?” “Oh, I love ice cream,” said Jeannie. “But at Dairy Queen, you don’t get your choosies!” Those were the days of strictly vanilla, before they decided that the whole candy store mixed in with our ice cream might be a delicious thing.
I feel the same way Jeannie did about much of retail shopping these days. I once had to take our Brazilian exchange student, Sabrina, to the Mall of America looking for “American jeans.” We made it to every store (every single one!) and at the end of the trip, she said, “Many stores, but all the same jeans!” She should have asked me first, but Sabrina had to see for herself.
By the time I got to Winona, there were still a fair number of “dime stores,” the precursors to today’s discount stores. Kresge’s, W.T. Grant’s, and Woolworth’s were downtown. A somewhat higher end department store was J.C. Penney’s, and the locally founded Choate’s. There were a number of women’s dress shops, well into the eighties. St. Clair’s, later Bernice’s, was in the building that just burned and recently housed the Islamic Center. The Castle Dress shop was on the corner of Third and Walnut. Stevenson’s was on West Third Street. St. Clair’s also sold men’s clothing, as did Emil’s, and Wilkinson’s, and later Michael’s. Shoe stores abounded — Arenz, A&D Bootery, Tradehome.
And stand-alone drug stores were everywhere. When I was in college, we frequented Holden’s, which was on West Fifth, and had a soda fountain (yes!) and a model train display. After I was married, we went to Ted Maier, which was at the other end of the block from our first formal office in the big brick building on the corner of Third and Center that was recently damaged by fire. Our office was on the second floor overlooking Third Street, next to Libera’s law office. It was perfect for a pregnant lady, as it wasn’t too far to go from our office to Dr. John Tweedy’s office, on the second floor above Ted Maier, and then down the stairs to get prescriptions filled or satisfy cravings for Snickers bars.
The stores of my memories are all gone, with the exception of Goltz Pharmacy, which I still visit way too often, it seems. I remember Neil Goltz behind the pharmacy counter. Neil was a gentle, soft-spoken man who always had the time to explain a prescription drug, or to show you an over-the-counter drug that might help you out. He was never the rushed, too busy, phone-glued-to-his-ear kind of person we have come to expect in a few of the impersonal chain stores. He harked back to a time when pharmacists, retailers, car dealers, bankers, and restaurateurs in towns all over the country were your neighbors and friends.
We are lucky in Winona that the entrepreneurial spirit hasn’t ever left. Goltz family members are still behind the counter on East Third Street. Many retail store owners are actually the ones who unlock the door in the morning and greet their customers all day long. Car dealers can be found on their lots. Bank presidents wave to their customers on the street. If you go out for a meal or a drink, the owner will often seat you or wait on you.
It may not be exactly like the old days, but great individual service can still be found in Winona. Here we get our “choosies!”