The Post-Standard (Syracuse, New York)
December 14, 2008 Sunday
THE MIRACLE ON SOUTH SALINA STREET
READERS RECALL THE BUSTLE OF DEPARTMENT STORES WHEN DOWNTOWN SYRACUSE WAS THE CENTER OF CHRISTMAS COMMERCE
BYLINE: By Greg Munno Civic engagement editor
SECTION: LOCAL; Pg. B1
LENGTH: 1239 words
A “virtual” book is being written on Syracuse.com about downtown Syracuse during the holiday season.
Last week, CNYSpeaks — a project of The Post-Standard, Syracuse.com and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University — asked Central New Yorkers to share their memories about downtown around Christmastime.
Readers responded with 93 online comments as of Friday, many peppered with vivid recollections that help illustrate the central role downtown has played in our region’s civic and economic life.
Here’s one posted by granny2, who relishes memories of downtown during her childhood in the 1940s and ’50s, and who is still making memories downtown today:
“I remember the train in Edwards and walking through the tunnel under Clinton Street to get to the rest of the store! The Lincoln Department Store had the best milk shakes and Dey’s had the best strawberry sodas!”
“It was nothing for us to walk miles to reach downtown rather than taking the bus,” granny2 continued. “After all, we could use that money to get into one of the movie theaters!”
“Last year we went downtown around 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren enjoying … Clinton Square. It was lightly snowing and that led to making it even more beautiful. … So many memories!! Merry Christmas everyone!”
Here are a few more memories selected from what’s been written so far:
Posted by fultonformer: “I remember the excitement of traveling from Fulton to busy downtown SYR and seeing the lights, tall buildings, decorated store Xmas windows, people fashionably dressed up doing shopping and then eating in the big store dining rooms.”
Posted by austinnow: “Oh, I remember my grandmother worked at the Lincoln store and we would go and visit her to make suggestions on what Santa might bring. I remember the wooden escalator in the old E.W. Edwards store and going to visit Santa there and seeing all the decorations in the windows with the snow falling. I remember that we had to get “dressed up’ to go downtown in those days. What great childhood memories.”
Posted by thecar: “We’d go to E. W. Edwards and ride the monorail and see Santa. I pulled his fake beard one year and my mother took me out quickly as she was a little embarrassed.”
Posted by 6packjack: “I just think that it is so wonderful that the city of Syracuse comes together once a year to celebrate the joy and magic of the season. I was actually able to pick myself out of one of the pics from the circa 1930s photos. Wow! What a wonderful city we live in.”
Posted by fowlermommy: “My Mom worked at Lincoln Bank. … My grandmother worked in the tea room at E.W. Edwards. So as a child I was always downtown. In the ’60s I took the bus down and was allowed to go look around until Mom got out of work. There was The Economy Bookstore, Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, Mr. Peanut; there was a record store next to The Landmark, but I can’t remember the name.
“I used to buy 45s at Woolworth’s; they were cheap there. We used to get the best submarine sandwiches at Kresge’s. The best fresh cashews at Mr. Peanut. We used to go to the little diner on Fayette St., near Montgomery St. … Of course all the department stores were there, too. Dey Brothers, Addis, Flahs, Wells and Coverly, Edwards, Chappell’s, Lerner’s, Sibley’s … I am sure I forgot some.
“Does anyone remember The Brass Rail? That was downstairs, I think on Warren St. They used to give kids these coins that I loved collecting.”
Posted by swpelican: “Fowlermommy, thank you for such fond memories. I too remember a lot of the stores you mentioned and even shopped in some. There was also a McCory’s (aka McCrory’s) in downtown. When I was growing up I went to their cafeteria with my sister during the holidays just so we could get the Christmas glasses.”
Posted by AvenueD: “I was born in 1943 so I have many fond memories of bustling downtown visits at all times of the year. … My favorite store at Christmas was the Edwards Annex store, which was gotten to from the main store by walking through a tunnel under the street. My sister and I happily rode the little train so high above the crowd looking intently for Mommy, who waved to us up in the sky.
“Then we’d walk over to the White Castle, which was directly across the street from Clinton Square for some hamburgers. The Christmas display in the square was spectacular because not only was the big tree lit in a manner where you could actually see its branches, but all the smaller evergreens in the square were lit up as well, each with their own color lights.”
Posted by ouricle: “I especially remember Christmas and Edwards with the train and Santa. Our routine was park in Edwards lot, come into the store from the back, shop there, then go to Witherills, Deys, Grants and Wells and Coverly, then on to Fishman’s, Kresge’s and other five-and-dimes. Finally we would arrive back at Edwards cafeteria for a bowl of 25-cent pea soup.”
Posted by amenigro: “Even after the memories of Edward’s Toy Dept. monorail and the Mexican Sundae treat each year faded, I continued to enjoy two decades of working at MONY Plaza with its cheerful holiday displays that complimented Hanover & Clinton Squares during this season. I even spent a time of business study at the Onondaga Hotel that would decorate so wonderfully during the holidays.
“Christmastime was also beautiful during happy hours at the Yates Hotel. The old architecture all over downtown was magnificent; a testament to the pioneers in that field that studied at SU, the first architecture department in the country.
“Church bells would ring all over downtown as I shopped sales at Dey Brothers, Chappell’s & Flahs to get good clothing on a budget for the family. It was simpler then and holiday expectations were achievable. I would carry my packages home on Centro, meeting up with others and discussing holiday plans while we rode home en masse. People interacted more readily as the pressures and commercialism did not seem as great.
“Two years ago I took my young grandchildren down to the Landmark Theatre to see “The Polar Express.” They were fascinated with the beautiful building as much as the movie itself. I was impressed that a movie could remind us that giving of oneself is the most important lesson of this season.”
Posted by mondatsos: “I loved downtown Syracuse at Christmastime. As a child, I remember going downtown for the Christmas parade on Salina Street. It was always the first time Santa was seen. I also remember riding the monorail at Edwards.
“A few years ago we moved to New Jersey and we are right across the river from Philadelphia. I vividly remember the first year we went Christmas shopping in Philadelphia.
“The streets were filled with shoppers, the streets were decorated, the store windows were decorated and there was a light snow falling. It reminded me so much of Christmas in Syracuse that I started to cry and my son said to me “Mom, what is wrong?’ and I remember telling him that it reminded me of Christmas when I was a child.”
Greg Munno can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or 470-6084.
Bring back memories
Read all the memories people have shared of downtown Syracuse during the holidays at blog.syracuse.com/cny-speaks, and share your own memories.
You can also share your photos of downtown during the holidays at photos.syracuse.com/yourphotos. Hit the “Submit your photos” link on the right, and follow the instructions, selecting CNYSpeaks as the gallery.
GRAPHIC: PHOTO Photos from The Post-Standard archives and courtesy of the Onondaga Historical Association.
A beloved memory of downtown during the holidays was riding the E.W. Edwards & Son monorail, which strategically passed over the toy section. Photo from 1955.
Traffic fills Salina Street two days before Christmas 1963.
Santa stands atop a tank in Clinton Square as he and his Marine helpers from the 8th Tank Battalion of Mattydale stand ready to collect toys for the needy in 1974.
Clinton Square on Christmas Eve, sometime during the 1930s.
The E. W. Edwards & Son department store on South Salina Street during the 1950s.
Photos courtesy of Barbara Thomson BOYS COSTUMED AS clowns tend to a float during the Christmas parade in downtown Syracuse. TWO BOYS HAM IT UP during the downtown Syracuse Christmas parade.