A report I wrote in the seventh or eighth grade about Sylacauga inspired me to research my own writing. I knew our town has changed, but….. In those days we had more small businesses, less going to Birmingham to shop, and no on-line shopping. For example. I reported that there were 20 clothing and department stores. I remember that after business hours, families often walked up and down Broadway, window-shopping, the finely-dressed manikins tempting folk with the latest fashions. During the Christmas season, window-shopping extended to Loveman’s and Pizitz in Birmingham to see the Christmas displays . Sylacauga stores included Maudee’s, Helen’s, The Stag, C&H, The Leader, Goldberg brothers, Diana Shop, Eleanor Shop, Mary Louise, Richards, the Sample Shop, the Pants Store, City Hall Clothing, Belk-Hudson, and Sokol’s. There was Richards, J.D. &Gladys on W. Third Street, and even used clothing at Reams. If you remember these stores you more than likely remember people who owned them or worked there: McGraws, Finns, Frank Thacker, Louie Gallops, Hyman Goldberg, Margaret Wooten, Ann Childress, etc. In that day a drinking man had to travel that curvy, old Hwy 280 Road through the Narrows to Birmingham for his bottle; now he has to travel the four lanes of insanity of Highway 280 for dress pants or a suit.
Sylacauga had five jewelry stores: Diamond Jewelry, J.M. Duck Jewelry, Easterling’s, Frank House, Morris/Goldstein’s on North Broadway, and P & G (306 N. Broadway). In 1952, there was Wood Craig. The faces these names bring to mind along with the changes in society that caused these stores to go out of business are worth mentioning. Remember when brides selected China patterns, every-day and fancy, silver and flat-wear, crystal, etc., from the folks at Frank House. Everyone I knew got engaged, then married, then had families, so beautiful ring sets were part of the process. Joe Duck and his father before him specialized in high quality clocks and watches. Folks were satisfied that they displayed the time and maybe the date, but none of those watches measured our steps or provided medical information. Jack Cleveland, his son Jackie, and their son displayed an array of jewelry and gift items at Diamond Jewelry, and Jack and Joe Duck were great friends as well as competitors. I remember seeing their hurrying across busy Broadway for a visit.
Sylacauga had 21 cafes and restaurants in the 1950’s, so someone must have been eating out, but it was not us, the George’s on Spring Street. We seldom ate out; if we did, it was on vacations or very special occasions. I never felt bad about that because Mama was a wonderful cook. See how many of these cafes you remember, Blue Lite, Chicken Ranch, Coffee Pot aka Bus Station, Temp’s Grill (next to Jones Bakery), Dud’s Snack Bar, Jones Café, Little Paul’s, Arnold’s Café, Marble City Café, Molly’s on N. Norton, Old Hickory, Whitehouse Café, Tony’s Grill, the Squeeze-In Sandwich Shop. This does not include the drug stores that had soda fountains and snack bars that stayed busy. A favorite was Dixie Drug and later Mac and Teds. It was in 1951 that Mrs. Ruby McDiarmid opened the White Midget in Sylacauga on Fort Williams; later it was moved to the Old Birmingham Highway. My Dad delivered bread to many of these (Golden Crust, from Jones Bakery in Sylacauga and Talladega). Since Daddy was a storyteller like me, he had some pretty funny stories to tell about these establishments, but not now, not here.
Hardware stores were an important part of any town before the big box stores. Sylacauga had Arnold Supply, on Norton, Rayfield Hurston on Norton, Service Hardware at 105 N. Broadway, and Wallis Hardware on 3rd Street and later Broadway. Michael Supply is one I remember, so not sure why it was not in this list. There were four shoe stores: Jackson, Jones, Liveoak, and Sylacauga Shoe Hospital. Camera Stores and photographers were grouped together in the yellow pages, with Drug Stores handling film developing and some supplies. Mason’s at 6 S. Broadway, Prater’s, and of course Mim’s Studio led the pack along with Batson’s , the Palace, and People’s Drug.
No wonder Sylacauga was a busy place on Saturday, especially when Avondale paid-off every two weeks. Mrs. Batson used her property on Broadway right beside where the television station is now to provide parking for 25 cents a day. It is one of my favorite Earl Lewis stories because he made “picture show” money working there on Saturdays and during Christmas vacation. He remembers how Mrs. Batson would pay him off at the end of the day. She would pour all that change out on the counter and slide the coins into two piles, a dime for him, and a dime and a nickel for her. The parking lot would be crowded, and some of the business men paid for a “regular” spot. Now in Sylacauga, we have lots of parking, but not as many stores, not as much shopping. It is just another change that the years have brought. I love Sylacauga now, but I really loved it then. Those were the carefree days when I was young, and it was not so long ago at that!