Sitting in the sandwich shop inside the Really Big Store I got to thinking about the old Five and Dime stores we used to have in downtown Elkin. We had three of them when I first came along during downtown's heyday, just before the first shopping center arose in Jonesville in the early 1960s and things began to spread out.
The three Five and Dimes were variety stores with a little bit of everything, as compared to the Really Big Store with a whole lot of everything. The days of buying things for a nickle and a dime in those old stores were long gone, for the most part, when I was a kid, but the nostalgia for those earlier, simpler and cheaper times was still alive.
Probably you could've fit all three of those old Five and Dimes in just the front register area of the Really Big Store. Stop by the old store buildings downtown sometime and see what you think. You probably could add the five big downtown clothing stores - Belk, JC Penny, Spainhours, McDaniels and Wagoners - and still not fill half of our modern Supercenter.
When I was a kid, the Five and Dimes were about all we had for key necessities like toys and, well, more toys. Sorry, toys were about all I cared about back then, when my age was still in single digits.
When I went on the prowl for toys in the Five and Dimes here's where I went, in order:
• Roses. The Henderson, N.C.-based chain is still around, despite the onslaught of the Really Big Stores. There're still Roses Stores in Mt. Airy, Winston-Salem and elsewhere.
The Elkin Roses was located in the building that now houses Footheels Shoes on East Main. The Roses sign actually read "5 10 25," with the "25" a recent addition, I assumed.
Walk in the west door, pass the register counters, and first there were the comic books, on two levels of shelves on the floor, at kid level. After the comic books you came upon toys and trinkets, on tables with little dividers that held things like rubber balls and pencils.
The main asile was a square that encircled the store, with room to walk between tables laden with assorted goods. Clothes were inside the square in the center. Housewares like laundry soap and brooms were in the back. On the east side, I don't remember going over there much.
• Ben Franklin. It only had "5-10" in red numbers as part of its sign. It was in the Time Testers space on West Main. The chain is still around, too, the nearest one in Kannapolis. I was surprised to learn Sam Walton got his start running a Ben Franklin, according to Wikipedia.
In my day, Ben Franklin's comic books were on the east wall, also at floor level. I once found a storage space under a counter where I could grab a new release before it was supposed to go on sale. Someone caught me one time, and the next week I found they had quit storing comic books there.
On the west side of the store toward the back, at the head of a descending staircase, were parakeets. That's where we bought a couple of birds and where I got their food.
• Walker's. It was about at the midpoint on West Main. Unlike the other two stores, Walker's was locally owned. Mom's first job out of high school was at Walker's.
The big feature of Walker's was its huge, descending staircase just after the register counters and smack in the middle of the store. The stairs led to a basement where I found birds and maybe some fish. Also in the basement were housewares.
Walker's comic books were up top on the east wall, in old-fashioned shelves blocked off into squares. The main aisle ringed the walls, and in the center first up were the goodies: candy, nuts, popcorn.
There I once got a novelty toy, a piece of hard jelly about the size of a fist in a clear plastic bag. A label said you could throw it like a ball and you could eat it. After I threw the bag around a while, throwing it on the floor (it would not bounce) and up against a wall - I got bored real quick - I opened it up, cut off a slice and ate it. I found it was not worth eating. I threw the rest away before the weekend was out, the most worthless thing I have ever bought.
It was in Elkin's three Five and Dimes where I found a treasure trove of comic books, plastic models, baseball cards and school supplies.
Perhaps you have different memories, have different favorite old stores. Stores change quickly. I remember dad describing the Brendle's general store on East Main when he was a kid, in the 1930s, and he told of shelves from floor to ceiling and of saddles hanging overhead. I wish he'd told me more.
The quaint Five and Dimes of my day went away with the coming of two Sorta Big Stores in the North Elkin shopping centers, and in turn those gave way to just the one Really Big Store of today.
Cruising the aisles today in the Really Big Store I find so much more stuff available than dad or I could ever dream of in our day: auto parts, groceries, TVs and jewelry. There are probably more items in the Really Big Store than I could have found as a kid along the entire main drag of Elkin, from Smithey's clothing store and snack bar at the east end to Royall's at the west end. The only thing lacking in the Really Big Store is a movie theater like the old Reeves. Wonder how that got by them?
There's no going back to the good old days, of course, and young people would never want to go back to those primitive times. But there's a charm in those memories of the old Five and Dimes that forces a smile while sitting in the midst of the hubub out on the 268 Bypass.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road