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Published: Sunday, 12/6/2009

A fond look back at downtown Toledo's holiday bustle

People fill Adams Street heading toward Summit Street in downtown Toledo in 1961. People fill Adams Street heading toward Summit Street in downtown Toledo in 1961.
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Perhaps because they are so keenly anticipated, the holidays lend themselves to vivid memories tinted by nostalgia.

Those of us middle aged and older may recall the excitement of trips via auto, bus, or streetcar to a downtown bustling with crowds, display windows that were staged by artists, and tall department stores with elevators and intoxicating smells. Smaller places, too — dime stores, local clothiers and shoe sellers, sandwichand- ice cream, music, book, and stationery (places that sold special paper on which people wrote letters and mailed them to others) shops.

But there was no turning back about 45 years ago when retailers invested in gleaming malls that were seductive on a couple of fronts: they offered acres of free parking and were mostly indoors.

Summit Street during the holidays, about 1900. Summit Street during the holidays, about 1900.
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Helen Nino is among those who cherish memories of downtown at the holidays.

“It was a grand old time,” says Ms. Nino, 89, of Toledo. She grew up often making Saturday trips downtown, as did her mother. It always seemed friendly. “People nowadays can't believe that our streets were full of people, crowds of people.”

The big retailers — The Lion's Store, Lamson's, and Lasalle's (later Macy's), and Tiedtke's — catered to slightly different crowds and pocketbooks.

Ms. Nino purchased her wedding dress at Tiedtke's in 1937, and years later, worked in the cafeteria until the store succumbed to mall fever in 1972.

Shoppers on Adams Street in 1972. Shoppers on Adams Street in 1972.
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“We had a hot dog stand, and in front, a sit-down dining area, a coffee counter with fresh-ground coffee and donuts, and the Buttermilk Bar.

They used to stand three-deep waiting for lunch,” she said. The store was on Summit and Adams streets.

In December, Tiedtke's was famous for its mammoth 3,200-pound round of cheese, the slicing of which was an event. By day's end, every last crumb would have been sold.

Such is Ms. Nino's nostalgia that she and a friend organized the Tiedtke's Old Timers, which will hold its 35th annual Christmas party in the Walbridge Park shelter house Dec. 20.

Begun in 1894, W. L. Milner & Co. was Toledo's first major department store. By 1906, it had more than 200,000 square feet of floor space in a five-story building at the southwest corner of Summit and Jefferson streets (site of the now-vacant Hotel SeaGate). In 1930, Sears took it over, making it their largest store in the country. Milner sold many inexpensive products, such as the Simplex, a version of a typewriter for which the typist turned a wheel to bring each letter into position, then stamped it on paper. This postcard appears on the disc that accompanies You Will Do Better in Toledo, published in 2008 by The Blade. Begun in 1894, W. L. Milner & Co. was Toledo's first major department store. By 1906, it had more than 200,000 square feet of floor space in a five-story building at the southwest corner of Summit and Jefferson streets (site of the now-vacant Hotel SeaGate). In 1930, Sears took it over, making it their largest store in the country. Milner sold many inexpensive products, such as the Simplex, a version of a typewriter for which the typist turned a wheel to bring each letter into position, then stamped it on paper. This postcard appears on the disc that accompanies You Will Do Better in Toledo, published in 2008 by The Blade.
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Could it be that when the successors of the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers — known as Gen X and the Millennials — look over their own aging shoulders, they'll feel a tug of fondness for the mall?

They are tribes who communicate as much with their fi ngers as with their mouths via Tweeting and texting, and who will surely continue to do so with whatever gizmos they are handed in the decades to come.

Perhaps, when all purchases are made online and stores are rendered obsolete, they'll recall the dear old mall, with its bustling crowds, beautiful decorations, escalators, and plethora of eateries.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075



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