Tuesday, Feb 21, 2017
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The Fabulous Fifties Downtown Auto Dealers

World War II was over and thousands of young servicemen came back home to pick up their lives or start new ones. There was a giant sigh of relief resulting in an incredible energy that expanded American industry. Automobiles were part of that expansion. Cars became a symbol of prosperity and, as the demand for automobiles grew, automobile dealerships in downtown Toledo burgeoned.

You could take a bus downtown and drive home in a new car. At the height of the boom, around 1957, there were 24 dealers, many within walking distance of each other, in the downtown area.

These dealers often sponsored events to bring people downtown to shop for automobiles. In 1951, Irv Pollock and Bauer Harrington Mercury dealers sponsored Ed Sullivan of television's "Toast of the Town" to be the "really big show" at the 1951 auto show at the Civic Auditorium, now the Erie Street Market.

Back then, all the new model cars were under wraps until right after the first of September. For the auto dealers and the customers alike, this was a very big event, and the dealers hosted spectacular unveilings. There was something for everyone in the family to enjoy. There were musicians, comics and magicians to entertain. Clowns and jugglers were around to keep the children enchanted and free refreshments were served.

There were full-page ads in the newspaper to create excitement.

Some dealers gave out free tickets for a chance to win a brand new automobile. People could come downtown to the dealership before the drawing to pick up their free chances to win the grand prize.

It was not uncommon for families to make a day of their automobile purchase. They'd come downtown to their favorite auto dealer, decide what model they desired, work out a deal and then go shopping while their new car was prepped for them.

There were stores galore. B. R. Baker's was not only the official Boy Scout uniform headquarters but also the place for stylish young men to buy their argyle sweaters and socks. Lamson's catered more to very fashion-conscious women, and everyone had to stop into Tiedtkes, LaSalle's or The Lion Store.

Perhaps, they'd have lunch at Smith's Cafeteria, a burger at the Tick-Tock Restaurant, or a hot roast beef sandwich at The Hub or The Wheel. If there was enough time, the family may decide to take in a matinee at one of the many downtown movie houses, such as the Esquire, the Paramount or the Valentine.

One year, as a tribute to the impact the auto dealers had on local businesses, LaSalle's Department Store dedicated their display windows to haute couture, eau de perfume and stylish automobiles. Each window had, at its center, a mannequin wearing the absolute latest in feminine fashion with an easel on each side bearing images of the newest style automobiles, and chrome hub caps hanging down as stars in a constellation.

Then, as now, customer loyalty was uttermost in the dealers' minds. They would have the newspaper come out to take photos of their most loyal customers such as George L. Graetz who purchased his 20th Chevrolet, after logging in 300,000 miles, from Lownsbury Motor's sales manager. When Mr. Shnider picked up his brand new panel trucks for his Tidy Tots Diaper Service in the parking lot of the Sports Arena, it was chronicled in the former Toledo Times.

Throughout the fifties and into the sixties, the downtown auto dealers continued to bring people to their showrooms and the surrounding stores and restaurants, positively impacting the social and economic health of the community.

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