50 years ago, Forest City was the place to be!
This might come as a shock to those under the age of 45, but the world of shopping wasn't always getting into a car and driving to Mason City or Jordan Creek. In fact, 50 years ago, consumers stayed local.
Their Forest City shopping experience included full customer service, a thank you and a smile.
It was a time when the customer was king and not just a number for a corporate office far away.
Forest City was a regional shopping center in the 1950s. On Saturday nights, merchants stayed open as town and country came together. Sidewalks were packed and parking was at a premium.
AS A YOUNG 10-year-old farm boy in 1958, Saturday was the highlight of my week to come to Forest City. The rules were simple from Russell and Arloene - stay out of trouble, don't spend all your money and be back at the Buick at 8:30.
One of my first stops was at Forest City Hardware directly east of the courthouse. I remember it well because it had a squeaky door with a bell and a floor that creaked as you walked on it. Mr. Urbatch was the friendly owner and had the best deal on BBs for my Red Ryder. Every once in a while, if I was the only customer he would show me the rifles. Once he let me sight one in as I pointed it across the street.
“Don't shoot anybody in the courthouse,” Harley would say with a smile on his face!
Leaving the store, heading north, I walked by the Fire Department with its new cab over fire truck and all the black coats and boots lined along the walls. Eddy's Paint was next and then Hanson Furniture Store where today's Summit is located.
The Courthouse Square just to the west had a new Army tank on display. The Square took on a festival flavor of its own on Saturday nights as Henry Wilson would challenge all takers in checkers. Ole Barnes would preach “hell and damnation” to all who would listen on the corner. Some nights, “Pocketbook Annie” was even there.
As I walked across the street north, there were two old bachelor farmers on the corner by the name of Nic and Vic Akeson. They lived on the farm west of Pilot Knob where Ludwigs reside today. At the 8 o'clock ringing of the courthouse bell, these rough looking characters would head down the hill with a potato sack over their shoulders filled with supplies hoping to make it back to the farm by dark.
ON THAT SAME corner across from the tank was Anderson Men's Clothing, complete with in-house tailor. Anderson's handled upscale men's clothing. If Orville, Bruce or Harry Nelson said you looked good in certain suit or coat, you knew without a doubt you looked marvelous!
Next were two grocery stores - my grandfather's, Clausons Food Market, and Danielson's Super Value. Both were in competition with each other but Grandpa gave me the best deal on rock candy and sold a lot of lutefisk.
Next was every teenagers dreamland - the “Palace of Sweets.” Malts, cherry colas, green rivers, fresh taffy apples, six pinball machines and a loud juke box playing a new music called “rock and roll” made it a place where parents could always find their teenagers hanging out.
Businesses going north were Perry and Totten Hardware, Jacob's Clothing, a watch repair store, Forest City Bakery, Smiths Firestone and Harrison's Variety, where Wilson's Dental is now. Harrison's was a general goods store own by Don and Kay Sargeant. It was a definite stop for all kids as the basement contain a huge selection of toys second only to Carter and Gillis Toyland by the park in Mason City.
When I left Harrison's, I would always look east one block to where today's car wash is located. That was Frank Kamish's Ford used car lot. When anyone had a wreck in the 1950s, his wrecker service would put the demolished vehicle right on the corner for everyone to examine.
As a young boy I thought that was fun to check out the wrecks for the week. That was until one night I and some of my friends looked into a demolished car and saw something that we didn't ever want to see again!
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On the corner, where Hansen's II is now was Lynn's Clothing. In the back where the shoes were sold, you could try on a new pair of Buster Browns. If put your feet in this machine and looked down you could see your bones inside your new shoes. Wow! That was cool - until they took it away saying it caused something called cancer.
Up the street was Gambles Hardware, owned by the Fosters and the popular Forest Theater where I would go with Dad to Eymann's John Deere Days. I learned if you put your feet on the chairs, you got the privilege of personally meeting the owner Mr. Compston and he wasn't a happy camper!
North of the Theater in today's parking lot you could buy the best popcorn in the Midwest at Doland Gambel's popcorn stand - great taste, real butter and the right amount of salt for only a nickel. His son Chuck was my best friend and sold sacks of popcorn up and down Main Street Saturday nights. Chuck always came back with an empty box and a smile on his face!
Bowen's Food Store, where Movie Time is now, was always busy, and Sheller's Barbershop on the alley corner had three busy chairs.
NEXT CAME PEOPLE'S Natural Gas office and Hansen Hardware where some Saturday nights the store stayed open until 11 p.m.
The old bank corner south of the Sportsman Cafe today was called “arthritis corner,” where older men would sit on the high steps and chew tobacco. Those men always kept an eye on the policeman “Sach “ who parked in the first spot facing south waiting for crime to happen in Treetown.
Down the basement steps to the west was a new barber named Red Armstrong. Kids haircuts including “mohawks” were 50 cents each and adults were 75 cents. Thank goodness Red didn't charge for his jokes!
On the other corner across the street where Bakke Law is today was the new store of Johnson's Drug store, which replaced Mangan's Drug Store. Nelson's Jewelry was next and then the famous Reuben's Department Store.
Sid had everything in clothes for the family and was a huge draw for out-of-town customers. Sid was Jewish and a “wheeler dealer.' He said he was doing real well until the seed corn companies took his market by giving away caps and jackets!
Above Reuben's was the popular Iowa Hotel. Many of their customers came off from the Jefferson bus, which would pull in at the “Palace” about 6 in the evening. That was also when every dog in town was howling at the six o'clock whistle sounding on top of the Civic.
PINCKNEY DRUG WAS on main street where today's US Cellular is located which was next to Mackeral's Coast to Coast. That's where my parents bought my first red bike, which included a real speedometer and battery operated light on front fender.
Heading south just before the Forest City Bank on the corner was the office of a new eye doctor named Dr. Ray Wilson. Little did I know he had a little girl named Kristine, whom twenty years later would title him my father-in -law!
If I was back at the Buick by 8:30, we ended the night at A&W Drive-In. Car hops would take your order and then place a card with a number in your wipers. In a few minutes your order was delivered and the tray hooked on your windows.
And Saturday night was not complete without watching the latest episode of Gunsmoke at 9 pm with Matt, Festus and Kitty!
FOREST CITY HAD it all on Saturday night. If branding were done in the 1950s, Forest City's appropriate title would have been …”If Forest City doesn't have it, you don't need it.”
Case in point were the eight downtown blocks - five hardware stores, five grocery stores, five clothing stores, four main car dealerships and four farm equipment dealers. Then mix in three barbershops, two drug stores, two furniture stores, two dime stores, two taverns, one lumber yard, one bakery, one bank, one bowling alley, one majestic courthouse and one hospital that delivered 150 babies a year.
Combine those with friendly aggressive merchants and you had a class act evening in a classy Midwest town!