Christmas shopping on River Street 1939

By MARK FEDDER, Manistee County Historical Museum

The Christmas season on River Street circa the late 1930s.

As the effects of the Great Depression began to wear off throughout the country, more jobs were created, which in turn lead to more money in the public’s pockets. Manistee was not immune to this surge in commerce as the holiday season of 1939 was considered, at that point, one of the biggest shopping seasons in the history of Manistee.

So for the purposes of this article I thought it would be fun to do a little Christmas shopping on River Street in 1939 and take a look at some of the businesses, the items they had for sale, as well as how much those items cost.

The first thing that would probably be noticed when going down River Street in December 1939 were the extravagant greens decorating the lamp posts. The greens were draped from post to post across the street with a wreath hanging between them. A brief description of how the decorations were put up appeared in the Manistee News Advocate on Dec. 12, 1939:

“Manistee underwent a face lifting in the downtown district yesterday with the installation of Christmas greens on River Street. This is just one of the many preparations being made to transform Manistee for the rapidly approaching Christmas season.”

“City firemen and workmen were assigned to put up the decorations down the center of River Street yesterday. A city truck with a platform was used to install the decorations.”

When shopping on River Street during that Christmas season, it was very easy to find a place that had clothes on sale. Larsen’s Home Store (364-368 River St.) had women’s cotton luxury housecoats on sale from $2.95 to $8.50. Also on sale were women’s hosiery for $3.50 and up. The advertisements declared “Men! A hosiery wardrobe will solve your problem! Give her hosiery for office, afternoon, and evening wear!”

Other clothing stores that had sales that year were: Thompson’s Men Store (371 River St.) with a selection of 55 cent ties. J.C. Penney’s (390-394 River St.) had rayon taffeta girls’ dresses for sale for 98 cents and blanket robes for $2.98. Madison’s Department Store (343-345 River St.) had a large selection of women’s and men’s wear with men’s suits (with two pairs of pants included) on sale for $19.50. Snyder’s Shoes (381 River St.) had a large sale on slippers with men’s slippers costing $1.29 to $2.99 and women’s $1.00 to $2.99.

There were also many places that had special holiday sales on home appliances. At Ferguson’s Electric Store (318 River St.) you could purchase a new 1940 Motorola Lowboy Console Radio with six automatic push buttons and attached antenna and tone control for $49.95.

A modern home toaster proclaiming “No more toast edged in black, set for light or dark, the toaster does the rest!” was on sale at the Firestone Auto Supply and Home Service Store (409 River St.) for $9.95. Also available for purchase at the Firestone Store was a combination grill and waffle maker for $6.95. The ad for the appliance read, “Put this on your Christmas list for a lady you want to please.”

Additionally, the Consumer’s Power Company Storeroom (356 River St.) had a new ABC Washer on sale for a holiday discount of $49.95.

You could also find many items for your home at the Bradford Furniture Store (407-409 River St.) which had a number of deals throughout the holidays including kneehole desks for the price of $18.75 and up, end tables for $3.75 and up, and lamps ranging from 99 cents to $2.99.

Among many other items Montgomery Ward’s Department Store (358-360 River St.) had quality hand tools on sale including saws, hammers, smooth planes, and axes for $1. They also had children’s air rifles on sale that year for 98 cents while adult rifles were $9.95.

Perhaps the best place to find Christmas presents for children and the best place for toy sales in town was at The Racket Store (389 River St.) of which the holiday advertisement proclaimed, “Everyone is welcome at The Racket Store’s Toyland…A thousand and one toys for boys and girls. There’s a world of delighted ‘Ohs’ and ‘Ahs’ for every child who visits our thrilling Toyland. Bring the kiddies in and see our big displays of games, books, doll buggies, doll furniture, trains, sleds, tricycles, toy dishes and oh just hundreds of other things that they would like for Christmas!”

Toys on sale at The Racket Store included: Dolls (large and small, crying and weeping) for 98 cents and up, metal Scooters “easy to ride and handle” for $1.95, and footballs for 68 cents.

The drug stores on River Street also provided shoppers with many sale items including: 25 cent packages of cigars at City Drug Store (397-399 River St.) which, according to their ad, had one of the largest selections of Christmas boxed cigars in the city.

At the A.H. Lyman Company (425 River St.) you could purchase an RCA Table Radio for $9.95, a Kodak Junior Size camera for $7.75, and a variety of books including “We Too Are The People” for $1 and “Grapes of Wrath” for $2.75.

Merten’s Drug Store (359 River St.) also had a number of holiday deals including deluxe toiletries from $1.95 to $4.95 and Christmas tree light sets for 69 cents. Berglund Drug Store (401 River St.) had Schick electric razors on sale for $7.50 and Evening in Paris perfume for $2.25.

The Christmas holidays aren’t complete without a big meal and at Economy Food Market (312-314 River St.) had a large variety of items were on sale including: turkey for 30 cents a pound, Swift Premium Hams for 24 cents, geese 23 cents a pound, young ducklings for 24 centers a pound, Polish Sausage 22 cents a pound, and oysters for 24 cents a pint.

The A & P Store (351 River St.) had fruitcakes on sale: 2 pounds for 49 cents or 5 pounds for 99 cents. They also had 2 quart bottles of ginger ale for 15 cents, and pork loin roast for 13 cents a pound.

After all the presents were purchased, wrapped, and later unwrapped, an article published in the Manistee News Advocate the day after Christmas reported that the 1939 holiday shopping season was one of the largest in Manistee’s history:

“When Manistee merchants reopened their stores this morning after the Christmas weekend, they surveyed depleted stocks and empty shelves, the result of the heaviest holiday buying here in years.

“Merchants were virtually unanimous in their opinion that the buying was the best in years. One concern checked its figures and said that last week it had the greatest volume of business in its history.”

“Another reported that sales showed a gain of more than 60 percent. Other estimates ranged from 15 o 45 percent over the business a year ago.”

“The gain was reported in every line, from the necessities of foods to luxuries.”

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