Snow-covered Main Street in Webb City ready for Christmas shoppers. Note the parking meters, which were removed in the 1970s. The view is looking north from First Street. It was the Larsen Theater at the time. Western Auto’s sign is easy to spot. The Days Grocery building behind that sign still had two stories. Empire District’s office was in the old City Hall building.
Ancestors, Legends & Time
Christmas shopping in Webb City in the ’50s and ’60s was how it should be
Christmas Day is just around the corner. The trees are lit, the stockings are hung and magic is in the air. The kids have sent their letters to Santa or they have sat on his lap and shared their secret wishes with the old man in the red suit. Some of the more advanced mechanical homes have e-mailed Santa, as snail mail is too slow.
The Christmas parades have made their journeys down the local Main Streets of area towns with Santa riding on the fire truck and calling out to the children to remind them to be good. The cold weather adds to the Christmas spirit and the hot chocolate never tasted better.
Cable and satellite have allowed us to see almost every Christmas movie that has ever been aired, with many new ones each week to be added to the list. Many different versions of “The Christmas Carol” have shown Ebeneezer as female, male, cartoon, etc. The story changes a bit with each version, but the moral of the story is still the same.
But Christmas can’t arrive until you hear the stories of what Main Street Webb City used to be like in the good ole days. “If you haven’t recalled the favorite story about the Christmas tree in the center of the intersection of Broadway and Main, you can’t possibly enjoy the holidays. You know the story.
I recall that tree sitting in the center of the intersection, and it was big. You couldn’t see across the street to see if the cars were going straight or turning in front of you, so Officer Leo Romero was chosen to direct traffic, this gave our fair city a bit of charm, as Romero would wave and call out holiday greetings to all as they passed. He knew everyone in town and they knew him.
In my mind, I recall that tree being a yearly tradition and couldn’t understand why they discontinued that wonderful attraction. But, just a couple of years ago, Brad Baker made the comment, “Did you know that we only did that Christmas tree one year?” WHAT? How can that be when I know Mom drove through that intersection many times? Maybe we just made a lot of trips that one year. I am sure all five of us kids begged her to go that one direction so we could see the lights strung across Main Street and the wonderful window decorations as well as the tree in the center of town.
The Christmas tree was obviously too much of a safety hazard, and I am sure Officer Romero would not have enjoyed his special duty when the weather was close to zero. But in the mind of a child that tradition went on years even though in reality it was only one year.
Another downtown tradition was to pull in front of Oklahoma Tire & Supply to watch Santa in the window as he would wave to the kids in the car. What cheap entertainment! The shiny bicycles, wagons, and dollies in the window added to the entertainment.
The dime stores were so much fun as the shelves were full and the Christmas music delightful. When you entered the door, you were hit by the sweet smell from the candy counters. They were so pretty and colorful. Your mouth would water as you thought about those orange slices, gum drops, and red and white mints. The marshmallow and chocolate Santas, foil wrapped chocolates, and suckers were mesmerizing. You would finally make it out of the door of Ben Franklin and head across the street to Kress Dime Store, wheree your mouth would start watering again.
Then, if you were lucky, your parents would need to stop by Minerva Candy Company. Big Candy Canes, stacks of fresh chocolate candy and fudge were plentiful in the family owned business.
Many of the businesses would hand out candy canes to the children as they came shopping with their parents. Some parents would stop by the drug store, buy their kids some ice cream at the soda fountain, then dash out quickly to pick up presents to be put in the trunk of the car before joining the kids for their special treat. (That definitely was a thing of the past… a time of simple trust. I remember being a soda jerk and watching those children.)
Mr. Bishop would stay open late on Christmas Eve to be the shopping place for the husband who needed to buy a present for his wife. The perfume counter was a busy place the night before Christmas. The Russell Stover select candies were specially wrapped in fancy paper to the delight of the forgetful husband.
The atmosphere of downtown Webb City during the holiday season was so exciting. You could walk down the street looking in one window after another, passing friends along the way and exchanging holiday greetings. You could buy clothes, jewelry, candy, appliances, car supplies, furniture, games, shoes, greeting cards, books, and so much more. The grocery stores sold Christmas trees, the dime stores had the ornaments and lights . Everything you might need for the Christmas season could be found downtown, including the Christmas spirit.
You could also fill up your gas tank, get a haircut, play a game of pool, buy your groceries for Christmas dinner. The downtown area also included doctors, lawyers, insurance offices, real estate companies, dentists, pharmacists, not to mention the banks, where you could obtain money to pay for your purchases.
Webb City Bank added to the merriment by playing Christmas music from the top of the Drive-In Bank in the intersection of Broadway and Main.
Time sometimes dims our memories… or might occasionally add to a memory. Hope your holidays are bright, fun and memorable. Have a good old fashioned Merry Christmas.
Jeanne’s new book, “The Zinc City, Webb City, Missouri” is now available at Webb City Chamber office and other local retailers, such as Maggie Jane’s Gifts, at 8 S. Main St.