Only a few decades ago Christmas in Manchester was a celebration from the day after Thanksgiving until January 06, or “Little Christmas” as it was known on the West Side. Snow never deterred anyone and seemed to make the season magical.
The lights on Elm Street were turned on at dusk on the Friday following Thanksgiving and drew a crowd of onlookers for this magnificent sight.
The stores were open every night and the shoppers who roamed Elm Street met their friends to window shop, then go to The Puritan, Mayflower, Verani’s, Pizza by Charles, Woolworth’s or Newberry dining on hot chocolate or the teenager’s favorite, French fries smothered in ketchup and a coke.
One could walk from Pariseau, Sears, and the Beauregard Sisters down to the Bell Shops, Hills, Lynch’s, McQuades, Machinists, and everyone’s favorite Leavitt’s. Purchase a skirt at Pariseau’s Basement and a matching blouse at Lynch’s or fabric at Machinist’s. If you couldn’t find the right gift the helpful clerks would offer suggestions and often offer to order the correct size and right color you just couldn’t do without. There was even a clerk or two for every department. Not all of them were needed for security purposes. They were there to help the customers.
Everyone tried every perfume imaginable and in the end still purchased their grandmother’s favorite soap to be used or kept as a sachet in her dresser drawer. Grandmothers were all alike! Carroll Cut Rate stocked nice gift packages at reasonable prices and everyone you met knew when you had shopped there!
This ritual went on for days.
Christmas cards were purchased with careful consideration and The Card Shop on Amherst Street was a busy place. If you wanted a good book you went to Goodman’s Bookstore or the Book Nook. Both stores also sold cards and stationary or note paper (no decorated computer paper back then!) and better grade “fountain pens”.
Santa had so many helpers. The children would often visit each one and receive a candy cane going home with a handful to decorate their tree. You wonder how they could keep track of what they asked for and how Santa didn’t return to the North Pole with a headache. It was a fun time!
And don’t forget Fanny Farmer, Van Otis, or the Puritan Candy Shop. They were always featuring a Holiday special and when purchased never seemed to last until the holiday.
Looking for a parking space was never a problem and there were no parking garages. The city buses were available to everywhere in Manchester running every hour during the daytime and evenings when the stores were open.
Manchester was once a magical and friendly place to live and even more magical when turned into a Winter Wonderland. Too bad you can’t go home again.
C. O’Neil 11/20/2014