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Hazel Knight recalls Main Street, Lancaster, as it was more than 60 years ago. Knight was 11 years old in 1943 when he went to work for James and Etta Robinson in their clothing store. He swept and mopped the wooden floors and dusted the counters and shelves and ran errands.
The business section of Main Street was two blocks long as it remains today. There were two popular eateries downtown. Lingles Lunch was housed in an old street car painted green. As the scent of those hot dogs with chili wafted down the street, people were drawn to the street car as though by a magnet. Then Mac McGee bought the diner from Lingles. He had the street car removed and a new building erected. Mac, too, was successful. His place overflowed at lunch time.
Across the street. Lancaster Cafe was very popular for its specialty of stew beef over rice.
There were two theaters downtown, the Imperial and the Parr. Going to see movies on what was considered the big screen in those days, was a popular pastime.
Knight recalls Saturday and Sunday nights were party time for Lancasterians. They parked their cars in solid lines on each side of Main Street. The stores all closed at 6 p.m. on Saturday nights. The people strolled and window-shopped and visited with one another on both of those weekend nights. The store owners and managers always strove to have their store windows enticingly displayed on those nights to tempt the strollers into returning on weekdays to shop.
Knight remembers when city police officers weren’t as strained and stressed with so much crime and drugs investigations like they are now. In the 1940s and ‘50s, police officers were assigned foot patrol on a rotating schedule.
Those officers would walk into the stores and chit chat while making their rounds. They were very observant of anything out of order in the stores, on the streets and back alleys.
They also made rounds at night, checking store doors, back and front. It was a service and a camaraderie of law and businesses that can never be again in these rapidly changing times.
Main Street, Lancaster, was the only place to shop with the exception of Midway near Springs Cotton Mill. Knight thinks at one time Springs employees could shop at those stores, using Springs vouchers and settle their accounts on payday.
I asked Knight to share some tidbits concerning stores and owners on Main Street in those earlier years, other than the eateries he had already spoken of.
“At my age that takes some pondering to jog my memory,” Knight said, laughing.
After some thought, Knight came up with the following:
Williams Drugstore also housed the Greyhound bus station. Dixie Home, a grocery store, later became a Winn Dixie Store and was moved from Main Street. There were only two liquor stores in Lancaster. One of those was on Main Street and was owned by Edward Hursh.
The Bank of Lancaster was the oldest bank in this area. It, too, was on Main Street. The loft area housed the Opera House and was used to put on plays, concerts and dances. In later years, the loft became headquarters for The National Guard.
Brigman Cafe was on Main Street, but the food was cooked in the basement and sent up to street level by dumbwaiter.
Mr. Funderburk’s barber shop was one of a kind, too. Mr. Funderburk also owned a cattle ranch. On occasion when he was very busy with the barber chair occupied and others waiting their turn, he would receive word that one or more of his cows were out of the fenced area. Mr. Funderburk would promptly close the shop and say to his customers, “Sorry, boys, but I’ve got a cow to catch.”
Mr. Edward ran a hardware store and he had his own style of how to run a business. If a customer came in and found an item that was difficult to find and if that customer said, “I’m glad you carry this item. It’s hard to find anywhere I’ve been.” Mr. Edward would promptly say, “Hand it back to me. I’ll put it back on display, but it’s not for sale.”
There was a clothing store on Main Street named the Gold Shop. The store wasn’t locally owned, but the name was unusual for this area.
We had only one actual shoe store in Lancaster and it was owned by Bailey-Rowell.
McConnell-Myers, a clothing store, once ran an advertisement that proved very popular as well as hilarious, although not intended to be. Knight said he remembers the ad ran in The Lancaster News either in 1950 or 1951. The ad read, “Ladies slips half off. Panties way down.”
The upstairs floors of most downtown buildings were rented out to doctors, dentists, attorneys, insurance companies, etc. Springs Customer Service occupied the upstairs area over most of the stores on the right side of Main Street.
There were many other stores on the two business blocks of Main Street.
Following a time of service in the Armed Services, Knight returned home and went to work for L.B. Woodley at Woodley Men’s Clothing. Knight worked for Mr. Woodley until 1955 when he went to work for J.C. Penny on the corner of Main and Arch streets.
Knight worked for Penny’s until 1970 when he bought out Robinson clothing. He opened Knight’s Men/Ladies’ Clothing. While still owning the clothing store.
Knight opened the Shoe Peddler. He eventually sold the clothing store and kept the Shoe Peddler where he remains today.
“Main Street merchants of the 1940’s and 1950’s were to me like having two city blocks of parents and/or siblings to me. I have spent most of my waking hours for the last 68 years since I was 11 years old right here on these two city blocks,” Knight said, smiling. “Most of the stores that were here in those years are gone now. Most of those merchants are gone, too.”
Main Street and its sidewalks have been given a make over, but the old buildings remain mostly the same, except for a few that have been demolished.
Most of the current businesses are entirely different from those that used to line Main Street. Main Street is in the process of merchants and customers adapting to the changes time brings as Main Street marches on.
Rosemary Whitlock is a Lancaster County resident.