Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas with the Mayor

Jeff Stork remembers the holidays in Flint with his father, Robert...

One of the happiest recollections of Flint was holiday shopping with my father. In those days, and we are talking pre-energy crisis late sixties and early seventies, my little hometown was a prosperous place where the factories hummed along producing luxurious Buick Electras and shiny Chevy pickups, and a thriving downtown with prosperous merchants supplied the locals with their shopping needs.

The holiday season kicked off with the Glitterball. It was the glam party of the season, hosted by the University Club atop the Penthouse of the Genesee Towers. From the giant picture windows, one would look down nineteen stories onto the prosperous community below. Mom would spent a month making sure her holiday ensemble was "just so", even having her mink stole glazed beforehand (in those innocent, pre-PETA days).

Dad was a partner in a prominent CPA firm downtown and almost all of the local merchants were clients of his, so going shopping was downtown like visiting one endless holiday party with old friends. I nicknamed him the "Mayor of Flint," long before that would imply the felony convictions and sordid background that recent mayors have had.

We had a fabulous time. We'd start at James, Inc, the downtown men's store where Jim McLogan would offer me hot cider. Dad would have a glass of champagne at Betty Richards while choosing a smart suit dress or sweater ensemble for mother. From there we'd work Saginaw Street- drop in on the Goldsteins at Roberts David Alan for cookies, see the Hoyts at Harry's Camera and even check out Greenblatt's Furs. Lunch at the Masonic Temple was part of the ritual. We were treated like royalty every where we went. Every store had lights and holiday treats and friendly people to meet.

Of course it all started to change with the opening of Genesee Valley, the first major suburban shopping mall in 1970. Downtown retailers tried to hold on, many opened suburban satellite locations that in time replaced the originals, and by the eighties it was a pale imitation of itself.

But in the innocent days of my childhood, nothing could hold a candle to Christmas Shopping downtown with my own "Mayor of Flint".

Thanks, Dad.


  1. Thanks for sharing your recollections, Jeff. Good stuff!

  2. NOTHING beat downtown for shopping at any time of year, though Christmas was the best. I always got excited about it - separate trips with my mom and my dad, each of which had all its own flavor to it and always involved lunch somewhere. I can remember walking between my mom and dad or my mom and my older sister and every time we'd come to a crossing where the slush might get deep they'd lift me up and swing me over it so the water didn't seep into my galoshes, and I thought that was the best thing. I also remember spending a lot of time with my mom at Smith B's, a shop that sold silver, china and jewelry (seemed like we always bought wedding gifts there) and especially at the Vogue,though by the time I was big enough to fit into the Vogue's stuff the only remaining store was at the Valley and I'd moved on to combat boots (not exactly Vogue couture). You're right, Jeff, the mall and that burgeoning big-box mentality pretty much sealed it for most downtown retailers back then. Glad to know I'm not the only one who remembers it fondly!

  3. Your yuletide stroll with your father recalls many places I loved to go to with mine. Lunch at the Masonic Temple was one of my favorites. As a mother raising a family alone I would take my teen age son to James Inc. to be outfitted for important events. Jim treated him as if he was the most important customer he had.My son was in high school and under Jim's style guidance fast became the "king of preppies" at Powers Catholic.
    Oh,by the way his name is Gordon Young.....remind you of anyone?

  4. Mom, I think the king of preppies was a kid named Mark "Sparky" Sanford.

    My two favorite places to buy gifts for my family as a kid were Little Pleasures — which sounds a bit like a strip club but was a great little jewelry/gift shop place near downtown — and Spencer's, which was sort of a pseudo head shop type place back then. I just liked it because they had a huge black light poster section.

  5. Oh, Spencer's hee hee Wasn't that in the Eastland Mall? They had naughty stuff in Spencer's ... or so I've heard.

  6. I should have mentioned that The University Club was about my favorite spot on Earth- I thought it was so elegant. The black leather doors, the thick carpeting, the waiters in red jackets, and the fantastic views.

    I loved looking down on the city and watching all of the traffic going by.

    It was there that I first learned that police cars have numbers on their roofs. I was eight years old.

  7. I remember only a couple things about downtown when I was little. I remember my mom cursing that there was no parking (that's why the mall succeeded, free parking, no parking tickets). I remember being cold walking from store to store. I remember getting a candy bar at Bakers Drugs. I remember a book store with a spiral staircase.

    When I got older, I remember hearing about partys at the shoe store. I never went but a friend of mine did.

    I remember meeting Gordy and wondering "who is this preppie guy?" I remember Mark Sanford... but wasn't he younger?

    I remember the university club. That was a pretty nice place. If that building ever gets razed, my favorite view of the city from that bridge that gets you from 475 to I69 west will be gone. Maybe if I can slow the car down enough, I'll take a picture of it when I'm home next week.... or maybe not. :)

  8. What was the name of the old German fellow that owned the hobby shop? Mom took me there once in her green 1971 Cadillac.

    He saw the car at the meter and started ragging on how he didn't like Cadillacs, that the only good thing about them is that people had jobs making them.

    She never took me back there.

  9. Summertime was a close second to Christmastime for shopping in downtown Flint. Before everyone's life took off like a rocket in the 80's a trip down Saginaw Street could actually be fun. Today's fast paced kids would never believe a kid in the late 50's or early 60's could get excited by a trip to a downtown anywhere let alone in Flint. School would let out for the year in June and mom would take me downtown (on a bus no less) to Rettkes Garden Center or Kresge's to buy a fresh pair of gold fish, a miniture turtle, or a parakeet; and then top off the trip by stopping at Schippakassie's (sp?) Candy Store next to the River for a bag of roasted peanuts before going home. Life was slow, nerdy, but had its happy moments back then before adulthood and responsibility set in.

  10. Yikes! Flashback...Kresge's goldfish in a bag...turtles in a box...joys of childhood short-lived.

  11. GY the preppie....hehehehe!
    Spencer's was a wannabe headshop, sold a lot of just plain weird stuff,i.e. "Bridgett" gets dressed puzzles, blacklight bulbs, posters, and tshirts. I don't remember any zigzag papers, bongs or one hitters. That was a good post on the University Club-the view, etc.. The waiters had changed to waitresses, and no red jackets by the time I was there, but that view was to die for. Shame if that building goes down. I fixed dinner for Pearl Bailey up there one time. She went way down in my favorites list by refusing to sign ANY autographs for the Black staff. ex-Prez. Jimmy Carter wanted to dine there, but the Secret Service wouldn't allow it, 'cause of the windows. And it was Great Fun to hit Town to shop. My Sisters always brightened when they saw a Smith B's box stashed under Ma's bed. I remember that I'd always smell carmel corn in that part of downtown...Oh, and Gillian? Spencers did sell, uh...ladies "accoutrements"...lonely ladies, that is.


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