Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Christmas will be upon us in a week or so. Before the Grinch takes hold of me I would like to share a memory or two of Christmas past. Whether we want to admit it or not many of our fondest holiday stories are retail related. Christmas, children and retail have gone hand in hand since some enterprising retailer first donned a Santa suit. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and although Cleveland has been a national joke since our river burned, it was a very different place when I was a child. Downtown Cleveland was dense with varied retail and a Christmas shopping trip was a much anticipated event Cleveland's three major holiday decor musts were; Halle Brothers, Higbee's and Sterling Linder Davis. My maternal grandfather spent his entire working life at Halle's and both my mother and her sister did sales stints there as well. Even though Halle's was the highest end in Cleveland [and my family was not] we were loyal customers, due to the employee discount which my mother took full advantage of. Halle's always had the edge on its competitors at the holidays, due largely to their Santa's right hand man. A month before Christmas Cleveland's most famous holiday ambassador would start appearing on television after the local news, MR. JING A LING, a brilliant advertising concept. Upon reflection he was sort of an info-mercial, living advent calendar, talk show host. As I remember he would interview children with a jovial Dickensesque abandon that works so well at Christmas and promise his transfixed audience, [me and my sister] a key to Halle's seventh floor toy dept. Hence his name, the sound of keys he always carried on his arm..The song is still ringing my mind some 50 years later.......

Mr Jing a Ling how you ring a ling..keeper of the keys

On Halle's seventh floor....We'll be waiting for you to turn the key

Higbees had the famous Twigbee shop,[for children only] and served childrens meals in little cardboard toy stoves, Sterlings had the city's tallest tree and Francis the talking mule, Halle's trumped them all. The great department stores are gone now, but the success of their Christmas efforts have become legend in the minds of many.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Jing a Ling was Pam Keyes' dad and he passed away not long ago (I think within the last few years-my folks sent me the obit). Who could forget that song?

    I also had my stint at Halle's (pre Higbee's).

    I don't know if you remember Francis the talking mule. A present would come down this slide out of his mouth. I think he was at Higbee's downtown. Our family went downtown on my sister Linda's birthday (December 11th) every year and visited Francis and Sterling Linder and viewed every wonderful window (and they were all amazing). I remember sloshing around in boots down always wet Cleveland streets with all of the lights and buses and Santa bells. It was always magical. Last year my little sister's (Karen)family and I flew in to Cleveland the day after Christmas and took Mom and Dad down to Tower City and drove around the square. It just isn't the same.
    My daughter worked at Twigbee's in Tower City her senior year ('94). That was an awesome marketing idea.

    We toasted in the new year last year like it was a scary premonition. Let's hope this year is better.