Christmas Shopping, Downtown
The five-year-old could barely contain himself as he rode with his sister in the back seat of the 1951 Plymouth: their parents were taking them Christmas Shopping!
There were no seatbelts in the car—those laws would come later—and the floorboards were already rotten from the salty New England winter roads. Father had shored up the Plymouth’s floor with pieces of plywood, but here and there, the boy could watch the road passing by beneath him, and he found this intriguing.
There was no shopping mall on the Post Road as of yet—ground would be broken there in 1960 on a large tract of marshy land. For now, shopping was done on Campbell Avenue, or “downtown” in New Haven.
Interstate 95 would not open until the next year, so the family drove from Kelsey Avenue to Elm Street, and crossed the humming drawbridge onto Kimberly Avenue. When they passed Union Station, the boy knew that they were almost there.
They parked the Plymouth on Chapel Street—there were no parking garages back then—and walked to the entrance of the old Malley’s at the corner of Chapel and Temple Streets. A couple of hours were happily consumed among the polished glass display cases, before they posed for a photo with Santa Claus.
Next, they crossed Church Street and had lunch in one of the five-and-ten cent stores. The boy liked to eat his grilled cheese sandwich at the counter, where he could watch the soda jerk mix his drink: a couple of pumps of syrup went into the glass, followed by a “jerk” on the lever that dispensed the carbonated water. If the boy had been good that morning, a scoop of ice cream landed on top of the mix.
After lunch, they continued down Chapel Street, stopping in the little shops, and finally arriving at the place that the boy had been anxiously waiting for: Shartenberg’s Department Store at the corner of Chapel Street and State Street.
Shartenberg’s had six floors of shopping space, and on one of the upper floors was a most magical place called Toyland. In there, a child could “fish” for his or her surprise gift, which was wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine. The fishing rods had a small wire “hook” on the end of the line; each child would catch their gift by hooking the twine. Then there was a trip through Toyland on a large scale-model New Haven Railroad train. And finally, Santa Claus again! The boy couldn’t understand how Santa could work in two stores at once—he certainly was magical! He told Santa that he wanted an American Flyer train that puffed real smoke when it went around the track.
When they left Shartenberg’s the sun had set; it was cold and crisp out on the sidewalk and the lights were lit on the Christmas Tree on the Green; around the periphery of the Green, other Christmas lights glowed warmly.
It had been a wonderful day! As they drove home, the boy was getting sleepy, so he laid his head upon the armrest; as he drifted off to sleep, he wondered why Christmas couldn’t last all year long.