Dec 17, 2012

Christmas Past In Allentown

For over a century, before Allentown was a hole charging your credit card for tickets to a yet to be built hockey arena, it was a holiday destination. Shoppers from near and far would flock to Hamilton Street, where merchants fulfilled their every expectation. This post chronicles the golden era of that street. By the early 1950's, our major department stores were operated by the second generation owners. Max Hess Jr. become a merchandizer of national reputation. His store windows presented displays as sophisticated as any major city. One holiday novelty exists to this day, Pip The Mouse, and can be seen at Zion Church. The fourth floor toy department had eye popping, life sized, automated stuffed animals from Germany. Needless to say, Santa Claus was on duty at Hess's. Families had their favorite department store. While my mother patronized Hess's, others were loyal to Leh's and Zollingers. Although I'm sure that their Christmas displays were also top notch, I have no personal memories. While we now charge citizens to drive through a park with lights, downtowns used to compete with attractive displays. Allentown was famous for the Bell Lights on our iconic light posts, which would rock back and forth, as if ringing. Although times have changed, this blog will remind those few who remember.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes Leh's and Zollingers had window displays but as I recall Hess's always had them beat. Hess's 4th floor toys was the 'Toys R Us' of the day! I remember the excitement as a child going up that ramp to the extended toy area.

And those iconic swinging bell Christmas decorations from the light poles were almost as unique as the lights in Hershey. Surely there was another city or town who had them but no where close.

Frank

Bethlehem Native said...

Zollingers closed when I was very young, but I remember Leh's and Hess's. Even in the early 80's, Hess's toy department was pretty sweet to an eight year old. It's amazing to me how quickly fortunes can change in the retail business. Hess's boomed the mid 80's, but within 5 years of its peak, the company was in serious trouble.

Anonymous said...

Witwer Jones, THE sporting goods store in the valley....Wetherhold & Metzger, where everyone went to buy school shoes....and Hi Fi Pizza Pie, best pizza around - we made our parents take us there every time we went into Allentown.

It really was the place to be.

Anonymous said...

The beauty of the Hess's and the downtown Allentown experience will only exist in our memories and at the movies.

Those shoulder-to-shoulder, bag- toting sidewalk crowds won't happen again . . . .

even WITH the arena.

Anonymous said...

Former resident,

It was safe to walk to Hamilton Street, even for a 10 year old, from any number of areas, even at night. It's not safe even on Hamilton Street now.
Along with the three department stores, Witwer & Jones, the Peanut Store, C Leslie Smith, Whelan's, etc.,, etc., we didn't need to have the nightmare of driving to a Mall

Liz Hirst Downing said...

Loved Hess's as a child. So fancy, with the chandeliers and countertops. And such a treat to go with Aunt Loretta to the Patio Restaurant, eat an egg salad sandwich and get Yum Yum the clown dessert. That was the best. The window displays were so classy and Christmas was the best. Never failed to stop by Hi Fi Pizza Pie for the best pizza ever created. Remember all the rules posted inside? No sitting at tables without ordering pizza. No drink only, must buy pizza. Etc. would have been a better Seinfeld episode than the soup nazi. Grandmother lived at 8th and Linden and uncle Frank ran the parking lots behind Hess's, I remember when it was just a lot, then the big parking deck for built.

michael molovinsky said...

liz, not sure how you came to comment on a post over a year old, but i knew some of your family, among others, mike who operated the lot on 8th by hi fi pizza, later the lot on 7th behind the bank. and pat, who flew hang gliders.