Christmas on the Avenue

Special to Northeast News
December 25, 2013

I don’t know about you, but it seems the older I get the more I remember pleasant moments from my youth. One of those memories centers on Christmas time in the old neighborhoods where I grew up.

We lived a block or two off “The Avenue” in Northeast Kansas City when I was growing up, and during the holiday season the place was a virtual winter wonderland – even if it wasn’t snowing. Decorations were hung along the streets and on every telephone pole – giant silver bells and wreaths of holly with lights that welcomed all comers. On one of the corners there was always a red-suited Santa ringing the bell in front of a Salvation Army kettle ready with a hearty “Merry Christmas” and a huge smile.

The “dime store” (T,G&Y) was always filled with folks scurrying around to complete their Christmas shopping. The scent of fresh popcorn filled the air and holiday songs sung by Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir served as background music for the choreography taking place on the old wooden floor – floors worn by years and years of foot traffic. The aisles were stacked high with everything from holiday decorations to iced Christmas tree cookies and ribbon candy, and from toys and clothes to hand mixers and cookie pans. There was a special section displaying Christmas books and record albums (the vinyl ones, remember?), and you could also find snow shovels, ice scrapers, and a limited collection of winter coats and boots.

One of my favorite spots was over in that out-of-the-way corner where the musical instruments were displayed. Usually the shelf included a small set of drums, one acoustic and one electric six-string guitar, a bass guitar of some sort, and a flute or trumpet or clarinet – just to even things out. Who knows, my buddy Rich may even have seen a saxophone or two standing there when he was younger.

Some years – at least for one day of the season – the store managed to sneak one of those department store Santas into a corner somewhere. If I remember correctly, the kids standing in line to get a chance to present their wish lists found it hard to keep still and to wait their turn. I’m guessing the fresh popcorn made the wait more tolerable.

Across the street, diagonally from the dime store, was a big neighborhood drug store. Parkview Drugs was one of those places that again offered everything a person might want or need for the holiday season. In fact, things were packed in there so tightly one could hardly get around without knocking something over (at least I could hardly get around without knocking something over).

A couple of doors up from the dime store there was a jewelry store, a small restaurant, and a movie theater. During the holiday season these businesses did a lot of business, as did the Western Auto and the grocery store, both located across on the north side of the street. The lunch counters at a couple of small cafes were also jammed during those holiday shopping days.

When I think back to the sights and sounds of Christmas time on The Avenue, it is with fond memories of those “magical days” gone by. Many of us folks from the old neighborhood found everything we needed within that couple of blocks. It was the precursor to the shopping mall, but it seemed a lot more personal – and it was a lot happier place.

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