Alice Goes Shopping in 1930's Athens
By Anne Adams
Today we shop for clothing or other personal items at a local big box store, maybe at a smaller locally-owned shop or also in Tyler. Yet many years ago most Athenians did their major shopping in the downtown area, often around the courthouse square where local merchants offered both necessities and luxuries.
So to see what this might have been like, let’s go back a few years to 1930 and follow Alice, a fictitious homemaker as she goes shopping for clothes for her family.
Let’s suppose that Alice and her husband, a local attorney, had three children and they needed new clothes so she decided to try out the newly opened Athens Fair Store that advertised in the April 10, 1930, Athens Weekly Review.
The story was located on the south side of the square in what was called the Allison Building, next to the Deen Hotel (now a bank). So what would she find? According to the ad: “The opening of the Athens Fair Store …will make history in the merchandising field in Athens and Henderson County…“ Also, the notice advertised that they were determined to sell “high-class dependable merchandise at a low price.”
Since her husband needed new shirts, Alice noticed the advertized price was 69 cents, though the usual price was a dollar. However, once she saw them the realized that these were work shirts, not the type that an attorney might wear in an office or in court. These she found at a higher price - $1.29.
Her son needed trousers, and she found some advertised as “made of fabrics that will prove entirely satisfactory and from many patterns to choose from. These are regular $3 values. Our opening price - $2.15.” Alice purchased both the better quality shirts and the trousers.
Since like many other Athens women, Alice sewed many of the family’s clothing, she checked out the fabric department. There was quite a selection of material, including what was advertised as “Special – 36-inch Prints and Gingham, an assortment consisting of beautiful harmonizing color schemes and guaranteed fast color.” Just 15 cents a yard. Or she could choose what the ad called “A Lucky Purchase” – obtained from their “New York buyers” who had sent them “two amazing values.” Thirty-six-inch organdies, “fancy and solid colors – the 35 cent kind” - just 10 cents a yard.
No, Alice thought, she’d wait on that but she did turn to the shoe department since her daughter needed new footwear. She found what the ad called “Children’s Play Oxfords… a serviceable oxford for those who are hard on shoes” – and that certainly described her daughter. Just $1.59 – sizes 8 ½ to 2. Just what she needed.
While in that department, she also checked out some women’s shoes – advertised as “in a varied selection of heels and vamps in patents and kids. Slippers you will see priced at $4.85 elsewhere…” their price was $2.85. Alice looked them all over but failed to find anything appealing. Then she turned to the women’s department.
There she found housedresses “in an assortment of designs and patterns that please.” But just two for a dollar – as long as they lasted. Or there were “Ladies Print Frocks” “artistically designed color schemes are sublime – colors are absolutely guaranteed.” Priced between 98 cents and $1.29. Or how about all silk ladies’ hose? Just 89 cents. No, Alice decided, deferred on this.
Alice paid for her purchases and made a mental note to return, but then just a few months later she noticed an ad in the October 23, 1930, Athens Weekly Review that revealed that the Athens Fair Store would soon be history. After about five months of business came the announcement that “The Fair Store’s Close-Out Sale is still going on…” And all merchandise “ must be sold regardless of cost.”
But that didn’t affect Alice since she knew there were similar department stores in Athens.
And maybe that’s why the Athens Fair Store failed. After all, it was 1930, in the midst of the Great Depression, and also Athens’ commercial competition possibly contributed to the failure.