Woolson’s Too

Service with a Smile

Post-war and mid-twentieth century America was a time of prosperity and rising affluence in Mount Vernon, yet there was a flexibility in the management of small town stores like Rudin’s that supported the feeling of goodwill. One day in Woolson’s General Store, in the next block up from Rudin’s, my mother held my seven-year-old hand as we looked at the shiny kitchen utensils organized in crocks on the oak wooden counters. Picking up a hand mixer with a handle trimmed in aqua blue Lucite, she casually mentioned that she really liked that egg beater. I loved the way the blades whirred when she turned the crank. The price was $5, worth five long weeks of my allowance. To a little girl who worshipped her mother, this was a revelation worth remembering. After we were home and my mother was out of hearing, I asked my father for the money so I could buy my mother a Christmas present. I admit that I had a certain privilege and did not want for much, although I had, through frowns and raised eyebrows, seen the limits to that privilege.
In 1955 a seven-year old could wander the stores alone, and that’s what I did the next time my mother and I went shopping. I “ditched” my mother, headed straight for Woolson’s and that blue handled egg beater. With the $5 dollar bill in my hand I picked up the egg beater and triumphantly made my way to the cash register to pay. Mr. Woolson wrote up the sale on a little pad with carbon paper between the white and yellow layers. Eye level with the cash register I watched him punch the key that made “$5” pop up in the glass window of the cash register. My pride of a completed sale turned to horror as I watched him punch “tax” then “.15” which also popped in the window. He calmly announced, “That will be five dollars and 15 cents, please.” I froze with the five dollar bill in my hand and just stared at the cash register. With a sinking heart and rising embarrassment, I whispered, “This is all I have.” That dear man hesitated then said, “Oh, that’s OK”, pushed a button that made a drawer open with a cha-ching sound, and he placed my treasured bill in the metal drawer. My “thank you” was soft, but my heart pounded loudly with my good fortune. I have that egg beater now, and every time I look at it, I remember Don Woolson’s willingness to forgo some sales tax because a little girl didn’t know to have it.

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About Patti Albaugh

I grew up in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1965. I have a Bachelor's Degree from Mount Vernon Nazarene University and a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. I am an Emeritus Professor at Otterbein University. In addition to writing creative nonfiction and fiction, I like bridge, genealogy, gardening, travel and Mah Jjong. I currently live in Tucson, Arizona, with my dog Tonto. I am the proud parent of children Justin and Amy and the proud grandmother (NANA) of granddaughters Katherine and Zoe.
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2 Responses to Woolson’s Too

  1. Bill Muto says:

    The stories about old fashioned department stores evoked some powerful memories of my own generally misspent youth. The local stores downtown were places we’d meet up when we were skipping school or planning some juvenile, asocial act like shoplifting (nothing we wanted, just a dare to see who could get away with it), riding the escalators up and down the wrong way, laughing at the old lady shoppers, and eating hamburgers or having a cherry soda at the small lunch counters.

    There were three department stores in Rochester, the biggest had-you name it: a grocery/dry goods department, several floors of men, women and childrens’ clothing, kitchen stuff, furniture, a tea room up top (where the really old ladies went), a watch repair service, the lay away department, bargain basement downstairs and a toy department. This store also had a music department where you could go into little booths and sample a record, usually leaving it scratched but put back in the rack in supposedly pristine condition.

    All the stores always had special Christmas displays in their huge front windows. One of the biggest thrills when we were little and mom would take us downtown on the bus, was the annual Santa Claus visit and the specially decorated, dark tunnel they put up in the basement. It had a little train going around inside with these snowy, wonderland scenes, like a life like diorama. It eventually came out of the tunnel and wound up where Santa was enthroned. The colors, the giant, garlanded trees all over the store and the Christmas music, a lot of it new to the ear then like Silver Bells. It was exciting and obviously a memorable time for me.

    The smallest of the stores had just about everything too, but on a smaller scale, like maybe two floors and a really bargain basement. I think it was called Neisner’s. This store had an unusual area right off the short order counter. It was a sheet music section where a nice old lady would play on an old upright piano any song that was on the racks along the wall behind her. At the time, in my early high school years I fancied myself a pianist who wanted to be a cross between Rubenstein and Liberace. You see, I found out in high school that I could really be popular, especially with the girls and get invited to all the parties when I played the piano. Anything of this nature was discouraged at the Catholic grade school I had recently come from. Any fraternizing with the opposite sex was not God like. And you knew that He saw everything you did, including those things you did all the time by yourself that you confessed to the priest every Friday after school. You promised not to do it again but soon lapsed until the next week’s confession. I’m losing my train of thought. But basically, I loved playing the piano after school in the auditorium where the girls would hang out asking me to play one thing or another. So I would go to this little department store with the nice old lady and ask her to play things I wanted to play like Crying In the Chapel or That’s Amore, so I could stir up the girls back in the conveniently low lit auditorium. I can see myself asking her to play this or that for long perionds of time and making a general pain in the ass of myself. I envied her ability to sight read anything put in front of her. But she was so sweet and accommodating, and, she inspired me to practice more. I will always remember her. I hope she’s sampling tunes for the angels up in that big department store in the sky and who knows, maybe I’ll run into her some day and we can play duets. I hope they have a decent piano.

    I wonder if there were other stores around at that time that featured little ladies sampling sheet music for the shoppers

    • We didn’t have a piano, or the sweet elderly lady at a keyboard, but Rudin’s did publish several Christmas Carol books. I’d like to think that families gathered around their own pianos and belted out “We Three Kings” with gusto! Thank you for sharing your downtown department store memories (as well as how we girls were lured to the flame!).

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