Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Sign of the Times

The older we get, the more we seem to reflect on holidays past. So this Easter, I am reminded of the Easters of my childhood - which always required a new dress, hat, gloves, and shoes for my sister and me. The ensemble was usually purchased at Condon's Department Store on the corner of King and Warren Streets. (And then on Easter, multiple pictures were taken of my sister, mother and me in front of the gargantuan azalea bushes in our front yard.) Condon's, one of Charleston's first "department stores," was run by a local family. And on the off-chance that you couldn't find what was needed there, you could always visit Kerrison's, another locally run business several blocks south in the "downtown" district. (Condon's was uptown.) Both of these businesses have been closed for years due to the popularity of "mall" shopping leading to mass evacuation of stores in the city. Only a few of the old family-run businesses have remained: Berlin's Menswear (where my daddy got all his suits), Dumas (where I bought my first pair of blue jeans in the 1970s), and Croghan's Jewel Box (where my husband and I picked out my diamond engagement ring almost three decades ago) are some of those that are still around. And after approximately 30 years of hanging on for dear life, these businesses have finally been able to reap the rewards of a resurgence of interest in King Street as a shopping district. What is amusing to newcomers (and sentimental for old-timers) is that many of the businesses of yesteryear may be gone but some semblance of them remains on the buildings themselves. A Thai restaurant sports the sign for Robinson's Bicycle Shop (complete with a bicycle on top of it). Chase Furniture's sign sits on the facade of what is now the Charleston School of Law. Edwards' Five and Dime, Bluesteins Apparel, Dixie Furniture, and Abrams Menswear are but a few of the others who have found new identities today but whose names are still on the buildings. Take a stroll along King, particularly in the "Upper King Street District" north of Calhoun Street, and see how many clues you can find of the businesses that came before. And be reminded that Charlestonians' desire and longing for the past are what make it so special in the present.

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