It’s easy to think that the way things are is the way things will always be.
Or maybe we learned a little something while navigating our way through the global pandemic that impacted almost every area of our lives in recent months.
One of the more sobering realizations was that a lot of small businesses, in our community and beyond, did not reopen after being compelled to close back in March in compliance with stay-at-home orders designed to prevent the spread of the virus.
With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to pick a date at random from the period just prior to the time that Spanish Flu pandemic made its way to our community, to see if any of the businesses that advertised back then are still around. So let’s take a look:
Owensboro Inquirer – June 10, 1918 – Montgomery’s Busy Store – “The Place that Undersells Them All” – offered men’s muleskin work shoes with good leather soles for $1.89; ladies’ pumps at $3.25; and children’s ankle-strap slippers with a spring heel for $1.25. I don’t know how long they stayed “busy,” or whether their prices really were lower, but at some point, they went by the wayside.
On the same page, however, is an ad for Vick’s VapoRub. With at least somewhat of an effort at truth in advertising, they acknowledged “There is no cure for asthma but relief is often brought” by their product. Do parents still rub this stuff on their kids’ chests when they have a cold, I wonder? Anyway, they are still around.
In the meantime, S.W. Anderson’s was in the midst of “Our Big June Sale.” Not only did they advertise “thrilling” prices on dress ginghams, towels, table damask and napkins, but they also promised these fine amenities: “You may have your parcels checked free, you may have free use of our telephone, you may use our writing room and supplies, you may rest in our comfortable parlors.” When was the last time a store offered you that kind of a deal? Regardless, Anderson’s stayed in business in Owensboro until 1990 (and is still missed).
Speaking of making your home a comfortable place to live, Westerfield’s Second-Hand Furniture offered self-proclaimed “bargains” – and they weren’t kidding. Iron beds were $2 and up, davenports started at $10. They were located at 210 Allen St. The brick building is still there; it’s the one with the vintage Coca-Cola sign painted on the side. But Westerfield’s faded away.
A few pages later, R.C. Hardwick enticed shoppers to his store – “the gateway to the whole world of Victrola Music.” Prices ranged from $10 to $400 … but everyone was cordially welcomed to stop in and listen to some of their favorite music for free. Technology has continued to evolve since then, but Mr. Hardwick did not.
In the meantime, those who “can’t stand the pressure of the high cost of horse feed much longer” were urged to visit the F.A. Ames Co. On the same page, Ellis Livery Stable had apparently evolved with the times and offered auto services. And while you’re at it, you could stop by the Masonic Building to talk to Weill Bros. about fire, liability and property damage insurance for your vehicle. Insurance is still a thing, but we’ve moved from complaining about the cost of hay to the price of gasoline.
In the mood for a little entertainment? The Empress Theater – now home to Theatre Workshop of Owensboro – offered a movie classified as “a spirited drama of the frontier” – “Flare Up Sal,” starring Dorothy Dalton. But if you wanted to see this, you’d better go now, because tomorrow’s feature would be Norma Talmadge in “By Right of Purchase.” Not sure either of these features would have succeeded in bringing back the crowds today.
As for those who needed a better job in order to earn enough money to pay for all these bargains, well, the classified section was loaded with “Help Wanted” ads. Two households were looking for cooks – call phone numbers 16 or 14 to apply for those – and another wanted a cook who would also serve as a house girl … but no washing would be required. This job offered “liberal wages” and an option to room in the house at 501 St. Ann St. if desired. Carpenters and laborers were needed, lured by the promise of $2.75 a day. Other employment opportunities included a sawyer for a circular saw mill and two experienced millers, promising a permanent job and position to the right men. Famous Steam Laundry ran two ads: They wanted two girls (at once!) and also two young boys to learn the business. Quick advancement was promised to the boys; no such offer was made for the girls.
And as always, the Owensboro Inquirer was looking for carrier boys.
Well, after earning all this money, and assuming you didn’t spend it all on all these marvelous items advertised, you could take what was left down to the Central Trust Company, which as of the close of business on April 11, 1918, claimed “cash on hand and due from banks” $754,059.32 – a tidy sum. Central Bank maintained a presence for many more years, until it was finally swallowed up by one of the endless bank mergers.
If your eyes grew blurry from reading all the advertisements, you could always make an appointment to visit optometrist Dr. J.C. Bethel in his office at 108 ½ West Main Street – over Public Drug Co. His ad offers only a passing reference to his profession as an “eyesight specialist,” but goes on at length with a lovely narrative extolling his dedication to his customers. “We want to serve you after we have sold you,” he said, adding: “A business – like a person – should cultivate a personality peculiar to itself. A business to be progressive must be different.”
The passing of the years has dimmed the story of how well that worked for Dr. Bethel – but it was a good philosophy then, and remains so now.
Think about that, as you read and review the businesses honored in this 2020 “Best Of” issue.
Every single one these businesses is the reflection of someone’s spirit of service to others. And now, more than ever, is your opportunity to return that gift by supporting our local businesses.