The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.
If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or email@example.com to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
By Karen E. Livsey
An assortment of boxes from some well-known clothing retail shops in downtown Jamestown are part of the holiday exhibit, “Dear Santa ...” at the Fenton History Center.
As the Christmas shopping season is drawing to a close, visitors to the Fenton History Center will find reminders of past Christmas shopping in one of the exhibits. Along with winter hats and accessories are a number of boxes from local stores. Many of these stores were mainstays in the local economy, and everyone was happy to unwrap a present and find the box had one of these store names on it.
Bigelow's began as Abrahamson-Bigelow in 1900 on North Main Street. Convinced that Third Street would be the place to be in the near future, Charles Abrahamson built the Chadakoin Building. Built in 1906, only the first two floors were occupied by the Abrahamson-Bigelow Department store in the beginning. Eventually all six floors, the basement and an annex were filled with goods for the shoppers. Many readers will remember riding the escalator there and the pneumatic tube system that whisked away the cash or the store credit card and returned the receipt.
Nelson's Department Store, which operated from 1920 to 1952, was located on Second Street for many years. This store also carried clothing and items for the home. Carnahan's was a men's clothing store, which in later years carried clothing for women. One men's store of longevity, Lander's, is still on North Main Street.
Candy, always a favorite at Christmastime, was locally made by various companies in town. Chautauqua Candies was an early favorite, located along Second Street. Two other names still exist. Betty Dixon Candies were for many years located on Sixth Street with retail outlets on Third Street and on Fluvanna Avenue. After relocating to Lakewood, the business was purchased by a company in the Buffalo area that still makes candy under the Betty Dixon name. The other candy company store was Peterson's Corn Crib, located at the corner of Third and Pine. It has since moved to Busti, where candy is still made, including Polka Grisa, the Swedish mints which are still a part of Swedish Christmas.
Ladies' clothing stores in Jamestown offered shoppers a wide variety of styles and prices. Nord's (1926 to 1993) and Lucies' (1936 to 1993) were two stores represented in our exhibit by dress boxes. Because Bigelow's and Nelson's sold a variety of items and clothing, there are a number of sizes of boxes from those stores.
There were fewer stores for men's ready-made clothing. The Fenton History Center does not have a box from Carnahan's, but there is one box from The Printz Co. (1916 to 1978) with their slogan, "He'll like it more from a men's store."
As an example of change in stores over the years, consider these numbers:
In 1896, Jamestown had 10 custom clothing stores, seven ready-made stores and 128 dressmakers.
In 1926, there were 21 ready-made stores and 56 dressmakers.
In 1956, there were 38 ready-made stores and 12 dressmakers.
In 1986, there were 18 ready-made stores and two dressmakers, plus 11 ready-made stores at the Chautauqua Mall.
The Fenton is collecting stories from those who worked at or had family and friends who worked at the downtown retail stores, especially the well-known names in this article. If you would like your information in the archives, please either call 664-6256 or send your written story to the Fenton History Center, 67 Washington St., Jamestown, NY 14701.
Merry Christmas from the Fenton History Center staff and volunteers, and we hope you were able to shop locally.
The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County's history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.
Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.
If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.