Selma citizens remember S. H. Kress Co.

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 27, 2002

Many memories of the old S.H. Kress department store in downtown Selma are linked to a particular set

&045;&045; mainly, the smell of popcorn wafing from the open doors of the building and the cool air pouring out onto excited children’s legs.

From the time the building opened in 1931 to when it moved to Selma Mall in the 1960s, S.H. Kress & Co. was filled with thousands upon thousands of people purchasing everything from toiletries to toys. Many of these were children, who are now grown.

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Kress was referred to as the Wal-Mart of its time. But, while going to the superstore is commonplace now, a trip to Selma and Kress’s was something that was a special treat for families who lived outside of Selma.

It was a beautiful building and to a young child, everything in the world was within the four walls of the five, 10 and 25 cent store. Mirrors hung on the simply decorated columns and a wall of candy greeted them as they walked in the door.

Toy bins filled with boats, trains and other items sat waiting for children to touch them.

It was a magical time in an era where life seemed much simpler than it is now. And, there are those people who remember that time.

So in their own words, Selma citizens past and present remember S.H. Kress:

Kress was sponsoring a yo-yo contest for my age group. Two young men from the Philippine Islands were demonstrating Duncan Yo-yos, this was done on the sidewalk near the west side of the alley next to the Kress Building. I was amazed at what these young men could do with a yo-yo.

When my time came to show my skill I really hoped I would win a prize. Sure enough, I won second place. My prize was a single shot 22. bolt action Springfield rifle. I hunted squirrels, in season, alongside the creeks and riverbanks with my new rifle. I was a good shot.

I still have and cherish this prize won in front of the S.H. Kress building. It stays locked in a gun cabinet and has not been used for over 50 years.

Every time I walk in front of the old Kress building it brings back memories.&uot;

“As a small child, I remember the S.H. Kress store when I went downtown to shop with my mother and daddy. I was a country girl come to town in 1952 and Selma was a Bigggggg place to me. I definitely remember that in the Kress store there were water fountains labeled “Colored” and “White,” and restrooms, too, I think. It bothered me. I remember the oiled wooden floors, dark stained and gritty at times.

I remember the counters that ran from front to back alongside the walls to the right and left as you entered the front doors and the aisles that separated the counters that ran perpendicular to the ones along the sides. The aisles that ran from front to back might have racks of merchandise in them, but the aisles running from left to right the front half of the store did not have merchandise in them. I remember especially the jewelry aisle!

It was along the left wall of the store.

Their jewelry was kinda cheap stuff – mother let us get long dangly earrings from there to wear at Halloween when we were gypsies. She bought packages of yellow and black crepe paper, packaged like the tissue paper we buy today, from there and made us dresses for Halloween!

When I was a teenager, my second job at Christmas was working at S.H. Kress &Co. I felt so grownup. It was the first time clock I ever punched! The place we left our belongings was up a long flight of stairs in the back of the store on the left past the water fountains. I worked the jewelry aisle some and also the sewing notions aisle. On the jewelry aisle, it was fun to help children pick out pins for mothers and teachers as Christmas gifts.”

“My mother worked at Kress in the early 50s. There was a little balcony, toward the back, between the first and second floor. I always like to go up there and look out over all of the people shopping blew. But, my favorite memory was at Christmas. She would take me upstairs to watch the parade from the second floor window. I had the best spot on Broad Street to view the parade.”

“The peanuts. I remember the fresh, warm spanish peanuts with the skin.

Fifteen scents worth was all I would get and that was a plenty.

They were great!

“I remember the first time I shopped at Kress’s with my mother. I was six years old and there was one water fountain for colored and the other for white. I was really thirsty and I wanted some cold water, so I drunk out of the white fountain.”

“The front area was our jewelry department. It’s where I started working in ’40. We had about three sales people behind each counter and you paid for what you bought right there. We had cash registers on each counter. The old manual kind, you know, the ones that broke all your fingernails. No credit cards, no tax, no sales tax. If it cost a dime, you paid a dime and that was it. You got $1.50 per day. At that time, a lot of men were being paid $5 a week, so if you had a job at Kress, you had a good job. I was the assistant manager of this store when I left here in 1950 and then I worked at different stores all over the southeast.”

“I was a little country girl and we didn’t go to town often. I was going to town at Christmas time and it was almost like a fantasy world. My mother would give my brother and I a dollar apiece. We’d go in and get a box of handkerchiefs for 25 cents apiece. It was something we looked forward to all year. They didn’t have any air conditioning. They had the big ceiling fans. It was just so much a big part of our lives. All through the years, it never lost the magic it held for me.”

“I remember coming in as a child and barely being able to see into the toy bins. I remember being in the yo-yo contest and I was doing really well, but my yo-yo broke halfway through.”

“They had the most beautiful display of cosmetics that Mama bought and I would go in and say, ‘Ooo, it smells so good!’ It was always very nicely put, the displays, everything about Kress’s was. You could see what you needed and wanted and you didn’t have to ask for it. There was somebody there all the time to take your money.”