These KY Stores Were Once Huge Christmas Shopping Destinations
I wonder how many big box department stores--or department store chains that ARE NOT considered "big box"--will still be here in 40 or 50 years.
My money is on Walmart, for sure, and maybe Target. I don't think Meijer is going anywhere, either. And we may not even SHOP the same way in 40 years. We all know there was no Amazon in 1983, if that's any clue.
Back in the day--from my standpoint--going shopping was an event, and folks didn't do it as frequently as they do now. Today, we run to pick up something here or there, and we may do the same thing tomorrow or the next day. But in my youth, it was a big deal on, say, a Friday or Saturday night.
And three, four, or five decades ago, these Kentucky stores were hopping...especially at Christmastime.
Big Blue Stores
I'll begin here because the Big Blue Store at the corner of Byers Avenue and New Hartford Road was one of my dad's favorite places to shop. And we couldn't have been more thankful for its existence. Since he was such a hard person to buy for, we knew we could get lucky, fairly easily, at Big Blue. Both locations, of course, are now gone, replaced on Byers by the bingo hall and on Carter Road by Church Alive. But I did find an old Big Blue commercial from 1996 to jog some nostalgia.
Incidentally, Big Blue Stores are not totally defunct. There are a few remaining in North Carolina.
S.W. Anderson's Department Store
What is now the Owensboro Museum of Science and History was once a great monument to department stores of old--you know, the ones you see in old black & white movies like Miracle on 34th Street. And the reason I loved S.W. Anderson's so much lies mainly in its design. It was the last of the truly classic department stores in downtown Owensboro, with multiple stories to accommodate a wide variety of sections that ONE story simply could not. Plus, the wall around its parking lot, which is still there, was where we always sat for the Christmas parade. Finally, Anderson's was the GATEWAY to downtown Owensboro; we'd park in that lot, walk through the store and come out on 2nd Street where the rest of the merchants were. Great memories.
King's Department Store
This might be the closest thing we had to Walmart back in the 1970s. And my family would make a night of it when we went. King's was located where Consumer Mall is now on East 4th Street, so you know it was huge. And it had everything you would think a big box store SHOULD have. But it also had something they DON'T have anymore...a big lunch counter. And King's had AMAZING hamburgers. Seriously, if we were planning to go to King's, that's where we would also eat dinner. Alas, King's Department Store--which was based in Massachusetts--closed for good in 1984. And, if memory serves, its Owensboro store disappeared before that mass closure. Here's a news story about its College Park MD store shuttering in 1982.
Before it came to Owensboro--in Towne Square North where His Church is currently located--I had never seen a store like Service Merchandise. And I haven't seen one since. You remember, right? You'd go in, find the item you wanted, then take the item number up front where it would roll out to you on a conveyor belt. They were called "catalog showrooms" and this video is a mini-doc about their demise...or ITS demise, as I'm sure I've heard of another store that does it this way.
By the way, do a search today, and you'll learn that Service Merchandise deals exclusively in jewelry.
Kuesters Do It Center
This has been a mystery to me for a couple of decades, and I'm not talking about the hardware chain's closure, either. I'm talking about how the Owensboro store still looks like it's open to any passerby who doesn't KNOW that it's been closed for more than two decades.
The first Kuester's store opened in Evansville in 1937; it was a regional chain. The City-County Observer reminds us there were locations all over the city, in addition to the first one at Lincoln and Weinbach.
Branches later operated on Diamond Avenue, Vann Avenue, in the North Park, Fairlawn, and Lawndale shopping centers.
Owensboro's Kuester's Do It Center was as far as the chain branched out. And in 2000, after the death of founder Fred Kuester's widow, all the stores closed. And they were a blast. I can only speak for the Owensboro store, but I'm sure they were all the same. I know it's weird to call a hardware store a "blast," but I love a good hardware store. And Kuester's was one of the best because it was more than just hardware. Plus, at Christmastime, the store had an enormous toy section which led to its locally iconic holiday catchphrase, "Only Santa has more toys than Kuester's, " getting trademarked. It ultimately expired in 1996, but I bet YOU never forgot it, right?
Certainly, your parents never did. Nor, I imagine, did they forget shopping at all these popular retail establishments before they disappeared for good.
I guess of all of the above, the one I'd like most to have back would be Anderson's. What about you?
26 Images That Show How Owensboro Has Changed Over the Years
Gallery Credit: Dave Spencer
Owensboro Restaurant/Retail Wishlist
Gallery Credit: ANGEL WELSH/DAVE SPENCER/BARB BIRGY/GOOLGE STREET VIEW
Original 1960s and 1970s Ads from Owensboro's Wesleyan Park Plaza
Gallery Credit: Dave Spencer