Magical Christmas memories

By RENE’ DAY / Community Columnist

As more and more Americans choose to shop online, “Cyber Monday” has grown into one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Data from the National Retailers Association show that Cyber Monday 2017 was the largest online shopping day ever. Customers spent 6.5 billion Christmas dollars. Now, if I am truly honest – and this is certainly the season to be truthful – I will admit that the ease of shopping in my pajamas while enjoying some hot chocolate and cookies is pretty sweet.  But . . . there are consequences to such a practice.

Not too many years ago, Christmas shopping meant checking out the local shops in small towns all over Shelby County. If you are old enough to remember the “decked” retail halls, then you know what I mean. I think my ideas about the “most wonderful time of the year” were first formed by these experiences. Do you remember the Ben Franklin 5 & 10 in Montevallo? Or, how about Rochester’s Department Store right across the street? My first introduction to animatronics was the little Santa Claus snoring in his bed in the front window of Harvey Rochester’s store. I often wonder what happened to that little guy.  Marie’s Gift Shop and Klotzman’s Department Store were on the “must visit” list as well.

Or, perhaps, you shopped at Baer’s Department Store in Calera. First opened in 1898, it was a fixture on Highway 31 in downtown Calera for more than 100 years. In fact, because of its presence of place in Alabama, the district that housed Baer’s was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. I remember it best as the source of new overalls purchased annually for my grandfather and uncle. Other family members, however, purchased those much-appreciated work clothes and other Christmas “bits and bobs” at Columbiana shops like Eagles Department Store and, later, the Columbiana Leader. Children – and the young at heart – could always count on windows brightened with garland, lights, Christmas figures and the “flocked” windows that mimicked snow we most likely wouldn’t experience.

Decorations were not the only appeal of this “old-fashioned” type of enterprise. People who worked in the stores knew their customers – knew what they liked and didn’t like. And, most likely, they knew the right cut of a suit, a favorite color for a new dress or just the thing for which a kid wished the most. They also knew if you had been sick recently, or had lost a loved one, or were, perhaps, struggling with a major decision. They were friends as well as sales clerks and storeowners. And, the money you spent funneled through and reappeared to help build and strengthen the communities in which the stores were located.

In fact, shopping local was what folks did for centuries. And, you can still do it today. The Ben Franklin, Baer’s or local Western Flyer store may no longer be around, but Shelby County still has the most amazing local shops. Take some time, get off the computer and visit these remarkable venues. You can find a uniquely special gift – and make a friend, strengthen a community and see more of your county at the same time. Those are consequences we can all live with. Merry Christmas.