Oak Park was the place to shop 40 years ago

This Time Capsule, a late, lamented weekly feature in Express!, first ran on Dec. 15, 1999.

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By DOUG DEUCHLER

Forty years ago in 1959, Oak Park and River Forest were in the midst of a banner holiday season. The stores in the popular Lake-Harlem "shopping hub" were jammed with shoppers. Before the opening of Oak Brook, Yorktown, Winston Park, and other shopping centers, Oak Park reigned supreme as a regional shopping destination. Several extra police officers were stationed at Harlem Avenue to assist the crowds crossing back and forth between Marshall Field's and Wieboldt's department stores.

At Marshall Field's, Santa Claus was greeting children on the fifth floor. He was sitting in a sleigh in a rustic barn complete with a hay mower and reindeer. Uncle Mistletoe was also on hand in Field's Toyland department as Santa's "best helper and official greeter."

Many of the other big stores had their own Santa Claus, too, of course. You could find Wieboldt's St. Nick in the store basement.

Wieboldt's "mechanical holiday windows," which always drew crowds of onlookers, featured "Santa's Workshop" with many elves making toys. Wieboldt's clerks handed out an S&H Green Stamp for every 10 cents spent in the store. The stamp "redemption center" was located in the basement level. Hundreds of "prizes," ranging from cutlery to card tables, were offered for various quantities of booklets pasted full of Green Stamps.

Tuesday night was "Stag Night" at the Wm. Y. Gilmore's & Sons Department Store on the southwest corner of Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue. This was a special holiday shopping evening for men only, scheduled from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Jolly female "Santas" were on hand to help the men with their gift buying. Gilmore's ads played up the idea that men could do their shopping "all in one night, one trip, under one roof." Complimentary gift wrapping was available.

Quintero Ltd., 730 Lake St., was featuring holiday cocktail dresses for $20 and $25.

The Central Avenue entrance to the new Congress Expressway was to be completed by next month, January 1960. At this point, the Laramie entrance was the closest to Oak Park; the expressway through Oak Park was still under construction. From Laramie, you could ride all the way downtown on the new superhighway.

The Lake Theatre was showing Pillow Talk, a comedy starring "the perfect pair," Rock Hudson and Doris Day. At The Lamar, there was a low-budget horror film, The Tingler, with Vincent Price. The Price picture featured "Percepto," billed as "an astonishing new dimension in sight and fright!" Seats were wired to give audience members a little jolt or "tingle" during periodic scary points in the movie.

An "unusually large" four-room apartment at 305 S. Oak Park Ave. was renting for $127.50 per month.

At Strickland's two grocery stores, 107 N. Oak Park Ave. and 721 Lake St., bananas were 9 cents a pound, green peppers were 3 cents each, cucumbers were 5 cents, a 1-pound can of Chase & Sanborn coffee was 59 cents, a pound of Land O'Lakes butter was 69 cents, and turkeys were 37 cents a pound.

A new Walgreen's opened at North and Harlem avenues. Publicity in the local press played up the fact that the front of the store was "conveniently open" to the busy streets and transportation routes. In later decades that fact became a security concern.

C.T.A. officials announced that the new Congress El, which would be running down the center of the not-yet-finished Congress Expressway, would have new, lightweight cars capable of achieving speeds up to 75 mph.

Along Motor Row (Madison Street in Oak Park), the average new 1960 car cost $1,180.

 

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