Christmas shopping in 1899, Part II
Wednesday, December 14, 2016 4:32 AM
Ladies and gentlemen, as I exit the Feibel Brothers store in uptown Hillsboro in December of 1899, I feel like a kid in a candy store.
All of these quality items for less than 40 dollars?! “This is great!” I exclaim as I stride across the courthouse lawn.
As those words seem to echo on a snowy day more than a century ago, I notice most the town folks in the uptown square are staring at me.
And as I look at them and they look at me, I realize I must look as out of place as Marty McFly looked when he time-traveled back to 1955 in the movie “Back to the Future.” (Or 1885 in “Back to the Future Part III.”)
I quickly throw on the overcoat I had just bought at Feibel Brothers and hurriedly take off the tie I am wearing and replace it with one the sharp looking ones I had purchased moments ago for less than a buck. That’s much better.
As I gaze at the soldiers’ monument, a store opposite the monument catches my attention, Bowles & Company.
OK, let’s see what they have.
As the door closes behind me, a clerk just as pleasant as the one I just left greets me.
“Welcome to Bowles and Company,” he says with a warm smile on a cold day. “We have so many holiday gifts ranging from five cents to a dollar.”
“Really,” I say with intrigue. “What can I get for a nickel?”
“Five cents will buy at Bowles and Company a picture book, a china doll, toys, a box of stationery and other articles too numerous to mention,” he replies.
“OK, how about a dollar?”
“One dollar will buy at Bowles and Company a pretty parlor lamp, a china salad or fruit dish, berry set, comb and brush tray, photograph album, Bible, set of books and innumerable other presents,” is his reply, adding, “In addition to the cheap goods, we have a stock of finer goods, fine lamps, glass-cut articles, French and German ware in sets or open stock, late publications, fine Bibles and hymn books and so forth, representing values from $1.25 to $25, and we have new goods arriving daily.”
“Whoa, did you say $1.25 to 25 bucks?” I ask.
“Well, in that case, I’ll buy that fine lamp over there, the nice parlor lamp over here, this beautiful family Bible and this set of fine china,” I say. “That set of china will be a whole lot nicer than the plastic platters I’ve often used since I was in college…”
“Sir,” he interrupts.
“Uh, never mind,” I stammer. “How much does this add up to, price wise?”
As the clerk quickly gets the items around, he says, “It will be $19.73.”
“Unreal, that’s the year I was born…”
“Uh, um,” I reply sheepishly, “I said, I just love 1899.”
“Yeah, I can’t believe that 1900 will be here before we know it,” the clerk says.
“Me, either,” I say. “Here’s a twenty, and keep the change. I love your store.”
“Why, thank you, Merry Christmas and we appreciate your business at Bowles and Company,” he cheerfully says.
“Merry Christmas, and thank you,” I offer as I leave with a mother lode of awesome antiques.
Hmm, where to next?
As I walk along North High Street, I notice a shoe store called Smith & Moore.
Well, by golly, I’ve always wanted some old-school shoes.
“Good morning, sir, and welcome to Smith & Moore,” I hear as I walk through the door. “Can I help you?”
I smile and say, “Most certainly. I’m looking to possibly buy a pair of shoes – a pair for me and a pair for my lovely wife, Helen.”
“Please examine our line of leather and felt shoes,” the clerk says. “The prices we give you will tempt you to take a pair along, for you can readily see that we sell them cheaper than others. Remember, we deal in footwear exclusively and consequently can show you better goods, a bigger assortment and give you the lowest prices.”
“Sir, we have ladies’ and gents’ fine shoes that would be called bargains at other stores at $2. We sell them at $1.24,” the clerk replies.
“Men’s good, heavy working shoes at 98 cents a pair, and they are well worth $1.50. And we have ladies’ and gents’ extra fine quality shoes that would be cheap at $3. Our price is only $1.98.”
“Why, that’s a steal!” I bellow.
“But we did not steal the shoes,” the clerk assures me. “We are simply selling you footwear at a very close margin, by which we aim to get your confidence and patronage. Satisfaction is guaranteed at all times.”
“Say no more my good man,” I declare. “I’ll be buying four pairs. Let me try some of these on…”
After I make my selections, I ask the good clerk how much I owe him for the four pairs of shoes.
“That will be six dollars and eighteen cents,” he replies.
“Well, I’ll be a son of a gun,” I cry aloud. “Nike and New Balance could sure take a lesson from you guys!”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Uh, never mind,” I say. “Thank you, and Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you and yours!”
“Why, thank you,” he says with a smile. “Merry Christmas to you.”
As I lace up the new old shoes I just purchased at the Smith & Moore store, I decide this is way too much fun to stop now. Let’s do a little more Christmas shopping in 1899 before we go back to the future.
To be continued…
Steve Roush is a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press.