"Downtown Hammond was a vibrant, happy
place with a wide variety of stores. Customers and store clerks
engaged in friendly conversations as items were purchased.
People were not in a hurry, because they were enjoying the
shopping experience. There was a spirit of optimism among the
people who worked and shopped downtown. Going downtown was an
Downtown was big enough, and downtown was small enough. It was
big enough to have a fine array of stores and many things to do,
but it was small enough that one could feel comfortable there.
Downtown was clean, and downtown was safe. It was a place that
all were proud of....
Without question, the very heart of
downtown Hammond was the intersection of Hohman Avenue and
Sibley Street. On the northwest corner of this intersection was
Walgreen’s, with the Parthenon Theatre in the adjacent building
on the north side of it. On the southwest corner and running the
entire length of the west side of the 5200 block of Hohman was
the Goldblatt’s store. Across the street from Goldblatt’s were
FW Woolworth, Schiff Shoes, Rothschild’s, and Jack Fox and Sons.
The northeast corner of Hohman and Sibley was home to the
The 400 block of State Street, the home of Minas’, was probably
equally as prestigious as the 5200 block of Hohman. Minas’ was
the flagship establishment of that block, but there were other
large stores as well.
There were two theatres downtown, the Paramount and the
Parthenon. Walgreen’s and Woolworth’s had lunch counters that
served burgers, fries and fountain drinks. Downtown was much
more than just a place to shop: it was a place where friends met
to have lunch, or to take in a movie, or to just “hang out.”
It was a pleasant place to just walk around and “window shop,”
especially during the Christmas season, when all the city
streets were adorned with decorations, and the store windows
were alive with displays depicting scenes of the season. Some
displays at Goldblatt’s were even animated. It was so easy to
feel the Christmas spirit when you walked around downtown
Hammond, taking in all the decorations and displays with your
breath steaming and your cheeks turned a rosy red from the crisp
winter air. The sounds of Christmas music and the ringing of the
Salvation Army Santa Claus’s bell filled the air, and all around
you were happy, smiling people doing their Christmas shopping.
Downtown was a place where the teenagers cruised slowly in their
cars with their windows rolled down on summer nights. The girls
walking along the sidewalks would pretend to be offended when
the boys in the passing cars whistled and whooped at them.
During business hours, scores of people walked the busy
sidewalks. There was something downtown for everyone, and you
could see people of all ages stepping proudly along the
sidewalks in front of the stores. The people walking through the
downtown area were happy people.
The stores stayed open until 9:00 PM on Mondays, Thursdays, and
Fridays. They closed at 5:00 PM the other nights, and, of
course, the stores were closed on Sundays. The Parthenon Theatre
kept different hours than did the stores, as one would expect,
and showed a late movie beginning at 9:00 PM each night.
The downtown stores were wonderlands, with aisle after aisle of
merchandise attractively displayed. Friendly and knowledgeable
clerks helped the customers with their selections. The toy
departments were fantasylands and were almost too much for a
little boy to handle.
Shopping was a personal thing back in the fifties and the
sixties, the glory days of Downtown that I recall.
As you walked through the revolving door at Minas’s, you would
be greeted with a friendly, genuine smile from the nearest Minas
employee. In the summertime, passing through that revolving door
would be like going through the Pearly Gates. You had immediate
relief from the sweltering heat of the street, and in the
soothing, cool air of the store was a heavenly scent that defied
description. What was the source of those wonderful scents that
wafted through the ancient department stores in those days?
The Minas store had an elevator with an operator to get you to
the floor of your choice. The operator wore white gloves and
always had a warm smile for you. She would always be polite and
professional in her demeanor. You always felt that you were
appreciated as a customer at the Edward C. Minas Store.
Minas’s carried quality merchandise and offered it at a fair
price. You could find items cheaper at other stores, but you
would be compromising on quality by buying them instead of the
Whereas today we seem to shun personal contact when we buy
things, even to the point of shopping on the Internet, back in
the days when downtown Hammond flourished, people enjoyed the
experience of interacting with the store clerks, the elevator
operators, and even the parking lot attendants.
Yes, even parking your car would often
involve human contact, depending on where you parked. Most
places charged a reasonable fee for parking and had parking lot
attendants to take in the money. Many people knew my dad because
of his work as the superintendent of the parking garage and of
the outdoor parking lot for the Edward C. Minas Company. Dad
took his turns in the booths at the garage, and he met thousands
of people as he collected their parking fees. Like the other
Minas employees, Dad had a smile for the customer and always had
time to chat a little. Customers were made to feel very special
at Minas’s: they were truly appreciated by all of the store’s
Today we are only interested in buying things quickly, easily,
and at the lowest possible price. We live in a Wal-Mart world.
No wonder downtown Hammond died.
My trip downtown on July 20, 2005, was one of the saddest
experiences in my fifty-six years of life. The mighty and noble
Goldblatt’s building is gone. The Walgreen’s building and the
Parthenon Theatre next to it are both gone. The cherished Minas
store is gone. The buildings that remain are only partially
occupied, with many of the windows covered over. It seemed that
at any moment I would begin to hear the whistling of the wind
and the banging of shutters, while tumbleweeds scurried down the
empty streets, as in the movie scenes of old western ghost
towns. There is no more retailing in downtown Hammond. There are
no more customers, no more clerks, and only an occasional
pedestrian walking the once bustling streets.
None of us ever dreamed that downtown Hammond would become the
desolate, forlorn place that it is now. We loved our downtown,
and we thought there would be no end to its glory.
Some say that the traffic congestion due to the many railroad
crossings and heavy train traffic is what killed downtown
Hammond. People were tired of being caught by slow moving
trains, they reason. Others say that the decline in the steel
industry and the subsequent layoffs spelled the death of
downtown Hammond. The opening of shopping malls in the outlying
areas drew the customers away from downtown. Whatever their
reasons, the shoppers preferred to shop in those malls rather
than to go downtown, and so, downtown Hammond died.
I hope that this brief story about my beloved downtown Hammond
will make people realize what a wonderful place it was. Maybe in
some way it will help us to hold dearly to things that we
cherish and not be so quick to leave them behind. Our society is
becoming more and more impersonal. The human interaction that
was so much a part of life in downtown Hammond is all too rare