There are places that stick in the memory. We live in and around them when we’re young; sometimes, slipping into dreams, we brush past them again. Low-pile maroon carpeting, beige pillars, two elevators that connect three floors. More: a restaurant on a roof?
Did these places really exist? I wonder, now.
Our local department store, Hinshaw’s Arcadia, was strangled out by the new shopping mall when I was in my 20’s. I didn’t mourn the loss at the time. I forgot, in my rush toward everything I thought I wanted, all I was losing there.
Hinshaw’s was a full-lifecycle place. It had two restaurants, a beauty parlor, a bridal salon, a maternity department, a toy department, and gift-wrap stations downstairs, where people handled grown-up stuff involving other people behind windows.
During the holidays, Hinshaw’s offered a place to engrave jewelry and gifts for free. Every clothing department did free alterations. The women’s and kids’ departments held fashion shows (in which my younger brothers once participated, wearing the raddest plaid three-piece suits). The Santa Claus and Easter Bunny who held court at Hinshaw’s every year were predictably terrifying.
Hinshaw’s and my family were tight. Our relationship started with my Depression-era grandmother, although how this happened is unclear: the woman rarely bought a thing. But each day, Grandma brought order to our lives by taking my sisters and me from my parents’ first apartment on Huntington Drive to Hinshaw’s. She liked the place.
The staff at Hinshaw’s got to know Grandma, my mom and dad, and all six of us kids. We grew up in that store: one of us even worked there for a while. (The same one won Hinshaw’s Easter Count-the-Jellybeans contest when she was a kid, which enraged me. It’s not like she was a genius at math.)
One of us had her hair done for Prom at Hinshaw’s beauty parlor. Another got First Aid from the counter staff in the store’s ice cream parlor when he fell backward in one of its chairs. Still another, the Hinshaw’s lottery winner of the Sutton family, won an entire infant wardrobe in a store contest when Mom was eight months pregnant. (To this day, the words “infant layette” still sound to me like “shopping spree”.)
That same kid, the youngest, would take her first steps in the store: upstairs in Women’s Sportswear, running from rounder to rounder in her little yellow dress, as we older siblings cheered.
There were plenty of other department stores we knew in my childhood. Grandma and her sister, Auntie Mag, had a thing for store restaurants. There was a nice one at Robinson’s in Pasadena; the one in I.Magnin was even nicer. Grandma and her sister liked to eat and talk and talk, and then fight to the death over the check. They loved checks! Grandma and Auntie Mag’s shared passion for checks made me sure that I too would love them when I grew up. This has never happened.
Still, Hinshaw’s was the store that knew us. Hinshaw’s is the one I can still see when I close my eyes.
I never thought to take any photos of it. Why would I? Wasn’t it always going to be there: the place I’d visit from time to time for a few hours, when I remembered where I’d seen an item I would need?
Now I wish someone had. Now I know something about the man behind the store: a man who worked from boyhood, first a janitor in his school, later on a farm in Idaho. A Quaker who still served his country in WWI, working with Russian prisoners as a conscientious objector. A man of principle: he would not even use the word “swear”.
On the modern grid of American retail, split between Federated and Westfield, where would an Ezra Hinshaw now fit? Let’s say you get just that lucky: find another person who’s worked for every dime he’s ever made. He might even be a veteran. Where does someone with this kind of integrity begin, if he wants to start a business here?
And where does a family go now, to linger for a few hours, maybe not buy anything, but perhaps park the stroller and get a bite to eat? Let’s say the person pushing the stroller doesn’t also want to wrangle three plastic trays at a food court. What’s the answer?
No Loitering, say the signs.