Doris Heagy remembers the hustle and bustle of Lubbock shopping. In fact, she recalls crowds so large it was difficult to move without bumping into someone.
Was this just another Saturday at the South Plains Mall? Hardly. This was during the heyday of downtown shopping, an era from a bygone day when virtually every consumer need could be taken care of in Lubbock's centralized commercial district.
"I worked at Woolworth's and another store when I was something like 17 years old," said Heagy, who has called Lubbock home for 60 years. "I worked at a dress shop, too. I used to catch the bus down on Avenue J. The streets were just so busy, especially on Saturday, that you could not even walk down the sidewalk without bumping into people. There were so many people in those stores. It was just crammed."
From Lubbock's earliest days throughout the 1950s, the downtown shopping area was as social as it was necessary.
"When I came to college at Texas Tech, I didn't have a car, so we caught the bus to go shopping downtown," said Margaret Merrell, who moved to Lubbock in 1948. "Dunlaps, Hemphill-Wells and everything else that was up and down Broadway. Several of us would go, and it would be a Saturday adventure."
A number of downtown stores are still recognizable today. J.C. Penney was in the downtown area as was Sears, which was located where City Hall is today. Other stores included Dorothy's, Skibell's, Zales Jewelers, Anderson Bros. Jewelers, Kress Five & Dime and the Woolworth's store, which included a lunch counter.
"I worked at the Lubbock National Bank building," said Wanda Crump, who has called Lubbock home since 1944. "The man I worked for had an office in that building, and I did a lot of shopping on lunch hours and whatever. Prior to that, I shopped at various times downtown, and I particularly remember how wonderful it was during the Christmas season."
Crump said downtown shopping was an enjoyable experience in a simpler and somewhat friendlier time.
"It was especially busy at Christmastime," she said. "And I remember that they played Christmas music. It was very crowded, and people would sing along with the music. They really seemed happy and cheerful. It was homey and old-fashioned, but it was enjoyable.
"I remember the bell ringers, and I also had a job gift wrapping packages at a couple of stores. That gave me the chance to see shoppers inside the stores as well as on the street. There really was a lot of traffic in those days. It just seemed like a friendlier time."
Likewise, Heagy said the Christmas season was memorable for a variety of reasons.
"We just loved to shop during Christmas," said Heagy, who moved to Lubbock from Spur and worked in the downtown business district. "We watched our money very closely, and I can remember buying my mother and dad a lamp. I was so excited to get an electric lamp with a pretty shade on it for them."
Merrell said downtown offered a chance to shop, catch a movie at one of the theaters and enjoy a meal.
"Sometimes, we would combine our shopping and go to the Lindsey theater," she said. "A few years after I got out of college and got married and had a daughter, we discovered a little shop called Lerners.
"When my daughter was old enough - it was safe enough for kids to ride buses then - and one of the big adventures was to catch a bus, go downtown, go to the tea room at Hemphill-Wells, have lunch and shop the shops up and down Broadway."
Merrell said Lubbock's shopping district drew people from across the area.
"People came in from surrounding communities, especially on Saturday when they weren't working or going to class," she said. "When I got out of college, one thing that was interesting to me was people would drive downtown and park their cars at Hemphill. They didn't drive from one end to the other. They would park and leave their car, and then walk up one side of Broadway and down the other. If you got a good parking place, you kept it and left your car there."
The downtown shopping district was handy, said Bill Murfee, whose insurance company has been part of the downtown landscape since 1904.
"Everything you needed was downtown," he said. "You had shops, grocery stores, general mercantile, building materials, everything. I've worked downtown since 1946. Our business is here, and I still enjoy it."
The glory days of downtown shopping began to fade, though. First, a new business corridor began to take shape at the "edge" of town on 34th Street. In the 1960s, strip malls began to appear along 50th Street. Finally, in 1972, the South Plains Mall opened for business. Many downtown businesses moved as well, following the city's growth to the southwest.
"Some things developed along 34th Street," said Merrell. "I guess we still went downtown as long as Hemphill and Dunlaps were there. The Monterey Shopping Center (on 50th) was one of the big exodus times. Dunlaps came out, and others started moving there."
Hemphill-Wells, a downtown anchor, eventually became a South Plains Mall tenant before closing in 1988. Likewise, Dunlaps moved to the 50th Street location before closing its doors in 2007. Others, such as Penney's and Sears, remain retail fixtures at the mall.
"Everybody knew each other," Heagy said of the downtown shopping experience. "We visited. We had friends who worked in other places downtown. Everyone was very friendly. A lot of them had lived in smaller towns and moved here or came here to shop. It was exciting and very safe."