Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"$1.49 Day, Tuesday!"

The face of uptown New Westminster changed irrevocably when the old Woodward's department store was torn down to make way for something new and modern. Here's snapshot of what the building looked like about five minutes to noon someday in 1954, the year it opened:

Woodward's in New Westmisnter (1954), facing northwest at the corner of 6th Avenue and 6th Street
My memories of this building from the 1980's and the people that worked there are nothing but good, even if all I remember is snippets of things.

Right on the corner of 6th Avenue and 6th Street, there was no missing the building. It was a landmark for uptown New West. If you wanted to meet someone it was "Under the Woodward's clock."

Leading up to Christmas, the display area right on the corner was dominated by Santa's workshop, that included a dazzling array of robotic elves swaddled in cottony snow, carrying out never-ending motions of building toys and wrapping presents, amid blinking Christmas lights and various fake trees. Santa would hoist you up on his lap, chat with you for a bit and send you on your way with a candy cane and maybe a colouring book. The "helper elves" would snap a picture with an instant camera right on the spot. I was always amazed by that part. The way the picture reverse-faded into existence. Lines would grow more defined, the colour would fill in gradually. I used to wonder when the process would stop. Would the lines get bolder, the colour pop so much that the moment would come alive? (I swear J.K. Rowling stole this idea right from my 6-year old brain.)

I was a proud member of the Cookie Club. In the grocery section of the store, I could flash my Cookie Club membership card -- I even signed the back of it so it was official -- and get a free cookie. It seems like the simplest thing now that I'm an adult. Free cookie? Big deal! But for a kid, being part of a club that furnished members with free cookies? There's no adult equivalent to those kind of membership perks.

$1.49 Day, Tuesday!

Tuesdays were a "thing" at Woodward's. While I don't know the history of how "$1.49 Day" came to be, I remember it being a big deal. The first Tuesday of every month, special/sale items went on sale for $1.49. Leading up to the day the radio ads would come: "Dollar forty-nine day, Tooosday!" Do I remember anything that was on sale? No, but then I was more concerned with capitalizing on my Cookie Club membership.

I'm sure every kid did it, but I remember dodging into clothes racks during the course of playing hide 'n' seek.

There was also a restaurant onsite on the lower level (as I remember it) that I never went to. I remember it looking kind of sinister, like a run down pub or something. It was tucked in a corner of the department store  and the interior seemed kind of dark; one wall was stippled yellowish glass that you couldn't see through and the trim was brown.
We bought shoes there all the time. I remember being there with my brother a few times. They would take the time to measure our feet, make some recommendations to my parents... Do they even do that in shoe stores anymore? Measure feet?

The roof of Woodward's was one big parking lot. Because of it's location, it made prime viewing for the annual Hyack Festival Parade which still travels from north to south right along 6th Street, right past where the old building stood. I never watched the parade from there, but I was always certain they were having a better watching experience from that vantage point.

I think that's one of my childhood regrets: I never got to watch the parade from the Woodward's parking lot. 

Post Script: In the early 1990's, the old building was torn down and a big mall, with Woodward's being the anchor store, was dropped in its place. Woodward's went under in 1993.

When I was a kid, I had no idea that Woodward's existed outside New Westminster but there were other locations in British Columbia and even Alberta. And it was started in 1892!

Due to what looks like family indifference and mismanagement, the chain of department stores collapsed after just over a 100 years in business.

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