Rewind: December 15, 2020 – “A Bittersweet Memory”
The Warren County Historical Society wishes everyone a safe and healthy holiday season!
A BITTERSWEET MEMORY
Shopping in Glens Falls
One of the favorite Christmas songs in our American culture has been “Silver Bells.” The lyrics conjure up idyllic visions of what the holidays should look like in a bustling town. In Glens Falls, during the 50’s and 60’s, the verses seem to fit the winter atmosphere on Glen Street. “City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style. In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.”
The street lights were trimmed with garland and twinkle lights and the many store windows were decked out with seasonal displays.
There was one particular store that remains in the memory of so many young women who are now grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Merkel & Gelman’s mission was to sell quality merchandise with quality customer service to ladies and young ladies. There were no housewares nor men’s clothing. Throughout the three floors was an army of helpful clerks, many of whom were our friends’ mothers and grandmothers.
Merkel & Gelman was an elegant shopping experience. Upon entering the store, you were greeted by lovely fragrances from the perfume and makeup counter. This was the only store around that sold Estee Lauder.
Near the elevator, at the rear of the first floor, nylons were under the glass counter and Mrs. Ingalls would pull out the trays for the customer to examine, as every woman preferred a different weight and color of her stockings. Near this counter were gloves and in this period of time, white gloves especially, were a vital wardrobe accessory. Again, the clerks would help you choose from samples and then reach under the glass to give you your pair of gloves.
Mr. Goodson or Mr. Callihan operated the elevator to take you up to Dresses on the 2nd floor and Children’s Clothing on the 3rd. If you preferred to walk, then you most likely passed Mrs. Tarantelli or Mrs. Gelman working adding machines in the office. There were no cash registers in the departments. All transactions were sent to the office by way of a tubing system. Money was inserted into brass pneumatic cylinders, and you waited at the counter for the returned receipt.
Dresses, blouses, lingerie, sweaters and coats were all “Made In the USA.” A favorite brand of dresses, Kurzrok, sold very well. As mentioned before, this establishment believed in affordable quality and the buyers, like Mrs. Wood, knew what Merkel’s customers wanted and the store had an excellent reputation for wedding gowns and designer dresses.
For young ladies moving into high school, a rite of passage took place in Lingerie. Our mothers insisted that we be measured for our first bra, and what a terrible ordeal! The fitting did not hurt but, boy, it was humiliating to stand in front of a stranger who wrapped her tape measure around your bare chest. One girlfriend told me her mother calmed her down by promising to take her Madden’s drugstore’s soda fountain for a root beer float!
The Children’s clothing was sold on the 3rd floor with cuddly teddy bears and Madame Alexander dolls. Merkel’s was the only local store to sell Girl Scout and Brownie Uniforms.
And then, slowly, winds of change began blowing from all directions. The Aviation Mall, which opened in 1975, had increased its tenants and shoppers were attracted to larger stores with plenty of parking. Grant’s, Woolworth’s, and S. S. Kresge Co. were leaving Glen Street, and the urban renewal project left more vacancies throughout downtown. So many textile businesses in Warren and Washington counties were moving to southern states or overseas, leaving many local women without disposable income. To make matters worse, in 1970 the Beatles broke up!
From there the 70’s was not good for our pennies as the oil crisis caused high inflation and thus higher prices for homes, cars, wages, and everything, including clothes.
Sidney and Bob Rosoff were the last managers to succumb to this financial turbulence. In 1982, Merkel and Gelman closed the doors and thus ended the long-standing partnership of Charles Gelman and David Merkel.
In 2020, the Glen Street building remains as well as many of us still around holding on to the bittersweet memories of good quality apparel in a happy Hometown, U.S.A.
This article was prepared by Eloise O’Neil for the Warren County Historical Society.