Fond Memories of Higbee’s & Christmas in Cleveland

Screenshot from video

A few days ago I shared a picture on Facebook of the old Higbee’s Department Store on Cleveland’s Public Square. The store opened in 1860 and continued until it was sold to the Dillard’s chain in 1987. Even those who aren’t from Cleveland or weren’t around years ago will probably remember Higbee’s from the film that is now a cherished holiday tradition, A Christmas Story. The movie opens with a great arial view of Public Square and Higbee’s as it would have appeared in the 1940s.

Although the movie is supposedly set in northern Indiana, the exterior shots were all filmed in Cleveland. It was the old Higbee’s display window where Ralphie first spotted the coveted Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle.

Screenshot from the trailer for A Christmas Story.

My Facebook post struck a real chord with my friends who shared fond memories of holiday shopping at Higbee’s. Among other things, several of us recalled the grooved wooden escalators similar to Macy’s in New York City. They rumbled loudly and vibrated some, and narrowed on the upper floors so you had continue single-file. Several friends commented on how these escalators were a terror for anyone wearing high heels.

“Gotta love wooden escalators. I always paid special attention to wooden escalators after my aunt caught her high heel in one at Marshall Fields in Chicago. She received a badly twisted ankle, and new shoes. The old shoes were mangled in unbelievable ways. So whenever I encountered them I tried to note their location so I could avoid the ankle snatchers.”

“I used to be terrified riding these escalators with high heels. There was a huge risk of getting the tiny heel stuck in the grooves of the steps . I always tried to take the elevator cuz there was no way I was doing stairs with heels.”

“I remember my mother’s concern about her heels getting stuck between the wooden slats.”

Except perhaps for the escalators, everyone’s recollections were warm and positive.

“I cannot begin to put into words how much I miss this experience and shopping in person.”

Some may also recall commercials like this. produced this video looking at the old Higbee’s store and reminisced at how we used to shop in the days before suburban malls, now also nearly extinct. The historic pictures in this and the next few videos are a treat!

In another video, veteran Cleveland newsman Leon Bibb describes the days of Higbee’s, Halle’s and the other downtown department stores.

Finally in this video, Burt Saltzman, owner of the locally-based Dave’s Supermarket chain in Cleveland, shares his recollection of these grand days gone by.

Mr. Jingeling

No discussion of Christmas in downtown Cleveland would be complete without mention of Mr. Jingeling. For years Mr. Jingeling held court down the street on the 7th floor of Halle’s Department Store, a Higbee’s competitor.

Halle’s eventually closed and Mr. Jingeling moved to Higbee’s. I had nearly forgotten! I will always only associate Mr. Jingeling with Halle’s.

What are your memories of Higbee’s, or Halle’s, or Christmas in Cleveland — or really anywhere?

Title image is a screenshot from the video posted here.

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