11 Bygone Department Store Experiences We Miss: A Nostalgic Trip Down Shopping Lane

Department stores once played a huge role in daily life.

These large shops were more than just places to buy things.

They were places where you could spend time, see new trends, and enjoy special events. Why do we miss these department store experiences so much?

During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, these stores offered unique experiences that are hard to find today.

From the festive holiday displays to the friendly staff, there was always something special that made a trip to the department store memorable.

1) Candy Counter Treats

You probably remember the charm of the candy counters from department stores in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

These counters were a paradise for anyone with a sweet tooth.

Imagine rows of colorful candies, from jelly beans to licorice, all within arm’s reach.

You could fill a bag with a mix of your favorites.

Chocolate lovers had their pick too.

There were freshly made fudge squares and chocolate-covered nuts.

And let’s not forget those delicious truffles.

The candy counter wasn’t just about the treats.

It was an experience.

You’d watch as the store clerk weighed your selections and placed them into crisp, white paper bags.

Remember the Frango mints at Marshall Field’s? Or maybe you have memories of stopping by Macy’s candy counter after holiday shopping.

Kids and adults alike loved these spots.

It was a simple pleasure that added a bit of magic to your shopping day.

2) Handwritten Receipts

Back in the 1960s, ’70s, and even into the ’80s, many department stores relied on handwritten receipts.

These were personal touches that made shopping feel special.

Unlike the impersonal printed receipts we get today, these were unique and sometimes even featured the salesperson’s signature.

Handwriting a receipt took time and care.

You might remember standing at the counter, watching as the salesperson carefully noted each item, calculated the total, and wrote it all down.

It gave you a chance to chat and connect with the salesperson.

Stores used handwritten receipts to keep track of sales and inventory.

It was a simple way to ensure everything was accounted for.

While it may seem outdated now, there was something charming about this slower, more detailed process.

These receipts often became keepsakes.

Perhaps you still have an old receipt tucked away in a box or scrapbook.

Looking at it now, it might bring back memories of a special purchase or a favorite store long gone.

Handwritten receipts were not just about tracking sales; they also symbolized a time when shopping was a more personal experience.

You didn’t just feel like a customer; you felt like you were part of a small community.

3) Ashtrays in Aisles

Walking through department stores in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, you might spot ashtrays placed in various aisles.

These ashtrays weren’t just utilitarian; they often were designed to match the store’s decor.

Stores considered smoking a normal part of shopping.

Customers could light up while browsing shelves and ashtrays ensured cleanliness and convenience.

Many ashtrays were stylish.

Some had Art Deco designs, while others matched mid-century modern trends.

You could find ashtrays made of glass, chrome, or ceramic.

These ashtrays were typically placed near seating areas.

People could take a break, smoke a cigarette, and continue shopping.

It was a different era with different norms.

Now, finding an ashtray in a store seems quite odd, but back then, it was just another part of the shopping experience.

4) Christmas Window Displays

Back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, department store Christmas window displays were magical.

You’d find yourself walking down the street, captivated by the elaborate scenes behind the glass.

Each store tried to outdo the other, creating enchanting displays that felt like stepping into a holiday dream.

Animated figures like dancing elves, marching toy soldiers, and Santa Claus himself brought the scenes to life.

You could almost hear the jingle bells and carols as you stood there, mesmerized by the tiny, detailed worlds.

These displays weren’t just for kids; they sparked joy in everyone.

Parents would take you downtown, and you’d press your nose against the cold glass, gazing at the moving trains and twinkling lights.

Every figure and backdrop told a story, making you feel the holiday spirit deep inside.

Some stores, like Simpson’s in Toronto, became famous for their holiday windows.

People made special trips just to see them.

These displays were more than just decorations; they were an event you looked forward to each year.

You probably remember the joy and excitement of seeing a new theme every year.

Whether it was a winter wonderland or a scene from the North Pole, Christmas window displays made the holidays feel extra special.

5) Personalized Gift Wrapping

Back in the day, when shopping at department stores, one of the best parts was the personalized gift wrapping service.

It was like an art form in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

You simply picked out your item and took it to the gift wrapping counter.

The staff would carefully wrap your presents in beautiful paper with ribbons and bows to match.

Stores often used high-quality materials, making even the simplest gifts look special.

Some stores even let you choose from a variety of wrapping papers and decorations.

Adding personalized touches like hand-tied bows, glittery embellishments, or elegant tags made the gifts feel even more unique.

The extra care made each gift feel like it was wrapped with love.

Gift wrapping stations were especially busy during holidays.

Seeing the piles of presents in beautifully wrapped packages was a sight to behold.

The wrapping services made gift-giving feel extra special and thoughtful.

Personalized gift wrapping was more than just covering a present.

It added an extra layer of excitement and anticipation, making every gift feel like a cherished memory.

6) Elevator Operators

Remember stepping into a department store and being greeted by a polite elevator operator? It was a common sight in the 1960s, ’70s, and even into the ’80s.

These operators were usually dressed in smart uniforms, ready to take you to any floor you wanted.

They didn’t just push buttons.

They often shared conversation, gave directions, and even offered shopping tips.

It made the simple act of riding an elevator feel special.

High school girls and young women often held these positions.

It was a respected part-time job, filled with opportunities to interact with many people.

Plus, who can forget the charm of a manually operated elevator?

By the late ’70s, automated elevators started taking over, making the role of elevator operators obsolete.

But for those who experienced it, the memory of a friendly face in a uniform remains nostalgic.

7) Record Listening Stations

Do you remember those record listening stations in department stores during the 60s, 70s, and 80s? You could pop on a pair of headphones and try out the latest albums before deciding to buy.

These stations were often found in stores like J.C. Penneys and Sears.

You’d browse the record racks, pick a few, and head to the station to sample the tunes.

Listening stations were a great way to discover new music.

You could listen to a whole album or just flip through the tracks quickly.

Many people spent hours at these stations, enjoying the music and deciding which records were worth taking home.

It was more than just shopping— it was an experience.

It wasn’t just about buying; it was about the joy of exploring music in a relaxed, fun way.

These stations created a unique connection between you and the music.

8) Lingerie Section

Back in the day, visiting the lingerie section of a department store was a different experience.

You’d find yourself browsing through racks filled with all kinds of undergarments.

The 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s had their own unique styles that you just can’t find today.

In the 1960s, high-waist panties and girdles were big hits.

These were often made from nylon or lace, providing both support and style.

The bras from that era often had a pointed shape, which was the fashion trend back then.

The 1970s saw the rise of more colorful and patterned lingerie.

People started to experiment with different materials like satin and silk.

Undergarments became more expressive and comfortable, reflecting the free-spirited vibe of the decade.

In the 1980s, lingerie took on a sexier twist with the introduction of lace teddies and silky slips.

High-cut panties and thongs became popular, thanks to the influence of pop culture and fitness trends.

Bright neon colors and bold patterns were also quite the rage during this time.

You would also often encounter women shopping together, offering opinions and fashion tips.

The atmosphere was welcoming and social, making the experience even more memorable.

The lingerie section was not just about buying undergarments; it was about finding something that made you feel confident and beautiful.

Today, shopping online just doesn’t capture the same feeling.

You miss the excitement of seeing and touching the different fabrics and styles in person.

9) Shoe Shines

Remember when stores had dedicated shoe shine stands? You could sit back in a big, comfy chair while someone shined your shoes to perfection.

This was common in department stores during the 1960s, 1970s, and even the 1980s.

You didn’t need an appointment.

Just walk in, take a seat, and watch as your dull shoes turned bright and shiny.

It felt special, almost like a mini pampering session.

The smell of polish, the rhythmic brushing, and the friendly chit-chat made it a unique experience.

You can’t get that same feeling from a quick swipe with a shoe brush at home.

It’s a small, yet memorable detail about shopping trips back then.

These simple pleasures made a regular visit to the store feel like an event.

10) Fashion Shows

Back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, fashion shows at department stores were a big deal.

You could catch a glimpse of the latest trends and stylish outfits right in your favorite store.

Models would walk the aisles, showcasing new collections.

These events made you feel connected to the world of high fashion without leaving your hometown.

Many stores had their unique touch.

For example, some had themed runway shows.

It wasn’t just about the clothes.

It was a whole experience with music, lights, and sometimes even refreshments.

The shows weren’t just for adults.

Kids’ fashion was also a big part.

Watching these shows was like a special treat and a peek into what was trendy for everyone.

Fashion shows in department stores brought a sense of excitement and glamor.

You didn’t just shop for clothes; you got to see them come to life.

It’s something you don’t see in today’s shopping malls.

11) Console Video Game Demos

Remember walking into a department store in the 1980s and seeing a shiny new game console on display? Those demo kiosks were magnets for kids and teens alike.

You could grab the controller and test out the latest games while your parents shopped.

Before demos were downloadable, these kiosks were the best way to try before you bought.

Stores like Sears and JC Penney often had these setups.

You’d see the lines of eager players waiting their turn to play Super Mario Bros or Sonic the Hedgehog.

The games on display would often change, giving you a chance to try many different titles.

Sometimes, you’d even find some rare or less-known games that you wouldn’t get to play anywhere else.

It was like a mini arcade right in the middle of the store.

For many, these demo stations created lasting memories.

They weren’t just places to play; they were a social hub where you could meet other gamers.

It wasn’t just about trying out games; it was about the excitement of experiencing something new and sharing it with others.

The Role Of Department Stores In Communities

Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, department stores played key roles in both social life and local economies.

They were more than just places to shop.

Social Gathering Hubs

Department stores were vibrant social centers.

These places weren’t just where you bought clothes or household items; they were where you met friends and family.

Many department stores had tearooms or cafes where you could relax and enjoy a meal.

These spots often became popular meeting places.

Some stores even hosted fashion shows and community events, transforming a regular shopping trip into a social outing.

Stores like Marshall Field’s and Macy’s also decorated their windows extravagantly during the holiday season.

Families would come from all over to see the displays, making it a yearly tradition that brought communities together.

Influence On Local Economy

Department stores had a big impact on the local economy.

They provided jobs, from floor staff to management positions.

These jobs were crucial for many families.

Beyond jobs, department stores attracted people to the area, boosting nearby restaurants and other small businesses.

A thriving department store often meant a thriving downtown.

Department stores also partnered with local suppliers, helping to support other businesses within the community.

This created a cycle of economic benefit, where money spent in the store would help the community at large.

These stores were cornerstones of the economy, helping shape the very fabric of the neighborhoods they served.

Evolution Of Shopping Habits

Shopping habits have changed significantly over the decades.

The rise of online shopping and advancements in technology have transformed how people shop, with key milestones from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

From In-Person To Online

In the 1960s and 1970s, shopping meant spending an afternoon at local department stores.

You’d walk through aisles, physically touch products, and chat with sales clerks.

This hands-on experience was more than just buying things; it was a social event.

Fast forward to the 1980s, the boom of television and infomercials introduced home shopping networks.

People could call in orders without leaving their homes.

This was a big step towards online shopping.

Today, online shopping dominates.

You can browse, choose, and buy with just a few clicks.

Stores like Amazon and eBay make it easy to shop from your couch, offering everything from clothes to groceries delivered to your doorstep.

Impact Of Technology On Retail

Technology has always been a driving force behind changes in shopping habits.

In the 1960s and 1970s, computerized inventory systems started to appear.

This helped stores manage stock more efficiently.

By the 1980s, barcode scanning became widespread.

This sped up the checkout process and reduced human error.

Cash registers evolved into point-of-sale (POS) systems, integrating sales and inventory data seamlessly.

Modern tech advancements, such as smartphones and mobile apps, have taken shopping to another level.

Augmented reality (AR) allows you to visualize how furniture fits in your house or how clothes look on you.

Artificial intelligence (AI) recommends products based on your shopping history.

These tech innovations have reshaped retail from traditional in-person experiences to seamless digital interactions, making shopping more convenient and personalized.

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