Friday, April 23, 2010

Fosters Department Store


Long before Wal-Mutant came to Gloucester and quite some time before Country Casuals took up shop down past Fleets, Fosters Department Store was the place to be if you needed clothes but didn't want to go across the river to town.

That just now came back to me--that we called Newport News (the closest urban area) "town." As in, "We're going to town this weekend to shop at Nachmans or Thalhimers. Possibly Leggetts." Nowadays if you say you're going to town, people think you mean the court house, also known as the village. Interesting.

Anyway, Fosters sat directly across from Richardson's Drug Store in what is now called the Halcyon Building. Quite honestly, even though it says Halcyon Building in plain print right there in the photo, I've never, ever, never heard a soul call it the Halcyon Building.

To me, it can only be Fosters.

Fosters was a multi-level department store loaded with clothing of every possible description. But if I ever purchased anything there, I don't remember it. I didn't go there for the clothes.

What I do recall is the rich, earthy smell of that old building; the well-worn, green carpeting that went up the old wooden staircase, whose steps creaked and moaned as you climbed up; and last but not least that cash register.

The huge antique cash register at Fosters was like a museum exhibit--that was 100% functional. I'm convinced I made trips into that store just to study that piece of art. When I grew tired of that, I'd slowly ascend those steps, savoring each and every creak.

When Fosters went out of business, my number one concern was for that cash register.

I wonder where it is now.

For Mathewsonians, do you have any Fosters stories or memories? Did you also say, "going to town" to refer to Newport News? I still say "going across the river" but not "going to town." That needs to change.

For the other reader anyone else, do you have fond memories of an old department store?

23 comments:

nativedevil said...

I worked in Fosters while I was in high school, as the janitor and errand boy. I remember the Shue's pretty daughter worked upstairs. I think she kept the books.
Remember the Economy Store across the street? It was owned by the same people who owned Foster's. Worked there as a sales clerk sometimes. The ladies that worked there had been there for years.

TSannie said...

Woolworth's. I loved their lunch counter.

Grandma J said...

My favorite store was a department store called Buffums. It may have been a west coast chain. They had a cafe with the best scones in the world.

Kate said...

Oh, let's see..... I don't remember Foster's as the department store, but as the Carpet store instead. I have no memories of going in there.


However, I do have TONS of memories of the old fabric store called The Craftsman Shop (which is now dilly dally, I think?) My mom spent a lot of time in there over the years, and I still remember the smell of the place, the different sections of the store, the loft upstairs....

LOL Don't get me started or else I'll be reminiscing on the Five and Dime or Hudgins drugstore, which btw, has barely changed since I was a kid!

Bayman said...

Got my first pair of baseball shoes there when I was in little league. They had Converse tennis shoes too. I think there still may be a garmet bag with the Foster's logo "up the attic."

Anonymous said...

I used to love to go to Fosters. Remember how the staircase split at the top and you could go up either side? My sister and I used to race to the top. My Mom still says going to town when she goes across the York River!
Trinia

Ann Marie said...

My mom still says going to town.. I don't know what I say since I do it so infrequently but something about hell comes to mind...
Fosters ahhh yes how I remember that place.. PICTURES those stupid stupid pictures that parents want taken that you have to not play in the dirt for a week before hand for cause you will have skinned up knees. (I will see if I can find one and post it today)
I too ran up and down those stairs in different directions.. what fun.

oh and one more thing.. I AM BLOWING THIS POPSICLE STAND at noon.. beach bound..

I prefer I am blowing this joint but you seem to like Popsicles better so I thought I would stick with it ..

Mrs F with 4 said...

Going To Town (which was definitely worthy or capital letters) meant two trips per year to purchase school uniforms (once) and shoes (twice). The department store was called Brown Muff (or it might have been Brown, Muff), which I fear now has an altogether different meaning. I can only remember the utter TORTURE of uniform fitting, never mind the shoes.

Grandfather, however, kept a little ironmongers (hardware?) shop, and I can vividly remember the smells of that - sawdust and oil and paraffin, with a hint of chickenfeed thrown in. And a storeroom upstairs where we were sent to keep out of mischief. It had a shiny brown leather chesterfield with horsehair stuffing poking out of it. And a toilet with a seat that PINCHED if you dared to lower your unsuspecting little rump onto it. I still have the scars.

Caution Flag said...

Ours was Parsons. Today it's a museum and I take my kids in there and tell them of the strange lady who ran the elevator, and how cool the mezzanine was, and how the money was sent via these tubes to the business office. No, Walmart can't hold a candle to it.

Trisha said...

Somehow I missed another Three Thing Thursday! I don't know what is up with that!

I have some vague warm and fuzzy memories of a large department store that I went to as a child with my mother. There was a nice feeling about the old department stores that you just don't get in the stores of today.

Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food said...

In the Washington area, we say going downtown in reference to heading into DC.

Of course in DC there are a number defunct department stores from 20-30 years ago - Woodie's, Hecht's, there must be more...

There was a Ben Franklin in the town next to my town - my grandma would take us shopping there to buy birthday and mothers/fathers day gifts for our parents. I remember a set of orange plastic placemats that I LOVED and thought my mom just had to have 'em - and bless her, she used 'em. I don't know if she actually liked them though.

Daryl said...

I loved that street .. I took a lot of pix of it but none from that angle .. adding that to my must do this July list.

When I was growing up and living in the Bronx, when we went to Manhattan we said 'we're going downtown' .. but my friends who lived in Queens (or Brooklyn) said they 'were going into the city' ... we also ref'd to the portion of upper Manhattan that is accessible from the Bronx via the Washington Bridge (not to be confused with the George Washington Bridge that connects Manhattan to New Jersey) as 'across the bridge' ...

WV: commot .. I commot to Mathews this summer ..

big hair envy said...

For us, "going to town" meant going to West Point. Imagine that!! Well, you DID have to cross a bridge to get there;) Fortunately, WP had Richardson's, Leggett, The Point, and Head Variety. The Point had a live parrot named George. George talked, and he scared us to death!!!! We kept going in there because they had stuff like whoopie cushions and plastic dog poo. Good times!!

nativedevil said...

The Ben Franklin store. That brings back lots of memories!

deborah said...

Anderson Newcombs was THE store to visit when going up town. Went with my mom, my mother, and when I was 12, I was allowed to ride the bus there by myself. (10 miles away too!) My mother would call ahead to let the clerks know what I was coming for (this was a huge 5 floor department store with fabulous fittings). The bus let me out by the marble steps to the front door, I went and picked up what had been ordered, had enough time to go to the Peanut shop with my quarter, then I caught the bus to go back home. I always had to go up to the mezzanine and look over at the shoppers:)

Pueblo girl said...

When I was growing up, back in the Jurassic, privately owned department stores were fighting a losing battle against chain stores. All my memories of department stores are of rundown seedy places selling sad, overpriced clothes from dusty boxes.

Noe Noe Girl...A Queen of all Trades. said...

I was a Woolworth's girl like Annie. We went over yonder to get there!
<><

Annie said...

Now that you have reminded me of my youth, we used to love going to town with Mum in the school holidays. Of course it was a fairly sizable town so there were a few department stores to choose from . I guess the one that more readily comes to mind was Myers. I used to like going upstairs to eat at the cafe. They, and others, have of course, opened stores in malls in a lot of suburbs now, so we don't need to go to the city for our department store fixes these days.

Gosh I haven't been into the city to shop, or for anything else for ages...for donkey's ages...does anyone else use that expression?

Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food said...

OK, I can no longer resist the urge, probably because I am, in fact, a 13 year old boy trapped in a woman's body. Brown Muff? Head Variety? Y'all had much more suggestive department stores than we did in Central PA.

Mrs F, If you haven't already, you should write down your memories about Brown Muff (and not just because it sounds naughty) and the ironmonger shop. Sounds fascinating.

discount coupons said...

I love its lunch counter..

Marta said...

I live in Richmond, so of course Thalhimers and Miller & Rhoads were my daily haunts when I worked downtown. But as a child I used to love to go to Harper's at the corner of 1st & Broad. My aunt worked there and they sold Poll Parrot Shoes.

They had an x-ray machine and after you put on the shoes, you would stick your foot in the machine to see how well they fit.
My brothers and I would do this over and over for the fun of it. Hate to think how much radiation we absorbed.

Bayman said...

I never heard of the Head Variety store. Must have been big.

Beth said...

I moved away from the area back in the mid nineties, right after Fleet's Restaurant was sold and became Tobins. Does anyone know what became of Fleet Foster or how he is doing? I would love to know! Thanks so much for your help.

Sincerely,
Beth

the_ghostwriter@msn.com