Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Forbes and Wallace - Springfield, Mass.


In lieu of an April Fool’s Day joke, I submit a location which no longer exists. You cannot travel there now, but you can still know about it.

This is the corner of Main and Vernon streets in Springfield, Massachusetts as it was in 1981. This building, the Forbes and Wallace Building, represented what is now an almost vanished entity, the family-owned, city landmark department store.

Andrew B. Wallace, a native of Scotland, born in 1842, came to the US as a young man of business. Dry goods were his trade, and he worked at both ends of the Commonwealth, in Boston and in Pittsfield, before settling down in a spot a little closer to the middle, Springfield. Here in 1874, he partnered with Alexander B. Forbes to form what became a venerated institution among shoppers. Forbes retired from the business in 1896, the Wallace family continued it.

This building, eight floors, was constructed in 1905. Each floor had its departments, and being brought here to have a picture taken with Santa was something like an audience with royalty.

The store went out of business in 1976. Downtown had changed, as did shoppers’ habits. There were arguments about finding a new use for the building as opposed to demolishing it, and a few interested parties made feasibility studies, but ultimately decided that refurbishing the site was not really feasible.

The demolition began in 1983. The demolition of the parking garage attached to the store continued through 1985.

Monarch Place has the spot now. We have magnificent modern buildings going up all the time, and dynamic corporations to provide jobs and economic vitality to our cities. Unfortunately, we seldom have the emotional connection with them that we did these old family businesses, and their buildings with the opulent stonework. When the modern buildings are torn down, as they one day will be, it is probable few will care as much.

Been there? Sat on Santa’s lap? What about the big family stores in your community?

44 comments:

MichaelJ said...

I was there. I remember toys up on the top floor, where the walls and ceiling were black. My grandmother bought me a battery-powered toy police car, the kind with a siren and lights that would drive until it hit something, then back up and drive another direction, over and over.

It was the only place I ever went where the elevator doors would open a split second before it stopped moving.

We always went in from the airwalk from Baystate West. We'd also take the other airwalk into the old Steigers building, where I had to wait (as an impatient 6-year-old) for her to get her hair done in the salon. The bathroom had coin-operated toilet stalls; one of them was oversized and had a tiny child-size toilet next to the regular one.

Sometimes we'd eat lunch in the Russian Tea Room up top, other times we'd head back and out the other side of Baystate West into Kresge's, where they had a lunch counter. Grilled cheese, french fries, and a pickle - to this day I remember it.

Oh, and always a visit to Johnson's Book Store. As a child I loved how they were in two buildings across the plaza from each other, with a tunnel beneath connecting the book building with the stationery/supplies building.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks so much, Michaelj, for stopping by and sharing those great memories. I love the remark about the elevator doors. Since you mention the restaurant at the top, didn't Steiger's have one called Top of the Town or something to that effect?

Johnson's was the best. Not just the main book store and the toy department and stationery, but the used book department which, as you note, could be accessed by a tunnel.

Great detailed comments, thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I miss everything about the old Springfield I grew up with.
Can you find some pictures of Steiger's? I can't find any anywhere on the internet!
That was a really beautiful art deco building.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you so much for your comments and for stopping by. You're right, Steiger's was another interesting building. I'll take a look and see if I can find a photo.

Anonymous said...

Hi Folks...

I grew up in a time when Springfield was a viable, thriving city...with not only Forbes & Wallace and Steiger's, but...Johnson's Book Store, Liberty Bake Shop, Lido Restaurant, The Student Prince/Fort rest. (still operational),Waldorf Cafeteria...other shops whose names elude me now. The restaurant at the top of Steiger's was the "Colonial Tea Room." Precious place.

I'm also trying to recall the name of a deli on (I think)Worthington St. (across from Loew's Poli theatre. Authentic Jewish deli--the likes of which one rarely encounters now. Certainly not in W. Mass.

Any info or insights into any of these memories, pls. email me @kelty13180@yahoo.com.

Be great to hear from folks. :-)

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks so much for stopping by, and I hope you get some feedback on your request for readers to share their memories.

You've mentioned some real oldies. "Colonial Tea Room", that's great. I hope someone can remember the name of the deli. Just to the throw another one out there, how about the Butterfly Ballroom?

Deb said...

This is a wonderful site and a great post. MichaelJ mentioned the elevator ... does anyone recall if it was Forbes and Wallace or Steiger's that had the elevator with the lever to open/close the doors and the "elevator man"? I remember being fascinated when I was 3 or 4, but can't remember much more. Thanks!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you for your comments, Deb, and your input on the elevator description. I'm really going to have to reintroduce the Forbes/Steiger's topic soon.

PsBrown said...

I went to work in the Advertising Department of Forbes & Wallace in 1957, and although I was only there for a couple of years, I think of that time as being very special indeed --- not just the building, but all of the people who worked there. My boss was Mary Frances Foster and her boss was "Larry" Wallace - and he was handsome!

Yes - there was an "elevator man" (or lady) who knew just what to do with the lever; the restaurant on the eighth floor was the "Top o' the Town," the store was closed Thursday mornings but open late in the evening.

All of the departments were wonderful - and I think I can still remember just what was on each floor! - but oh! the bargains in the basement! They were the best!

I think that, packed away in a dusty trunk somewhere, I still have some clothes that I bought at F&W - saved all this time because I just couldn't part with them!

Thanks for the memories!!


Philippa Smith Brown

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you, Ms. Brown, for those wonderful memories! Your recollections are the perfect compliment to this blog post. I'm very grateful to you and to our other commenters for adding so much detail to the story. At some point I hope to do more blog posts on some of the old flagship stores in New England that gave our communities such elegance.

sojourner said...

I believe that the Jewish deli to which someone referred was Bennie's on the corner of Worthington and Main. It was run by Bennie Licht and was known as the place "where celebrities meet." Those celebrities were often entertainers who arrived in the wee hours after the show. Two in particular were Groucho Marx and Martha Raye. Bennie's was known as Springfield's "little corner of New York City."

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Sojourner, thanks so much for filling in the blanks about Bennie's. Great stuff, I didn't know about the entertainers stopping by to Bennie's "little corner of New York City." Terrific.

Alison Pierce said...

I really don't know where to start. My cousin has a blog page for Holyoke, MA. On todays' entry she had the erection of the "new Steiger" store on High St. What memories it brought back. I worked at Steiger's and Forbes and Wallace in the late 60's and 70's. At Steiger's I worked in the cash reconciliation dept. and in Forbes I worked as an elevator operator to an assistant buyer. You had to be 18 and have a state license in order to operate a manual elevator. I worked part-time, wore the really tacky uniform, and yes called out all the floors - contents. There really was a trick to stopping right on the floor ! The restaurant in Forbes was the Top of the Town and yes Lawrence "Larry" Wallace was a hunk ! My tour as an elevator operator was a great way to meet and be noticed by the "bosses" ! I am 58 now and miss all the wonderful shopping venues we had in Springfield "in the day" !

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Alison, this is terrific. Thanks so much for sharing your memories of Steiger's and Forbes. An elevator operator, I love it. Those were the days, all right. A lot of the glamour has gone out of shopping, but it's funny to think that part of that glamour had to do with tacky uniforms. Thank you so much again for commenting.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful page to come across. My sister and I were just reminiscing about Steigers which got me thinking about Forbes-- so I googled and found this page. I am grateful to you for posting this and for all the people commenting on their memories.

Yes, I sat on Santa's lap every year. Yes, I ate in the tea room. My grandma would bring us (her 5 granddaughters) there after we looked at the china and crystal in the adjacent Hall Galleries. She had us pretend to be choosing our patterns as if we were brides to be.

As I recall either Steigers or Forbes had a cafeteria-like place on the basement level called the Meridian Lounge. Not sure if anyone remembers that. Forbes also had a candy counter on the first floor with the most delicious flat round sweets of assorted colors and flavors -- peppermint, lemon, lime. We would make our selection and they would be boxed up beautifully to take home to our Father.

Like everyone else, we dressed to the nines to go shopping downtown. The clerks were courteous and everyone was well-mannered. Most of us in the Springfield are were probably only 1st or 2nd generation American, so it wasn't like it was snobby -- just very classy and polite.

Those WERE the days!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

How lovely! Thank you so much for telling us about the trips with Grandma to Forbes. Just terrific. I really appreciate your stopping by to help us reminisce.

Anonymous said...

My mother worked in Steigers
Tea Room from 1948 to 1978 it was a great place, she just loved working there..anyone remember "Little Mary" well, that was her.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you so much for telling us about your mother, "Little Mary" of the Steiger's Tea Room. How sweet. She certainly had a long career with Steiger's. I hope others who remember Mary will join in the discussion.

mariam said...

Yes i remember all the stores.
Downtown Springfield was like my home.
We (my mother & I) shopped Forbes & Wallace til they closed in July of 1976. They tore down the building in late 82-early 83. They actually had a "tag sale" where they opened the store on low lighting, and let people in to buy stuff(not merchandise) left over in there. They had only advertised it on local radio(WMAS?) and boy i regret the day i missed that ad!! Just to run amuk in the 8 floors of F&W would have been heaven to me!!
The First floor had moderate priced clothing, cosmetics(where i first learned to love 4711 cologne, and they carried Wells jewelry), men's department, and when you walked through the men's dept, in the back, was the smaller room with the deli,bakery, and the foreign foods, there might have been a small coffee counter too. Second floor once had some furniture(i have a blue hurricane lamp i purchased in 1971) and the junior department ( i can go back even way before the air walk, but that's where the junior dept finally ended up on.) Third floor had lingerie and childrens clothes. Fourth floor might have had either all furniture, i am getting blurry on this.
Fifth floor had the large toy dept. also was there curtains on the 5th floor?? i wanted a sheer set of priscilla curtains with flowers & butterflies so bad that they sold only at Forbes & Wallace. Sixth floor had gifts i think, but in the mid 70's they moved the toys to the 6th floor, i was very disappointed that they had done that. Top o the Town restaurant was on the 8th floor. (Steiger's colonial tearoom was on the 6th floor of their store)

My mother & I were in the basement frequently(they had cheaper clothes down there) and yes i remember the "Meridian Room". It was informal seating with stools at the counter mostly. my mother used to have coffee down there.
The toy department was on the 5th floor in the 1960's. Remember the built-in display cases in the walls, where they sold Madame Alexander dolls and my favorite "Flagg International dolls". I remember that they sold Sasha dolls, i always thought that they looked like poor italian waifs! In reality they are pretty pricey! Poor waifs indeed!!
I do remember Santa's throne set up in the toy dept, but never had my picture taken there. Anyone remember an older woman , with kind of an english accent, she wore glasses, was slender, sometimes friendly, sometimes not so much?? she worked in the toy dept. Forbes toy dept sold foreign toys too, and toys that were no sold everywhere. To this day, i still have the Miner toys miniature rooms that we purchased at Forbes. I never really liked them, but they are real rooms in miniature. For some reason i am missing a box, and had to put two rooms in one box. I still have my round sunglasses i purchased in summer of 1970 from Forbes. I paid a whopping $2.59 for them. They are still like new and i would not trade them for the world! I can go floor by floor in my mind with Forbes. Unfortunately i have no real photos for myself. however i was smart enough to take photos of Steigers, before they closed, exterior and interior shots in early 1994. I could go on and on about Springfield. Too bad the magic did not last.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Mariam, I can't thank you enough for all the detailed information you've given us about Forbes. This is amazing, and I really appreciate it. I know our readers will love strolling down memory lane (and taking the elevator up and down all those floors of merchdanse) with this great contribution. Thanks again.

deeidub said...

Jacqueline, I happened upon your blog entries when I wanted to learn more about Willimantic's Frog Bridge, which I passed twice this weekend going to and from Foxwoods. Then what do I come upon but your Forbes & Wallace entry. I was employed at the Eastfield Mall Forbes & Wallace in the 70s and of course was familiar with the downtown store as well. I was on the job the night we were told that that had been F&W's final day of business. The part that blows my mind to this day is that my next employer was Monarch Life, and I eventually ended up working on the same site where once had stood the home office of my former employer.

Thank you so much for both the Frog Bridge info and the F&W nostalgia. I'll be back to visit you often.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

deeidub, thanks for contributing your memories of Forbes, especially since you where there the final day. I really appreciate your adding to the story.

Anonymous said...

I was just a small child and lived in the south end of spfld.My sisters and i,and my mom would walk downtown every saturday to visit steigers,Forbes and Wallace and the Baystate West mall with the big rotating silver cube on the ceiling.I remember everything about those places and have looked online for old photos but find very few.Downtown spfld was full of stores on the streets but not so anymore...i distinctly remember in Steigers the little bell that you would constantly hear up above and i also remember they had a bridal dress dept that was always fascinating to me..i wish for one day i could go back there just to see the way spfld used to be...does anyone remember the 2 huge sand hills across from the civic center..lol..me and my sisters used to run up and down those and always lose our flip flops haha..if anyone knows how to see old pics of downtown spfld please share the website..i would love to take a stroll down memory lane..driving through downtown spfld now is like a totally different place..

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for stopping by and continuing the discussion on this fun subject. As I've been told by a former employee, the little bell you would hear in Steiger's was a signal calling employees from different departments. A more genteel way of summoning a person than those blasting, gravely-voiced PA announcements.

steve said...

Living in Hawaii since the early eighties, I truly miss the Springfield of old. Does anyone remember the Nutty Goodie Tea Room at the end of State st across from the Civic center? Or how Friendlies was never the same after Blake soldout? Or Picots Place restaurant in Hampden?

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you, Steve, for stopping by and adding to our collective memory of shopping in Springfield, Mass. Just terrific.

deeidub said...

I remember being very sad when the Nutty Goodie Tea Room was no more and I never had gotten a chance to partake of a nutty goody. Friendly's certainly went on to smaller and not better things after Blake....but what I really wanted to reply on was Picot's Place. My folks moved to Hampden in '71, and I lived with them intermittently during that time because it was the college years. I remember that Picot's was one of the very few restaurants in the Springfield area that my friend Henry from NYC deemed worthy of his attention. (Bit of a food snob, Henry is, and he still speaks fondly of P's P.) I recently made one of my periodic visits back to Hampden and went by the former site of Picot's Place and could not for the life of me remember the name of it--thank you, Steve, for clearing out that particular brain block!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I'm so glad this discussion is still rolling along. Thanks, Deeidub.

Ames Nelson said...

Hi, there. Was just remembering my grandfather and googled on F&W to discover your blog. He retired in 1955 after a 50-year career at the downtown store. Mr. Forbes gave him the biggest TV I'd ever seen [at age 9!] for his retirement. Among other responsibilities, he checked the cashier tills every night, and once gave me a silver dollar he'd fished out,dated 1797! His name was Herb Ames ... and my name is Ames Nelson. He was the finest person I've ever known. I only visited at holidays, but I have fond, if hazy, memories of the store. A shame it is gone.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Mr. Nelson, I'm so glad you stopped by with memories of your grandfather who worked at Forbes. Fifty years, my gosh. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It was fun finding this blog tonight. I was looking at a picture I had found today of my grandmother, Marjorie Robbins Wallace Wickman, and decided to Google Forbes and Wallace. My grandfather was Norman Wallace and about the only memeory I have of him is riding with him in his car with his driver into Springfield to his work at Forbes and Wallace. I am guessing that was about 1959.His son Laurence was my uncle.
Robbins Hail

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you, Robbins, for joining our discussion of Forbes & Wallace, and your family tree that contributed so much to the city of Springfield. I'm glad you found us.

ElisabethPapa said...

This might turn out to be a family reunion! My cousin Robbins just posted. My father was Laurence R Wallace (aka "Larry"). I grew up in the store, taken there so many times by my mother Anne, to shop for this and that. We lived on Longhill Street in Springfield. It was not too far to get downtown and I have memories of my father walking to work some days. I still have a photo of me on Santa's lap when I was 5 years old. I don't look too happy, actually. I used to get into trouble going into all sorts of places in the store I was not supposed to. There was this great auditorium on the 8th floor where they did fashion shows. And my Dad's and Grandfather Norman's offices were on the 8th floor also. What a place. It was like a little city, that big building, with everything you needed. I absolutely loved riding the elevators as a kid. The operators, getting the elevator to stop correctly at the level of the next floor. As it happens, I have a few of the original art deco elevator doors, which I was able to retrieve before the building was demolished. I could go on and on. What a great place and so much a anchor of my early family identity as well as from my earlier years. I was 21 when the store closed. The closing is another, somewhat dark story, best left to another blog I suppose. But by that time the store was no longer in the family's hands.
A silly story my dad once told me. Back in the 1930s when my great uncles were in partnership with my great grandfather Andrew, who founded the store with Alexander Forbes (who left the business entirely in the late 1890's - there was never any "Forbes" when everyone was always referring to the place as just "Forbes"). My great uncles were quite respectful (afraid) of their father. Their father felt you needed to work a long, full, hard day (enterprising Scotsman), even in the summer when there was less business happening (in those days). There was a special coat/hat room for the executives and my great uncles always kept extra hats for themselves there, hanging on their hooks, so if they were not in the store when their father Andrew came looking for them he would see their hats and decide all was well, that his sons were hard at work somewhere in the store. Meanwhile, they were probably someplace else, enjoying the summer weather.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Elisabeth, this is fantastic. Thank you so much for this detailed account of your memories of your family's store. There's a book in all of this. With each comment we get a better picture of a community institution from the shoppers, the workers, and the family in that traditional (and seldom seen anymore) family owned and operated department store. Thank you, again.

ElisabethPapa said...

Jacqueline:

Thank you. I am actually Stephen. Stephen W Wallace. ElisabethPapa is my login name that the blog seems to want to use. I should have signed my post with my real name. Elisabeth is actually the next generation in the Wallace dynasty (ha, former-dynasty now), my daughter.
And there is a book in it, actually. Working on that.
Grat blog you have.

-Stephen

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Very glad you're working on a book, Stephen. When it's time, you can count on publicity here.

Anonymous said...

Hello My name is Leah and Stephen is was uncle and Laurence Robins Wallace was my grandfather... just wanted to put that out there

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Welcome, Leah.

Anonymous said...

Hello & Happy New Year to Everyone.
If someone ever writes a book on Forbes & Wallace, i will be one of the first to purchase it! No kidding! Forbes was my retail mecca and i will always think highly of it. They had a fantastic toy department on the 5th floor back in the late 1960's. I also remember purchasing a Mattel Casey doll with no head (people had stolen the heads off the dolls,by poking their fingers through the plastic covering on the boxes, there were about 6 of these for 25 cents each! I got to purchase one (Casey's body matched Francie's) with the gold swimsuit and clear plastic stand, i was so excited!) They sold all kinds of dolls and toys. So please tell me descendants of Forbes & Wallace, who was the older english woman who worked in the toy department in the 1960's? She could be friendly and cold at the same time. She was slender with glasses and grey hair. There were so many adventures at Forbes and at Steiger's back in the day!

Anonymous said...

I wish I knew. If my dad was still alive he could tell you. I swear, he knew every one of the 100s of employees by name and always greeted them when walking through the store. I wish I had his memory for names.

-Stephen Wallace

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I just spent the day with my father and we ate lunch together at Lido's on Worthington. Not knowing the area well (and questioning his choice) he told me all about how when he was young, every Saturday after Thanksgiving he and his grandmother would take the bus to Forbes & Wallace to visit Santa and do some Christmas shopping. They also visited Johnson's bookstore (which he says had an amazing model train set up), and would finish the day eating at Lido's. The would then walk home - the home no longer exists as it was in the path of 291 - but it was an interesting peek into the past, and happy that at least one landmark from his youth remains.
-Jessica

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

That's a nice story, Jessica. I'm glad you and your father had, as you say, one landmark from the past to visit together.

Helene Kelly said...

Thanks so much to all of you for keeping the 'old downtown Springfield' alive. I am the niece of George Legos, the former owner and key cook of the Nuttie Goodie Tearoom. He just passed away this morning at the age of 80 from a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was a wonderful uncle and a great man. So many people have fond memories of my family's downtown Springfield landmark, the Nuttie Goodie Tearoom. Helene

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

My sincere condolences on the loss of your uncle, George Legos. I'm sure many have fond memories of the Nuttie Goodie Tearoom. Thank you for sharing this with us.