Sep 25, 2010

The Fair and the Boston Store

September 24, 1945:
“Didn't go to school again, and so went downtown. Got my pictures taken in the Fair.”
September 25, 1946:
“Went to the Boston Store and took some training to be a sales girl.”
State Street got its “great street” reputation in no small part because of big, sprawling department stores. The Fair and The Boston Store were two of those.

After Dot had her picture taken on this September Monday in 1945, maybe she went to the 7th floor to have a bite at Harding's.

Harding's appears to have been a moderately-priced restaurant with at least 11 locations in and around the Loop, including at The Fair.

Harding's Presidential Grill at 108 W. Madison, and
Harding's dining room on the 7th floor of The Fair department store.

Information about Harding's is scarce. But here are a few items I found in the Chicago Tribune archives:

Nov 6, 1942: JOHN P. HARDING RETURNS AS CIVIL SERVICE HEAD: Mayor Kelly cleaned house yesterday in the city civil service commission. He appointed John P. Harding, veteran restaurant operator, to be president of the commission, succeeding Joseph P. Geary.

Mar 13, 1943: RESTAURATEUR JOHN P. HARDING DIES IN HOSPITAL; Civil Service President Had Many Interests: John P. Harding, 76 year old president of the civil service commission and for many years a Chicago restaurant owner, died yesterday in St. Francis' hospital, Evanston.



* * *

The Boston Store: “A corner in our grill, adjoining our restaurant”

North of The Fair a block or two was The Boston Store. By 1946, it was no longer as successful as the nearby Marshall Field's or Carson Pirie Scott. From Jazz Age Chicago:

By the late 1930s, business at the Boston Store had begun to decline and what had once been State Street's second-highest-grossing department store had slipped to seventh. During those years, little effort was made to modernize the store or the way it did business. Observers criticized the store's increasingly outdated appearance--some said it "reeked with a quaint Victorian mustiness"--and Mollie's refusal to develop suburban outlets or break with its traditional cash-only sales policies. The Boston Store closed in July of 1948.

Sears, which later closed its huge State Street store a few blocks south, now occupies the lower levels of the building. Today, the Boston Store exists only in Wisconsin.

But back on that September 25, 1946 day, Dot was pursuing a sales girl job at the big store. She also would soon be boarding a train for a romantic adventure.

The Boston Store, and a young girl's dreams, live on--in “Mamie”--a poem by Carl Sandburg:

MAMIE beat her head against the bars of a little Indiana town and dreamed of romance and big things off somewhere the way the railroad trains all ran.
She could see the smoke of the engines get lost down
where the streaks of steel flashed in the sun and
when the newspapers came in on the morning mail
she knew there was a big Chicago far off, where all
the trains ran.
She got tired of the barber shop boys and the post office
chatter and the church gossip and the old pieces the
band played on the Fourth of July and Decoration Day
And sobbed at her fate and beat her head against the
bars and was going to kill herself
When the thought came to her that if she was going to
die she might as well die struggling for a clutch of
romance among the streets of Chicago.
She has a job now at six dollars a week in the basement
of the Boston Store
And even now she beats her head against the bars in the same old way and wonders if there is a bigger place the railroads run to from Chicago where maybe there is

and big things
and real dreams
that never go smash.

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