Downtown Shopping Destinations: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Need groceries? Need clothing? Need sheet music for the piano lessons? When I was growing up, downtown Conway was a major shopping destination for most people in Faulkner County. Shoppers could get almost all of their errands run on Front Street or Oak Street.

All your jewelry needs could be met either at Dayer Jewelry or Fletcher Smith Jewelry, both located on Front Street. Next to Dayer’s, shoppers could visit Cecil’s Fabrics for their sewing needs or undergarment purchases. Clerks were there to bring out any items you might want to consider but it was not the self-service establishment that shoppers experience today.

Next door to Cecil’s was Olsen’s Music Store. I began taking piano lessons with Mrs. Neal Ward when I was in the fourth grade so Olsen’s was a frequent stop. There I purchased the required books for my piano lessons and browsed through all the other music items available. It was easy to lose track of time in that store!

All children looked forward to shopping next door at Simon’s Grocery (now American Management). The bakery was at the front of the store so every child could have a Smiley cookie to eat while Mom filled her grocery list. The baker later opened up his own store, Ed’s Bakery, so that is where the Smiley cookies can still be found.

Clothing needs could all be met on Oak Street. Jack and Jill’s (now Jennifer’s Antiques) was the place to buy children’s clothing. Then shoppers could cross the street to Blue Ribbon Shoe Store to get their children fitted for shoes. Children were often given a golden egg with their new shoes.

Men could find all their business clothing at Ed Camp Men Store (next to Lefler’s) or Van Atkins (where EM is today). Women shopped for dresses at Lefler’s next door as well as other small dress shops on Oak Street but all could find clothing at the J.C. Penney store on Oak Street (now American Management). J.C. Penney had items available on the second floor as well. Shoppers could climb the big staircase to check out the merchandise there.

Hardware and houseware needs were met either at Massey’s Hardware (now Carmen’s Antiques) or White’s Western Auto (now Mountebanq Place). You could also make the longer walk to Heigel Lumber (where the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Walgreen’s are now located)

Sterling was the major discount store in the area until Wal-Mart opened up its first location next to the Mad Butcher on Markham Street in the mid-1960s. Sterling was located on Front Street by Simon Grocery. It later became a Magic Mart before closing.

There is only one thing you had to remember if you were planning a shopping trip downtown in the 1960s and early 1970s. Blue laws did not allow any stores to open on Sundays and most stores closed early on Saturday afternoon. Delaying the trip to town could mean going home empty-handed.

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