Working Downtown: “Looking Back”

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

In the early 1980s, I worked downtown every Saturday at Cordia’s Gift Shoppe (where Grand on Oak is today). Cordia Mote was the owner and my grandmother, Viola Burnett, was the store manager. We made some wonderful memories selling gifts for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas.

The store had a bridal registry so it was a major destination for wedding and bridal shower gifts. Cordia’s was one of the stores where the ladies could pick out their Pfaltzgraff everyday dishes as well as their fine china. We kept records of past purchases so that husbands and other family members could come in and pick out new pieces to give as birthday, anniversary or Christmas presents. Cordia’s offered gift wrapping so one of my main jobs was to wrap the gifts in pretty paper and top the package with a pretty ribbon and bow.

There were many other beautiful gifts in the store. Brass was really fashionable at the time so customers could pick from a variety of brass candlesticks, trays and ginger jars. Cordia’s also had a wide selection of cut glassware and porcelain as well as other items for the home. Customers could always find that perfect something for themselves or others. It was lots of fun unpacking the new merchandise to see what new things we would have to sell.

Saturday mornings started with a trip around the corner to Simon’s Bakery for cookies. Then we would straighten up merchandise and maybe do some pricing in between waiting on customers. I would go across the street to get our lunch at Bob’s Grill. In the afternoon, when we weren’t waiting on customers we would watch Frank River’s boy acting like a mime in the store window of Frank Rivers Men Store (it replaced Van Atkins and was located where EM is today).

Working downtown was especially fun when there were events going on downtown. During UCA’s Homecoming, we would step outside to watch the Homecoming Parade. The pretty homecoming maids would ride by in their convertibles. The fraternities and sororities would ride by on their hand-crafted floats and the UCA Marching Band would play.

Christmas quickly followed Homecoming. There is a long tradition of downtown businesses having Christmas open house in early November to start the Christmas season. Cordia’s was especially busy during that time as were all the small shops downtown. We usually had to hire more clerks and I spent a good deal of time wrapping Christmas presents.

At Christmas, I also wrapped gifts at The Perfect Setting. It was across Oak Street from Cordia’s between Frank River’s Men Store and Bob’s Grill. Sharion Carter and Janet Starkey owned the store and offered a variety of gifts for the kitchen and dining. They also had a bridal registry and a variety of china patterns.

Downtown Conway was a great place to work during the holidays. Everything was festive. All the store windows were beautifully decorated and the place was bustling with the excitement of the season.

Lots of great memories were made during those years I spent working downtown.

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