I only vaguely recall the days of shopping downtown with both Forbes and Wallace, and Steiger’s connected to Baystate West, but shopping at the latter and Johnson’s Bookstore for the holidays was something I did into adulthood. My ex wife even worked at Johnson’s for a while. Johnson’s. What a strange, cool, quirky store…underground tunnel and all!
I can still point to an item or two in the house I know I bought on Christmas Eve in Springfield’s downtown. When Steiger’s closed, and later Johnson’s as well, the tradition transformed from preference to crusade. There were years when CVS and what was then a very limited gift shop at the Springfield Science Museum were my retail outlets of choice. Restaurant gift certificates, and later gift cards, became a solid part of my Christmas gift giving repertoire as well.
In recent years my wife has transformed my Christmas Eve retail tradition into a family event. We spend some time in the South End, buy coffee and hot chocolate at La Fiorentina, perhaps some stocking stuffers at Milano’s or Mom and Rico’s, a gift basket at Frigo’s, and pizza at Red Rose. Some years we’ll attend vespers at the South Congregational Church.
This year Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were a picture of perfection from the snow twinkling amongst the lights to the festive feeling of people, a few anyway, wandering Main Street to perpetuate whatever holiday tradition in their family included whatever item from the old Italian shops in the neighborhood.
I arranged to meet a wonderful new friend considering a business opportunity, and a personal relocation to Springfield from the greater Boston area on the Friday before the holiday; I met a family friend out doing her Xmas shopping and got some advice on what to buy Elizabeth at the Holiday Market; I saw another friend out clearing ice from his sidewalk, got a tour of the apartment he’s refurbishing in his building and gave him some of my wife’s Christmas Fudge. While clearing snow, bringing wood in for the new wood stove, and fixing UPS delivery mistakes I saw, and delivered fudge, to a handful of other friends and neighbors.
The giant department stores are gone. The downtown malls are dead. The spirit of the season persists in the traditions of feasting, gift giving, and sharing with one another. Happy holidays.