Photo by Ken Sundvik
A huge part of my childhood revolved around the Southgate Plaza Shopping Center. My family moved to Lewiston in 1971 into the big house on the corner of Seventh and Warner. Mom and Dad bought it from a family named Chamberlain but some people still called it the Fair house. It was the perfect house to be a kid and it was within walking distance of the store.
The Southgate Plaza of my youth had an A&W Drive In, a Green Stamp Store, a Liquor Store, The Big V Department Store with its garden center, McPherson’s a supermarket, Marketime Drug (it had a small Post Office), Sprouse Reitz a variety store and on the west end a Barber Shop and Laundromat. I think Poleson Realty and a few other businesses were located there too.
Coming from the small towns of Cottonwood Idaho, where I was born, and Kamiah Idaho, where I finished Third Grade, Lewiston was a big city. The Southgate Plaza with its multiple stores was like paradise for a kid with a few quarters. You couldn’t get better root beer than from the A&W. I remember their root beer came in iced glass mugs and were sized Papa, Mama, Grandpa, Teen and Baby.
The Big V seemed to have everything. It had lawnmowers and pantyhose. Hunting and camping supplies and dinnerware. Nuts, bolts, tools, motor oil and just about everything but food. It closed when Ernst Hardware moved to the Orchards in 1995 or 96. Within a few months of closing the whole Ernst Hardware chain went out of business. I still miss The Big V.
I learned to shop in McPherson’s. Since we were so close to the store Mom would have me or one of my brothers or sisters run up for items. Mom could really get the most out of her shopping money and she expected us kids to as well. We bought a lot of Western Family and Tastewell canned food. But we were also expected to get the best price per ounce so we learned practical math.
They wrote the prices on the cans in grease pencil. There were no scanners just cash registers. I remember this one cashier named Irene. She used to call out all the prices as she punched the register keys, and a twenty nine, and a sixty three…I can still hear her today. I think McPherson’s became Family Foods then Rosauers.
Marketime Drug and Sprouse Reitz were my favorite. Merle Dalton owned Marketime and Mrs. McCallum was the manager of Sprouse Reitz. Marketime had toys and a big cigar humidor in the front of the store. They sold candy, pop and ice cream bars too. We’d mail our letters there and spend our allowance in the 25 cent toy bin. You could get some great stuff if you dug a little.
My favorite holiday is Halloween and we’d make a trip up to Sprouse Reitz practically every day when the Halloween decorations came in. These weren’t the fancy decorations you see today. No, they were mostly articulated black cats and skeletons or cardboard jack o lanterns. We bought the heck out of them though, and our whole house had them taped up all over.
I marvel at my Mom. We didn’t have a washer or dryer until I was in High School, so early every Saturday she’d load up our dirty clothes and drive or walk to the Laundromat. If she had to walk we kids helped her carry the clothes in boxes. There were six kids and two adults. That was a lot of clothes. She’d wash them all and then carry the wet clothes home to hang on the wash line.
I guess today most people wouldn’t put up with something like that. The funny thing is though that doing things the hard way makes me appreciate how easy I have it now. My childhood was golden. I can think of a million places to start telling a story. The Southgate Plaza isn’t the same and never will be. Now that I’m older, if I don’t tell someone about it, you might never hear what it was like. Lucky most of my brothers and sisters are still around. Oh, and there’s this story too.