Thursday, December 01, 2005

S.A. Barker

S.A. Barker was located on the northeast corner of Sixth and Adams Streets in downtown Springfield, Illinois. It took up the first floor, basement, and second floor of what was then known as the Illinois Building. I don't know who owned the store, but anyone familiar with Springfield is probably well acquainted with the highly respected Barker name.

In addition to fine clothing and lingerie for women, Barker's sold top of the line make-up, jewelry, shoes, and accessories. It mostly catered to career girls and society women.

It was bigger than a boutique, but smaller than a department store. The exact layout of the store escapes me, except, haute couture was located on the second floor. Not that I could afford to buy anything up there, but it was nice place to daydream. A gentle saleslady named Dorcas was very tolerant of a 15 year old girl who fantasized about wearing high fashion.

There are a few things worth noting about Barker's that are rarely, if ever, seen in retail stores anymore.

First, the elevator: The elevator car opened on both the west side and the south side on the first floor, the west side in the basement, and the south side on the second floor. The elevator gates were highly polished brass. And, as was not at all unusual back in those days, the elevator was operated by an older woman of varying degrees of temperament.

Second, the transaction system: When a purchase was made on the first floor or the basement, the saleslady handwrote the ticket, collected the customer's money, check, or in the case of a charge account, the customer's name. She would put those items in a canister where it was vacuumed through a tube to the second floor. Then, some unseen cashier in the second floor office would send a printed receipt and any change back to the sales lady through the tube. Sales on the second floor were hand-carried directly to the cashier.

Barker's is one of the few Springfield retail establishments that not only moved to the mall, but remains there to this day. Unfortunately, it survives in name only. Whereas, the old store downtown was a place where polite ladies shopped in a refined and quiet atmosphere, shopping at today's mall version, which specializes in footwear, is quite the opposite. (Think Saturday afternoon shoe sale frenzy.) This is probably more a reflection of how society has changed than anything else.

This entry was inspired by Springfield Rewind: S.A. Barker Co. - 1960.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous says
Sam A. Barker was the manager of Newman's on the northeast corner of Sixth and Adams when it opened in 1906. After Mr. Newman's death in 1920, Barker and other investors purchased the store and the name to S.A.Barker Co.
Lester and Ruth Friedman assumed the management and ownership of S.A.Barker Co. in 1950. I think after the Friedman's the store was purchased by Weiss Shoe Co that had the shoe department in the store.

9:19 PM  
Blogger ThirtyWhat said...

My first job after high school was working for a bank on the Old State Capitol Plaza.

I started in June ... and was so proud of myself when October rolled around and I had enough money to buy my best friend a sweater from S.A. Barker's for her birthday. I mean ... common ... I shopped for her at S.A. Barker!

Now ... since my best friend was still a senior in high school, this fact was totally lost on her ... and she looked terribly disappointed when she opened her gift.

In retrospect ... I should've kept the sweater for myself ... and bought her a "Winger" t-shirt.

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can help add some info. Back in the late 1920s, Sam Barker leased space in his store to a young immigrant, Charles Weiss, to open a shoe department. CHarles Weiss, my grandfather, eventually turned this first store into Weiss Neuman Shoe co., based in St. Louis, with stores and dpearments all over Illinois and the midwest. Fast forward to 1982. Lester Friedman sells the two stores to Bob Ruehler, who promptly runs it into the ground. The shoe department at the mall was still doing a lot of business, so my father and uncle, who were runnign Weiss Neuman shoe co., bought the mall store for a very small sum, and kep the clothing department going. In 1983 and 1984, I spent a few weeks selling shoes there, truly the heydey of mall-based retailing. By 1997, my uncles Richard was deceased and my dad, who was 65, sold Weiss Neuman and shuttered SA Barker's ladies clothing so that he could retire. I'll never forget my summers in Springfield - especially the fun times at hte Illinois state fair!
David Weiss
St. Louis, Mo

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sold shoes at SA Barker's in the mid 70's. I was the first black hired in sales, though I was hired by Weiss and Neuman Shoes, who leased space in the store on the second floor, and later in the basement boutique. Jim W. was the shoe manager....Miss Mamie was the elderly black elevator Lady. The shoe dept was very popular with the ladies, because we sold high end shoes, as well as mid priced shoes aaaand handbags. All the shoe salespersons were very competitive.

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sang the SA Barker radio jingle on WTAX in the early 50s. It was written by my father who was the traffic manager at the time and I was paid 50 cents by Oliver Keller, who owned the station. I thought that was a lot of money! And I was pretty famous in grade school for awhile!

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Susan Braasch said...

My dad ,Rocky Schoenrock, came back to Springfield after WWII to settle down. He was a window dresser at Barkers. Sometimes my sisters and I would play hide n seek on the 2nd floor while we were waiting for dad to get off work. The 2nd floor dressing rooms over looked 6th street. One year my family and other employees watched the downtown Christmas parade from those windows. The Christmas parade was in the evenings then.

11:40 PM  

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