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.