I Remember Fountain’s

Fountain's Big Busy Store, victim of Greenwood's kleptomaniac. Postcard courtesy of Donny Whitehead, aboutgreenwoodms.com

Fountain’s Big Busy Store Postcard courtesy of Donny Whitehead, aboutgreenwoodms.com

 

Ed. note: This is from one typed page found in Sara’s papers, with a note at the top that says, “A story I wrote for the The Commercial Appeal but never did send.”

“I remember Fountain’s Big Busy Store, once the shopping center of a large part of north Mississippi in the heart of Greenwood’s business district. They removed the last fixtures from her walls this week, and many a Delta citizen felt a twinge of nostalgia as they recalled happy shopping sprees at the big store.

“Fountain’s closed two years ago, and only the show cases and store fixtures remained, and now even they are gone. Other stores will move into the building but the memories of Fountain’s Big Busy Store will always remain in the hearts of Greenwood citizens.

“From miles around people came to Fountain’s, which opened its doors in 1902 and moved to the big building in 1914. Friends would meet at Fountain’s. They would enjoy the refreshments in the soda fountain with its ice cream parlor chairs or visit on the mezzanine. There were fabulous fashion shows with the latest style creations, and dollar days which attracted hundreds of shoppers. The big wheel which held the thousands of numbered tickets before each big drawing was a part of the equipment being moved out as the fixtures were sold.

“I remember most vividly the toy department that delighted the hearts of so many youngsters. There were no toy departments in smaller stores then, and the opening each year of Fountain’s toyland was the first glimpse we had of Santa’s toys for that year. The curtains covered the big side window all week before Thanksgiving and we could hardly wait for Thursday when they were drawn back revealing trains and dolls and countless other wonderful toys. The doll stands were packed in boxes this week, and seeing them I was once again a little girl with my face pressed against that side window of Fountain’s on a cold November day, picking out my Christmas doll.

“I saw, too, the tall ladder on wheels that was used in the shoe department, and I remembered all those shiny black patent leather Sunday School shoes and the brown school oxfords and the funny little stools the shoe clerk sat on as he measured your foot.

“The elevator in Fountain’s was the first one ridden by many a youngster, and Lena, the colored elevator girl for so many years, would always let the little ones ride up and down while their mommys shopped.

“I saw the stands on which ladies would stand to have hems marked and thought of all the people who had stood there, of the wedding dresses that were bought at Fountain’s and the school clothes.

“I remembered the piece goods department and the big pattern books and the little dresses with bloomers to match made from material bought at Fountain’s. A ‘back to school’ sign tucked away in a corner was another reminder of all those Septembers when folks flocked to Greenwood’s big department store for school clothes.

“Fountain’s Big Busy Store has closed but it will remain as an important part of Greenwood’s history.”

This must have been written in the early 1960s, since Sara mentions that Fountain’s had been closed for about 2 years. My only memory of the store was a final walk-through with Sara as a small child after it was empty and out of business. It seems there was one employee still there, as I recall her talking with someone, and I remember how vast the space seemed. Just a few years ago, I had the chance to go upstairs in the old Fountain building, second and third floors, before the renovation into luxury apartments. The sheer size of those dusty, forgotten rooms was overwhelming, as were the size of the windows. I tried to get Sara to come up there with me but she had no interest in revisiting a space that, for her, still buzzed with happy shoppers scooping up bargains.

We should all have a “Fountain’s Big Busy Store” tucked away in our memories. For Sara, this Greenwood landmark was Macy’s and F.A.O.Schwarz and Saks Fifth Avenue rolled into one perfect package, right on Greenwood’s main business corner. Almost fifty years after the doors were padlocked, she could still mentally walk past every counter and name every salesclerk and she was convinced that there was never a finer establishment in any town in America.

There is life and energy once again in the Fountain’s building, thanks to Viking’s renovations and the addition of Mississippi Gifts, Turnrow Books and the apartments upstairs. Those have been valuable additions to my life here in Greenwood, but Sara could never see them as anything but interlopers. We never went in Turnrow that she didn’t look around and say, “Now, right here, this would have been Miss _____’s counter with the ______ for sale.” And you could tell that she was leaving the present,  moving backwards in time to the days when she would have held her own mother’s hand and wondered at all the treasures waiting to be discovered on that day’s trips to the Big Busy Store. We should all have such memories.

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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2 Responses to I Remember Fountain’s

  1. Neilson Buchanan says:

    What period of time does the collection cover? There must be two time periods..#1 your mother’s lifetime of 88 years..when was she born? I think my mother was born on Strong Ave in 1911.
    #2 her reflections and writing must have covered a wider period?

    • sec040121 says:

      Neilson: The memoirs cover 1921 to 1991, when she put all of this down on paper. Her Civil Rights memoir begins in the mid-50s and is primarily concerned with the ’60s and ’70s. Hope you’ll enjoy these. Who was your mother?

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