If you are younger than 50, you may think at first glance that there is not much you can relate to in this column. It’s about the old Lisbon Street, the crowded sidewalks in front of long-gone stores and the things that were happening in Lewiston-Auburn as Christmas of the mid-1950s drew near.

Don’t be fooled. Reminiscing about the past should be an enhancement of today’s experiences, not an escape from them.

In my favorite kind of free-form research, I picked a couple of years (1953 and 1954) and I scanned those December newspapers. I was looking for the forgotten details of a time I knew as a boy, but I also looked for the similarities.

Memories of pre-Christmas shoppers thronging “the head of the street” (where Lisbon Street meets Main Street) are vivid. Traffic stopped for red lights and dozens of people, especially on a Saturday, who surged across the intersection. On one side, they had explored the gift ideas at Peck’s, and on the other side they were visiting the “five and dime” stores: Woolworth’s, J.J. Newberry and Kresge’s. There are still echoes of those stores in faded signs and names spelled out by tiles at former sidewalk entrances.

For most area families of the mid-1900s, Christmas wasn’t complete without a trip to Peck’s. When built in the late 1800s, it was the largest department store east of Boston.

Young and old were fascinated by its large holiday window displays, some of which had animated figures. The revolving-door entrance opened on a wonderland of elegance where tinsel covered even the pipes of the pneumatic tube cash carrier system. Santa held court on the lower level and kids snagged mystery gifts from the fish pond.

On four floors, there were endless gift-giving options: an imported French calf handbag for $10, wool gloves for $1 and Old Spice scents in toiletries for a dollar or two. Walking dolls were $1.98 and $2.98.

Those 1953 editions of the Lewiston Daily Sun also advertised the L.L. Bean canoe shoe, from its Freeport store, for $5.45. That’s just one case where past and present intersect. After Peck’s closed in 1988, it became a call center for L.L.Bean catalog shoppers, so the gift-giving from that location has continued through the years.

Next to Peck’s were two stores that are still around – but located elsewhere – and now much bigger than they were then. There was a small J.C. Penney store and a Sears at the time when it was still known as Sears Roebuck and Co.

Liggett’s Rexall Drug Store at the corner of Lisbon and Main was always busy. That’s where city buses boarded full loads of passengers. A familiar sight there was the costumed Planter’s Peanut man in front of a magnificently aromatic shop.

Dozens of quality women’s clothing stores were located on Lisbon Street, including Ward’s, Reid & Hughes, Star, Senter’s and Janelle’s. Men’s clothing stores included Leblanc’s and A.H. Benoit & Co. Louie’s, a company that is still around, also did business then.

In Auburn, Flander’s and Cobb-Watson were respected men’s clothing stores.

Atherton Furniture is no longer in business, but a short distance from its former Lisbon Street location, on Lincoln Street, F.X. Marcotte Furniture, originally labeled “undertaker and dealer in furniture and stoves,” is well over 100 years old now.

Christmas parties for companies and clubs were being held throughout the Twin Cities. People celebrated the season at the Mirimar Tea Room, Hotel Stekino, the Nanking, the Elm Hotel and the DeWitt Hotel.

On Dec. 12, 1953, the nationally acclaimed Claude Thornhill Orchestra was at the Lewiston Armory for the Auburn Firemen’s Ball. Tickets were $1.50.

Local favorite Stevie Stephens was playing for a dance at Lewiston City Hall.

“Hans Christian Anderson” with Danny Kaye was opening at the Auburn Theater, the Empire had Alan Ladd in “Drum Beat,” and the double-bill at the Strand was “The Bounty Hunter” with Randolph Scott and “Outlaw’s Daughter” with Bill Williams. “Three Coins in the Fountain” was at the Ritz.

Young people may roll their eyes when the elders start talking about the old days. But their memories will be just as important. Will it be a romantic dinner at Fuel, the upscale restaurant on Lisbon Street where old-timers remember the Berry Paper Co. store? Will it be fun with friends at the Auburn Mall or the movies?

The old Lisbon Street is gone, but L-A’s business and civic leaders are working hard to bring vitality to our cities there and elsewhere in the Twin Cities. Once, the “head of the street” was the center of activity. That has changed and expanded, but there’s no reason future memories won’t be just as wonderful.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and an Auburn native. You can e-mail him at [email protected]


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