When Santa Came to Town – A Mid Century Christmas

December 23, 2019

This shot from 1959 captured Bruce Raymond at work inside Van’s Drugs. We can’t tell if there’s a Rexall sale in progress.
Cart Morton, the perennial Marion business owner, pours a cup of coffee during a 1960’s Christmas open house at the new Village Shoppe, on the banks of the Middle Branch River. Today it is Smitty’s.

By Julie Traynor

Kids all over knew when a turkey hit the table it wouldn’t be long until Santa arrived in Marion, Michigan. The signs appeared everywhere. Christmas décor and kid tempting gifts like Tonka trucks and dolls hit the windows of the Ben Franklin, Sible’s and Morton’s. The excitement grew when a North Pole mailbox, just for your Santa letter appeared, strapped to a light post somewhere along Main Street.  There was no doubt that Christmas was near. Finally, Santa began to roll into town on a fire engine on Saturday afternoons.

What really made thoughts of sugar plums dance in our heads was when Neil VanDeWarker closed down the soda fountain at Van’s Drugs and used the long counter space to display more of the items found in the Rexall Christmas sale book.

Everyone with a Marion address, and even beyond, got the mini catalogue or read about it in the Press. A shopper could find everything from stationary (folks really wrote letters and was a popular gift) to electric fry pans at the Rexall sale. VanDeWarker packed a colossal inventory in his rather small store (now Friend’s Thrift Store). There was something for all your gift-giving needs. Many were sad that the trade-off was that there would be no ice cream sundaes, floats, or fountain Cokes until the next year.

Another sign of the impending holiday was when a large and real Christmas tree appeared in Flemming’s Clothing’s main front window. The smile on the face of the lady mannequin who lived in the window seemed just a bit brighter during the Christmas season. The real Christmas tree, decked out in bubble lights and large ornaments, took our holiday anticipation up a notch.

The Ben Franklin was a shopping wonderland, its magic aisles filled to overflowing with all kinds of seasonal treats for Christmas from decor and gifts to treats from the candy counter. Old ‘Ben’, and Harold and Virginia Hoekwater gave Marionites a great place to shop at home. And they did.

Farther east on Main Street, at the corner of Pickard, next to the Bowl and just before the Cadillac State Bank, was the old and imposing two-story, tin covered, double store building which was Morton’s Marion Hardware Co. This business was a hardware store, with oh so much more. They carried all of the nuts, bolts, and galvanized pails, tools, fishing poles and hunting equipment to prove it.

But wait! There’s more, as the ad man says.

Half of the Morton Hardware business was hardware, sporting goods and appliances. The other half of the ample building, constructed in 1902, was Morton’s fine gift room, a magic wonder packed beyond what seemed possible with a vast and assorted quantity of household and decorator ‘stuff’. Jewelry, fine china, Benko glass, vacuum cleaners and flip-top trash containers, and everything in between, could be found at Morton’s. In fact, Morton’s was named ‘a hidden gem of the Midwest’ in a regional magazine spotlighting such things.

Herman Dennis’ Marion Radio and Electric lured kids of all ages to their window with the latest models of Zenith radios, televisions, record players, refrigerators and freezers. A new television was a big deal, and often a family gift. A portable, pocket, transistor radio was a hot item and, of course, a big deal teen gift. Kids of a certain age will still recall the magic of that personal radio, which came with earphones.

On Christmas morning wherever they may be across this vast globe, old Marion kids will wake to the special joy of Christmas. And for a fleeting moment, they will likely wonder how the day dawned and when Santa arrived in Marion Land.  

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