The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

February 3, 2013

Downtown ‘hot spots’ live on in memory


Sure sign of advancing age: half of your sentences begin with “Remember when?”

That’s how it was the other day when I sat down with an old friend from Danville. As we talked about the downtown, it was reassuring to know that I wasn’t imagining things.

A few examples:

— Shephard’s Garage, 27-31 N. Walnut. My dad ran a parking lot between Shephard’s and Illinois Printing Company. Shephard’s had a pop machine, so I spent a lot of time sipping Grapettes there. Dingy Wonderlin ran the garage when I was a little boy, and then Elzie Wilison had it. You could park your car inside or get it washed and waxed. Some of the loafers emitted wolf whistles as women walked to and from their jobs in the banks and at the phone company.

— The Hobby Shop. It was on North between Walnut and Vermilion. It was where you went to buy model airplanes, model tanks and model cars, plus airplane glue and tiny bottles of model paint. Other merchandise included everything from feathers and beads to decals and construction paper.

— Dime stores. Woolworth’s, Kresge’s and Scott’s were all on Vermilion. A kid went to the dime store to buy toys, Greenie caps, a real live turtle, a real live parakeet, a 10-cent padlock, pencils, erasers, an initial ring or a root beer. Either Kresge’s or Woolworth’s featured cake donuts, with chocolate, vanilla or cherry icing.

— Palace Cigar Store, 144 N. Vermilion. Dad and I would order cheeseburgers and lemonades there. They had cigars, of course, but it was mainly a restaurant with a room in the back where guys played dominoes. Dave Doggett was the boss, and I remember the names of two of the waiters — Mary and Buss. The waiter took the order, cooked it, took the money and made change. On a busy day, it was fun just to watch the help run around.

— American Hatters and Tailors. It was on Vermilion, near the Palace Theater. They did tailoring, hat blocking, and shoe shines. Scotty Lillard was the king of the shoeshine men. The customers sat on high chairs with their feet perched on brass stands. Scotty would pound his left foot, then his right as he brushed away. During the buffing phase, he’d snap the rag and make it pop. He was an artist.

— Gildersleeve’s, 129 E. Main St. My brother and I loved to play Army. Our favorite store was Gildersleeve’s, which sold World War II surplus. Dad bought us real Army helmet liners to wear, G.I.-issue musette bags, surplus sergeant’s stripes and First Cavalry shoulder patches. I had an Army hatchet, and an entrenching shovel with “U.S.” printed on the green canvas sheath.

The old Elks Club, the Fischer, Woodbury’s, the Card Cottage, the Nook, the Temple Building, Walgreen’s, Bill Vogt’s; Carson, Pirie, Scott; Meis Brothers, the Palmer Bank thermometer, Gerry’s, Hank’s, the county jail, the Illinois Power smokestack, the Plaza, the Grier-Lincoln, the Saratoga, the Wolford …

I could go on and on. Remember when?

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at