BY CAROL ROEHM
It seems that Berkowitz Luggage was the place to go in Danville to purchase a graduation gift back in the 1950s and 1960s.
Carolyn Burke of Danville shared with me that she has a set of “Blue Hawaiian” pale aqua-colored luggage — a large suitcase, a medium suitcase and the train case — from Berkowitz.
“I received two pieces at eighth-grade graduation and then another piece for high school graduation,” she said. “It has traveled a lot.”
Burke said she has fond memories of the Berkowitz Luggage and Music store on the east side of North Vermilion Street.
“I loved going in there. I shopped in Berkowitz from the time I was in grade school until they closed,” Burke said. “I remember buying men’s billfolds in there. They had some very nice billfolds.”
Burke said she also still owns a cloth evening bag with beading on the outside that she bought at Berkowitz for the junior prom as well as a black-and-red clutch.
Judy Walker of Catlin also recalls her mother giving her a three-piece set of light blue Samsonite Ultra Lite luggage from Berkowitz for her high school graduation.
“In my day when you graduated eighth grade you received a watch, and when you graduated high school you received luggage,” she said.
Walker said the luggage set “proved to be very useful in my travels back and forth to college, on my honeymoon, etc.”
“I would most likely still have them today had they not been stored in a very hot attic when they were not in use,” she lamented. “The heat ruined the plastic-like material they were made of, so they are long gone by now.
Mary Downey also has vivid memories of the Berkowitz store.
Downey attended St. Patrick Grade School in 1959-1960 and lived on North Griffin Street near where the fire station is now. The school bus route did not extend to this area since it was “the edge of town,” so Downey rode the city bus to and from school.
When school would let out at 3 p.m. Downey would walk downtown to where her dad worked so she could save the bus fare and ride home with him.
“Of course, this gave me a few hours to explore downtown,” she said. “I enjoyed meandering in and out of all the stores that were there in those days.”
Downey said one of her favorite stores was Berkowitz.
“It wasn’t the organs or luggage that fascinated me — it was the purses! All colors, sizes, styles — it was almost too much to take in,” she said. “Nearly every day I wandered through the store, sometimes climbing the stairs to the little balcony where there were even more purses!”
Downey said, “Mr. Berkowitz had a kindly face but was not given to chitchat. We would nod at each other but seldom spoke.” While he never objected to her wandering around the store, Berkowitz probably figured the schoolgirl was never going to purchase anything.
Finally the day came when Downey, who had diligently saved her babysitting money and bus fare, had enough to buy a purse she had been eyeing for about six months.
“I was on a mission,” she recalled. “I marched into Berkowitz, took the purse from the shelf, brought it to the counter and announced to Mr. Berkowitz that I wished to purchase this purse. It was a tan-colored ‘bucket bag’ — so chic at the time.
“Although his facial expression did not change, I’ll never forget the surprise in his eyes,” she said. “He treated me as he would any other customer — not as a child but as a grown-up.”
Downey said that purse made her feel like an adult and “oh-so sophisticated.”
“I carried that purse for several years into high school and, after I started working, I bought a few more purses from him,” she said.
“To this very day I blame him for my near-obsession with purses — more than any woman needs in a lifetime,” Downey conceded. “But none of them has given me the same pleasure as that first purse I bought at Berkowitz.”
Last glazier in town
In last month’s column, Carole Craig from Toledo, Ohio, sought help gathering information about a 30-by-40-inch beveled edge glass mirror with an old sticker on the back that reads: Libbey-Owens-Ford Polished Plate Glass by Thirion’s, Danville, Illinois. The date of manufacture or purchase also is stamped in ink on the back of the mirror and reads: Jul 22 1948.
In the Danville city directories for 1945 and 1949 — during the time when the mirror was made — Frank Thirion and Son (Frank J. and Leon N.) at 531-535 E. Main St. were “dealers in all kinds of glass, plate, window, art, wired, colored, rough auto glass, mirror manufacturing and mirror resilvering.”
At some point, Frank L. Thirion took over the family business as president and general manager until it closed in 1971.
Joy Kelch of Westville remembers the late Frank L. from when she worked as a bank teller at the Second National Bank of Danville in 1967 and 1968.
“He would come in every day with a deposit,” she said.
One time, he gave her more than just the daily deposit.
“He gave me a beautiful glass paperweight that he had made for me,” she said.
Roy Wienke, owner of Wienke Glass Co. on North Logan Avenue, said he believes he’s the “lasting surviving glazier from the 1950s.”
Wienke, who had previously worked at Bohn, said he began working with glass at Pittsburgh Plate Glass at 321 N. Vermilion St. across from the then-Holland Apartments in 1958. He recalls making $1.25 an hour.
“It took me six years to make the $2.35 an hour that I had been making at Bohn,” he said.
Wienke eventually quit at PPG in 1964 to open his own glass company, where he fixes storm windows, glass table tops and mirrors and used to teach stained-glass classes.
Do you remember what some of the hourly wages were decades ago?
Carol Roehm is the education reporter. Contact her at 477-5174 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.