Did you know Polo was founded in 1967 as well?
So anyway - a very old friend and I were reminiscing about Dayton's Department Store in its heyday back in the late 1960's. The store went through a another renaissance in the early 1980's - something both of us worked through and benefited from once again. I was in and out between those times - pursuing other interests - although my friend stayed all the way through to retirement. The store began its downhill slide after acquiring Marshall Fields, culminating in dropping the Dayton name. Eventually Macy's stepped in, and what used to be a fine department store turned into not much more than an outlet store.
However, it was fun to go over our experiences, recalling anecdotes and stories about the people we worked for and with over the years. It's quite a history really. In 1966-1967 Dayton's was on the map in this country as one of the very best retailers not only in the midwest, but the nation. It was the year the company presented Dickens Village, a well researched, lavishly constructed, historically accurate auditorium presentation for Christmas, coordinated with finely detailed display windows. In fact my very first job in the display department was watchman for the display windows, my duities comprised making the rounds of the windows to ensure the animation was working well and that there was no danger of fire. I was so cute and nice, they kept me on after Christmas - and my career took off! That's what I told myself at least, and I left home even before graduating high school - the job became my ticket out of the East side of St. Paul. Although in reality it was more like running away to join the circus.
[Read a snippet of the Dickens Village history in the book by Karal Ann Marling, Merry Christmas: Celebrating America's Greatest Holiday. Click here.]
I'm toying with the idea of returning to 'my story' - sort of a memoir - finishing up where I left off on this blog a couple of years ago. I lose interest in writing a chronological narrative - which is why I stopped writing - but maybe jumping ahead to the Dayton's part of the story will make things more interesting.
I'll have to change a few names of course, because some of the people we worked with are still alive. It was an unreal world, let me tell you, especially for a 17 year old kid. I was glamour struck. I recall one coworker who modeled herself after a famous movie star, even attempting her accent - she was a complete phony - but a good one - so I'll call her Holly. Anyway, once I asked her why she was angry with me - believe me, I was so genuinely naive and unaware it wasn't funny, and she looked at me rather officiously and responded in her most imperious tone; "I can see right through that innocent little facade of yours, young man! You are not fooling me or anyone else."
I of course had no idea what she was talking about at the time, although I was soon to find out. Looking back, I mostly see the incredible irony in what she said, since it was she who created an elaborate facade for herself, feigning innocence and virtue... But I'm jumping way ahead of myself and do not want to spoil the story by revealing too much here.
Curiously, the Presentation Director and genius behind the talent and store presentation was said to be a witch, and he kept live crows in his office, his name was Joe Wright and he was definitely an eccentric. In fact the entire company seemed to be run by and comprised of eccentrics, many of whom were decidedly immoral, yet spectacularly talented: Gypsies, tramps and thieves. It wasn't until the late 1970's, early 1980's that the business adopted a more stable, professional image.
My first Christmas at Dayton's changed my life.