The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Features

September 13, 2013

Living downtown in the Depression

Can you imagine a 9-year-old boy and his mother living above Grant’s in a $9 apartment, with heat and water provided, during the tough times of the Great Depression? They had a little closet for a toilet (only) and the little boy did all kinds of odd jobs for a few coins or, possibly, a dollar.

His grandma Gertrude also lived in the building, and all the upper floors of the buildings contained small families of struggling individuals. His playground was often the roof tops of those building. He was probably saved from delinquency by work and by being a Y member for $7 a year.

Clayton “Cookie” Cook lived much of his life downtown, as well as worked there, on Fifth Avenue. He saw it grow, prosper, and begin to die. He speaks with great love of the street and all its characters and lovely stores. On the south side of the avenue was United Cigar Stores at 201, and then a couple of little shops — one of which became his shoe repair establishment after WWII, in which he served.

Also on that side was the Wilson Building, with all of its professional people. Martin Morris moved there from Second Street, and there was Volckmann’s Furniture, Milo Johns Rexall Pharmacy (with its soda fountain), and — the first place “Cookie” ever had a real job — Laurie’s Women’s Apparel.

The real thriving side of Fifth Avenue was the north side, however, as Saturday night shopping turned into Monday nights. Most folks just sat in their cars and enjoyed seeing who went by.

In the 1930s, traffic centered around Van Allen’s, then McLellan’s and the other two dime stores. People’s Trust and Savings was a neat building with massive pillars, but that was torn down after it went bust during the Great Depression. McLellan’s was a third popular dime store that joined Kresge’s and Woolworth’s.

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