In the mid-1970’s, downtown Spokane got a huge boost from the city playing host to the 1974 World’s Fair. They renovated quite a bit for this event, and when we moved back to Washington from Ohio, I saw that the dank, dingy downtown area had become a shopping mecca.
Before I found The Music Box (and after as well), my first stop whenever we’d hit “the big city”, was the circuit of mostly large department stores that were all interlinked by the city’s new “Skywalk” system – these were (mostly) enclosed bridges which connected most of the major stores on each end of the second floor. I”m not sure if I remember the correct order but I believe it went like this: the second mezzanine floor above Skaggs and Newberry’s connected to JC Penney; JC Penney connected to The Crescent; The Crescent connected to the second floor of the Washington Mutual bank building, which had been renovated into about a dozen small shops; WaMu originally connected to an outdoor skybridge which connected to the building that housed Pay N Save (not sure which building it was), and you went down the stairs on the one end by Pay N Save and across the street to the Bon Marche. Later on, in 1979-80, they extended the SkyWalk network, enclosing the bridge to Pay N Save, and the second floor of that building filled up with shops in an L Shape, and the next SkyWalk they installed went from the back end of that building into the building where The Music Box was.
Each of the major chain stores had a record department, though sometimes it was hard to find. Newberry’s, being an old-fashioned 5 & 10 store, had one small rack of albums and tapes, a few 45s, and that was it. I rarely wasted time here, as it was not likely I would find much different here than in other stores.
So most of the time, I started my trip on JC Penney’s first floor, where the record department was. It wasn’t large, but they had four long bins of albums and two racks of 45s, one current and one “oldies”. And occasionally you could find a gem or two there, because they carried a few imports – Penney’s is where I found my “Carpenters: Live At The Palladium” album, which is still unavailable in the U.S. And Penney’s had the best 45 selection of all the chain stores – they had their own Top 40 survey list printed out, and the top 40 plus about 40 other songs were usually available. And they had large plastic shopping bags with handles for 50 cents and those really came in handy.
Then I would make my way to The Crescent, where they had a small record department upstairs – I think it was on the fifth floor. Five or six round bins with four album slots and slots for accessories between the albums. I rarely actually bought stuff there, and I don’t remember finding any real gems there either. But I always checked it out, and the book department was right next door, and I found that The Crescent’s book department was always worth searching through, because before the two bookstores downtown opened in the newer wing of the Skywalk system, it was the best place to find books.
Then I would head through and out the end of the WaMu and across the outdoor bridge to Pay N Save, which always had a decent supply of 45s, but not much in the way of albums. Sometimes you could find a single at Pay N Save that no one else had yet, but most of the time it was a bust that way.
Then, it was over to The Bon, as it was known then (it was bought out in the 1990s and the name finally replaced by Macy’s in the 2000s). My mom had a Bon charge card, and so we did all our major shopping there. And I didn’t even know they had a record department until later years, and I found some real gems there. They were the only place that had the self-titled album by the Saturday morning group Kaptain Kool and the Kongs (this was after they lost the glam makeup for the third season of The Krofft Supershow), and they had the best soundtrack selection other than Odyssey Records up the street. The Bon was always worth the trip.
I recently made a virtual trip back to my old stomping grounds via Google Earth, and sadly, NONE of the old stores are still there, though downtown Spokane is revitalizing again with new stores. Skaggs and Newberry’s both went bankrupt and closed before we left Washington. The Crescent was eventually purchased by Frederick & Nelson, and then that chain filed for bankruptcy and closed in 1992 – the building where the store was is still called Crescent Center, though, a nice homage to the original Spokane-based store. Penney’s moved their main store to one of the malls, and closed the downtown location in the mid-1990s. Pay N Save went bankrupt in 1992 and was bought out by Thrifty Drug Stores, which sold it to Payless Drugs. And The Bon Marche was bought by Federated Stores in 1992 (Damn, that year was HARSH to downtown Spokane, wasn’t it?), who finally changed it’s name to Bon-Macy’s in 2003 for a transitional period, then dropped the original name, carrying on as just Macy’s from 2005 on.
Not many major department stores still have music departments. Sure there are small ones of this ilk at your neighborhood K-Mart, and occasionally at Sears (which is, after all, owned by K-Mart these days) , but the days of walking into a major department store and finding their record department is sadly long gone, replaced by Amazon Music, iTunes, and other digital music services….and while you can search and find lots of gems in those digital download meccas…it’s just not the same as physically picking up an album or 45 and holding it in your hand…::sigh::