The Five and Dime

In the day, the “five and dime” stores of Butler were the place to see lots of things of great interest. Murphey’s had a nice soda fountain. When they made milkshakes, they gave you a full glass with a cherry on top. They also gave you the metal mixing container so when your glass was empty, there was still a bit more shake to pour and enjoy. They also made a mean toasted cheese sandwich. Murphey’s also had Sandy the Wonder Horse, the best ten-cent ride ‘em horse you can imagine. Unlike many ride-em horses with molded plastic saddles that were cast as part of the horse, Sandy had a leather saddle and reins. A lot of extra effort went into painting her features. Once on Sandy, you never were satisfied with any other ride-em horse.

Woolworth’s had a roasted nut counter that emanated an aroma that poured into the street. Downstairs in the 60’s you could buy any 45 record you would ever want from their extensive collection. You could get the latest stuff or get records that were a few years old for reduced prices. These had small holes drilled in them for reasons of marketing that made no sense to me.

But WT Grant got the prize for “most interesting” store even though you could make a case for it being the most grandmotherly. While Woolworth’s had slick bright asphalt tile floors, Grant’s floors were wood. Near the front of the store they had old fashioned “iron claw” machines – the ones where you controlled a three pronged “grabber” suspended by a chain that dipped tantalizingly close to goodies like watches and rings. You would pop in a dime and try to grab a treasure and then dump into a shoot where you could claim them as your own. After trying this machine on few occasions, you pretty much knew that Harry Houdini could not extract anything from that scam. In an isle overhead, Hanes had a display that bridged one of the aisles with two cardboard bulldogs tugging to claim a nylon stocking. The lighting was so poor at times you could not really determine the color of the items you were buying. Grant’s appeal to me was the supposition that this was exactly what a five and dime looked like in my father’s day. It had a “back in time” flavor that the more modern stores lacked.

The highlight of a trip to Grant’s was a visit to see Carmichael the talking Mynah bird. Carmichael’s screeching bark could penetrate the wall and summon you from the street. He was a beautiful bird with feathers of every hue. And of course, he talked and talked. Now this is what I don’t understand about talking birds: they learn some words and then they seem to quit learning as if a ten-phrase vocabulary is enough. And of course, they seem to pick up phrases at random. Carmichael knew his name, I guess, since “I’m Carmichael, I’m Carmichael!” was often heard. But his favorite was “Where’s Blanche” Raaaack “Where’s’ Blanch?” Nobody seemed to know who Blanch was, probably the companion of some shopper. Carmichael also liked “I’m tired, I’m tired.” This, like all of his exhortations was always crowed as a double exclamation as if being tired once was not enough. I wondered if Blanch got lost and her friend was tired and looking for her.

The novelty wore off after you had heard the limited repertoire for the third or fourth time. You can teach birds to talk but I have yet to experience anything interesting they have to say.