Valley Pike: The mall has changed — and so have I

Posted: May 14, 2014

“Thought I’d visit the club

Got as far as the doorThey’d have asked me about youDon’t get around much anymore.”

— “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” Ellington/Russell

No, no, I’m not — heaven forbid — waxing lamentably nostalgic about some long-lost love, but simply commenting on my current state of contented inertia. If I could identify that “you” from the Bob Russell lyric, it might be the Old Town Mall.

Even though I still work a mere two blocks from the mall, I just “don’t get around (there) much anymore.”

This thought — and the lyric — came to me early Friday morning when, car-less (or rather truck-less) for a few hours, I walked over to the ATM at Wells Fargo. While strolling through the heart of downtown, the beauty of the revitalized mall struck me, almost anew, as did the realization that brought that tell-tale lyric to my lips. “Don’t get around much...”

With my brain in full wanderlust mode, I recalled as well one of my first Valley Pikes, written 17 years ago, when I took another walk downtown, this one with longtime resident Bob Gray, who transported me back to the “Main Street” of his youth, in the ’30s and ’40s.

Bob, son of a “Main Street” — it was never Loudoun Street back then — haberdasher, regaled me with memories of going to the movies downtown at the Capitol Theater, hanging out with his buddies at People’s Drug, and, on one sad occasion, helping to rescue folks injured in the explosion at the Raylass department store.

But Bob’s was a world I could merely envision, vicariously so. Not so the downtown I came to almost 22 years ago, the downtown Ican recall for the benefit of posterity. Like Bob, I am, at least to some degree, in the memory business now. Scary, isn’t it? Almost as scary as turning 60, which I do two weeks from today.

So what was the mall like 22 years ago? Let’s take a trip down Loudoun, er, ah, Memory Lane.

To be sure, what passed as anchors then (in the wake of the big chain stores skedaddling to Apple Blossom Mall) are still anchors now — Bell’s, Wilkins’, Patton’s, The Floor Shop, The Book Gallery, and even the Snow White Grill.

Most folks, I suspect, recall that People’s Drug still held down the northwest corner of Loudoun and Boscawen in 1992; that Solenberger’s and Miller’s (run by the family of a soon-to-be close friend, Leary Boyd) were downtown competitors in the hardware trade; that Bob Bartley was hard at work restoring footwear; that Art Jolliffe was sizing ring fingers at Johnston’s Jewelers (Toni and I bought our wedding bands from him); and that, most every Thursday night, bluegrass aficionados would gather at Dalton Brill’s barber shop for his ad hoc picking sessions.

I also recall when Apple Valley Office Products was on the mall. Owner Gary Chrisman was mayor then, and I went there often to interview him, but not until I had stopped at Swirls for morning coffee, where I usually ran into Tom and John Dick of Miller & Anderson, which was still operating out of a storefront on the mall.

Saturday mornings often found me at Vivian’s, where the sourdough toast was to die for. That toast would soak up the occasional beer enjoyed Friday nights at T. Jeffries, since reincarnated as Brewbaker’s.

Benchmarks all, for most city folk of some longevity, as were The Bargain Corner (Jim Keller) and Valley Photo (Frank Scheder). But how many remember, for instance, that the mall had a Hallmark store (House of Cards)? Or a ladies store of considerable “Worth(’s)”? And do the names Swiss Pastry, The Cheese Board, and The Australian Store ring a bell?

Well, they were all on the mall. Just like I used to be. But I “don’t get around much anymore.”