Anoka County history: Anoka’s Main Street at Christmas

I think Anoka’s Main Street is the envy of all, and with the recent snow fall it brings many old memories back.

Maybe you read the great article written by Howard Lestrud last month in this newspaper about old downtowns like ours, or perhaps you read the article about historic downtown Excelsior in a recent edition of the Star Tribune.

My memories of Anoka’s downtown, before the nearby shopping centers like the now-gone Brookdale, the other Dales and Northtown, was that most Christmas shopping was done in our downtown.

Yes, some folks went to Dayton’s, Donaldson’s, or Sears in Minneapolis or to Montgomery Ward’s in St. Paul.

Most merchants in old Anoka did something special during the holiday season.

Roy Carlson, the founder of Main Motors, served Tom and Jerry’s from 1 to 3 p.m. every Christmas Eve afternoon.

I remember two local men, who were sure to be there every year, but they never set foot in the door the rest of the year, which was a little upsetting to those of us on the Main Motors sales team, but they were served anyway.

One of the biggest shopping events for many folks was the annual promotion that took place at one of the oldest businesses in town: Goodrich Drug and Gift Shop.

It was one of the most straight-forward and honest promotions I have ever known.

It started in the 1930s and went well into the 1950s.

Each Christmas shopping season, Goodrich would put three or four dolls in their window, one was a expensive doll with a wardrobe, and the others were less expensive.

Little girls were then registered for a contest to win these prized dolls.

For every dollar you spent at the store, you could cast a vote for a registered girl.

Needless to say, it was the best word-of-mouth advertising that I have ever known.

Moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, uncles and aunts, and good friends and neighbors were calling everyone they knew asking them to be sure to go to Goodrich Drug and vote for their favorite little girl.

It was a great promotion with none of this insulting the public approach like “buy one (at the inflated price) and get the second one free.”

Most everyone in town could hardly wait for the announcement on Christmas Eve afternoon to hear who got the most votes and won a doll.

There were many other special promotions in downtown Anoka that everyone looked forward to.

Main Street was like its own department store with all of the stores making up the various departments.

There was Frisch’s, Jenson’s (still going strong), Peterson’s Shoes (also still going strong and one of the oldest stores in Anoka), and Colburn-Hilliard Men’s Store.

Colburn-Hilliard always had a special seven and 5/8 gray hat my dad got every Christmas for himself.

Babcock Hardware was the place to go for any sporting goods gifts. It had everything.

Other stores were Beckums, Turnquists, Ben Franklins, Lehn Electric, Hoffman Electric and Amidores for that new household appliance.

The Jaycees provided for a Santa Claus that went from store to store.

Yes, whatever you could get in Minneapolis or St. Paul you could get in Anoka too.

Editor’s note: Tom Ward is a member of the Anoka County Historical Society board of directors.

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