Recalling the Old 5 & 10, a Scene of Happy Pre-Christmas Bedlam
December 16, 1989
“Christmas time is coming, and it’s memory time again, and I remember Christmas and Murphy’s 5 & 10. The first thing that you noticed, was their big window sign, From now on until Christmas, We’ll be open until 9. They never worked on Sundays then, It was a 6-day week. And it was so overcrowded, you could hardly hear the wood floor squeak. Why we would bundle up real good, To fight the winter chill, And we could get our shoppin’ done, On a big $5 bill.
“A new ash tray for Daddy and Mom a plastic rose. Head scarves for our sisters and Grandma, cotton hose. You could get into the spirit, Just inside the door, That’s where they played the records, White Christmas, Rudolph and more. But now we have our shopping malls, Where we shop for all our kin. But it’s sure not the same as, The old Murphy’s 5 & 10.” Ruth Ann Hinerman Moundsville.
A reader sent me these few lines with the notation, “it might be a seed for some nostalgic Christmas thoughts.” That it is.
Time was when the West Virginia landscape was dotted with Murphy’s 5 & 10 cent stores. These were the nearest thing to a shopping mall that small towns could boast. The Murphy stores always seemed to be busy, particularly before Christmas.
In the late 1930s the G.C. Murphy Co. store was the retail commercial hub of Logan, W. Va. By then the mining industry was beginning to recover from the Depression. Miners had money in their pockets. They spent a lot of it in December at two locations, the dime store and the state liquor store. Although the Salvation Army had bell ringers at both sites, the liquor store booth was by far the more profitable. Not many miners could work up the courage enough to ignore the Salvation Army appeal while clutching a sack of yuletide cheer. There were ringers of the bells strategically located at the liquor store, making any exit from it akin to running a gauntlet. Paper money generally fluttered into the buckets.
While miners were patronizing the state store, their wives and children descended on the 5 & 10. In the days before Christmas it was a scene of happy bedlam. Aisles were jammed with shoppers, making a journey from one end of the store to the other a lengthy journey. There was much to see. The candy displays were fascinating. There were mountains of chocolate drops, some loose, others cunningly arranged in small baskets. How good they were! Hard candy was heaped in profusion, and boxes of chocolate covered cherries were stacked skyward. At 29 cents, a box of these made a perfect gift for his mother from a little boy who knew he’d get to eat most of them after the presents were unwrapped on Christmas Day.
Some measure of the times may be gleaned by the fact that after buying candy for his mother, a celluloid “Betty Boop” doll for his sister and a handkerchief for his daddy, the little boy had money left over from the dollar allotted for Christmas presents. This invited a return to the candy counter and measured deliberation over how to divide the purchase between chocolate drops and hard candy. The chocolate drops lasted longer but didn’t last quite as long. The philosophical implications were tremendous, whether to sacrifice immediate intense pleasure for lesser but longer lasting benefits. It is still a question which we still encounter from time to time. This little boy generally opted for chocolate drops, buying only enough hard candy to last him through the 16 mile, one hour trip home. But he always saved a few pennies to drop in the bucket outside, so as to experience the warm glow which came when the Salvation Army attendant, smiled and said, “God Bless You! Merry Christmas!” without missing a single peal.
Standing outside the dime store there on Stratton Street, listening to carols over the scratchy speakers (this was before “White Christmas” or “Rudolph” had made it on the scene), watching traffic inch by, blissfully sucking on a chocolate drop, hearing the constant murmur of “Thank you,” and “God bless you,” and “Merry Christmas”, yes, the lines about Murphy’s 5 & 10 did plant a seed for nostalgic yuletide thoughts. After more than half a century, there aren’t many Murphy’s stores left in our little West Virginia towns. Traffic, what there is of it, now moves swiftly through Logan. A dollar certainly won’t buy three gifts, let alone chocolate drops and hard candy, with a little something left over for the Salvation Army bucket. “now we have our shopping malls, where we shop for all our kin, But it’s sure not the same as, The old Murphy’s 5 & 10.”