Our Rural Heritage: Holiday shopping — 1876 style

Barrett's Hardware Store, a popular Joliet store for decades, survived a fire in the 1800s.
Barrett's Hardware Store, a popular Joliet store for decades, survived a fire in the 1800s.

By Sandy Vasko

This week, we continue walking through downtown Joliet during the holiday season of 1876. The next establishment we enter has a familiar name, even in 2022. Our guide is the reporter for the Weekly Sun newspaper:
“Perhaps you wouldn’t dream it, but in Barrett & Son’s well-known establishment we find many an attraction for Holiday presents. What good matron’s heart will not beat faster with joy on the receipt of a handsome set of knives and forks, table and teaspoons? And no place in this country can better goods be obtained for less money than at Barrett’s. And then how happy it would make a boy to receive a fine pair of skates or a money bank such as the Barrett’s sell for very low prices! The display of pocket cutlery is very extensive, and a good pocket knife is always an acceptable Holiday gift. In the line of new and improved styles of revolvers no one can surpass Barrett. Go there for the solid things.
“We pause at the corner of Ottawa Street attracted by a grand illumination, and thinking it a torch light procession we go on a voyage of discovery and find the cause to be the illuminated sign, guiding the purchaser of elegant Holiday Present to the popular variety store of Chase & White, 52 Jefferson Street. The display is a combination of the smallest, cutest toy and a grand piano or organ, with all the wonders of the toy and book world scattered in between.
“No one asks us to ride, so we take passage upon Shanks’ mare and soon find our now weary footsteps leading us to N. D. Dyer’s popular establishment, 34 Jefferson Street. Mr. Dyer has long held an enviable position among the merchants of Joliet, by reason of his low prices, excellent goods and uniformly honest dealing. He now displays a fine stock of ladies’ cloaks, ladies’ and children’s furs.
“The river presenting an inviting sight, not for suicide, but to cross, we do so, and find our old reliable friend, John Ryan, at his well-known stand, selling fine custom and readymade boots and shoes.
“We find our self wandering in fairy land amid the beauties so lavishly displayed at Mrs. B. Allen’s, 13 Jefferson Street. Nowhere on earth has mortal eye ever gazed upon such an elaborate show of Holiday goods of every known description, especially dolls. It’s a perfect world of dolls – dolls little, dolls big, dolls fancy, dolls plain, no end of dolls, and among them we notice many very fine dolls, worth in the neighborhood of $50 ($1,325 today) each. Mrs. Allen’s “Doll’s Fair” is attracting general notice, and the prize doll is a gem among its fellows – or sisters, rather, for we presume there are no dolls of the sterner sex – and should be seen by every person in the city. In china, gilt and lava sets there are many beauties. Slipper patterns, mottoes, brackets, wall pockets make up the display, not forgetting the large and elegant stock of millinery and ladies furnishing goods. Be sure to call on Mrs. Allen.
“And now we do drive on our ducks to another market, and find installed in Deutsch’s west store room, 21 Jefferson Street, Mr. G. W. Henry, who has just opened a mammoth stock of almost everything one could well imagine: Christmas toys, sleds, furs, caps, hats, gloves, boots and shoes, furnishing goods of every known style and kind. Think of a fine silk hat for $3.50, a genuine whalebone whip for 75 cents, a fine cap for 50 cents, a $6.00 ($160) sleigh for $1.50 ($40), a boy’s sled for 40 cents, boots for $2.00, shoes for $1.00, fine gloves worth from $2.00 to $4.00 for 75 cents to $1.50 and host of other fine goods at equally low prices.
“People wonder at these prices, and well they may, for the stock is a combination of two stocks of well-known Chicago bankrupts. None of these good are shoddy, and all are to be closed out at any and every sacrifice, as Mr. Henry is determined to realize upon them immediately. He asks every intending purchase of Holiday goods of all kinds to call on him before seeking elsewhere.
“Allow us to pass upward and onward to Deutsch’s famous stand, No. 23 Jefferson Street, where we find an entirely new and magnificent display of Meerschaum goods, in all the artistic cuts. Handsome show cases are filled with these art works and Henry Sonntag says that it very low prices are inducements for ready sale he will close out the entire lot during the Holidays. No more beautiful present could be made a gentlemen than a fine Meerschaum pipe or cigar holder. And always bear in mind the Deutsch’s clear Havana and domestic cigars take the lead in Joliet. Present a box of “Our Heroes” to some gentleman friend for a Christmas gift, and he will be grateful every more.
“The dreamy land of smoke is left in the rear as we seek out the old established and ever reliable O. Fox, the clothier. In the line of ladies’ cloaks the stock offered is only equaled by that of ladies’ and children’s furs, which is very large and handsome. Gentlemen are offered very elegant furs and mufflers and stylish suits at bed rock prices. The line of Buffalo roes cannot be beat in this country. For gloves, mitts, winter hats and caps, etc., Mr. Fox has made every effort to supply the demand, and has succeeded.
‘Tis not well to lay too much stress upon the internal good things of life, and neglect the external decorations. So, to care for the outer woman needs only a visit to J. S. Johnson’s elegant dry good establishment, 51 Jefferson Street. Here you will find goods to delight the heart of every lady in the land. In dress goods the display is rich and magnificent, and the line of fancy furnishings, including silk and worsted goods of the latest styles, cuffs, collars, and all the mysteries of female attire. Shawls of finest make and latest styles are offered at greatly reduced prices.
“And for real solid comfort, you must go to G. L. Vance, at the Opera House furniture emporium, and procure one of those elegant easy chairs, foot rests, and other comfort giving things displayed by the always reliable Vance. He makes a specialty of handsome frames, mouldings, brackets, wall pockets, etc., and offers his stock for the Holidays at greatly reduced prices. Do not miss seeing Vance and his stock before concluding purchases.”
I’m afraid the wayback machine is telling us it is time to leave 1876. I hope you have enjoyed our holiday shopping trip.

G. L. Vance, at the Opera House furniture emporium, was the place to go for elegant easy chairs, foot rests, and other comfort giving things

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