A couple of months ago, I sold a desk to a lady who lived in Crestwood near my childhood home, and I hauled it to her in my pickup on a Sunday morning. I couldn’t resist a drive through Crestwood Shopping Center, which seemed like a second home to me.
It still looks a lot like it did, though the stores have changed many times over the years. Over to the left, in the space that used to be either the barber shop or Mayhew Shoes, was a little coffee shop. Why not?
I walked in, ordered a cup and looked around. They had the usual clientele of freeloaders spending two bucks on coffee in return for three or four hours of free Wi-Fi. (I have no idea how that business model ever enables them to survive.)
I didn’t really take note of the other stores that are there now, or even whether the spaces are occupied. In my mind, I saw the stores that were there in the 1960s, before the fancy Eastwood Mall opened up, where you could get nearly anything you might need. There was Casual Aire, the women’s store on the end. And the barber shop, where everybody we knew went for a haircut – $1.50 for a regular cut, $1.75 for a flat top. Then the Marsh Bakery, which had amazing donuts for a nickel and sugary apple turnovers for 12 cents, which always struck me as a better deal. I hate to think how many of those I ate.
We all bought our shoes at Mayhew Shoes, and I even won a bicycle in a drawing there – a nifty blue number with butterfly handlebars and a banana seat. A few more steps away was the dime store, where you could buy pretty much any kind of toy, household gadget or nickel pack of M&M’s. In between was the Western* supermarket.
But I guess the everybody’s favorite was Crestwood Pharmacy on the end. The manager there knew every secret in Crestwood and Woodlawn, because for anybody who lived south of the railroad tracks, that’s where they got their prescriptions filled. And best of all, they had a soda fountain where you could get a very fine lunch and a vanilla coke for well under a buck. I still think they made the best chocolate malt I ever had.
If you didn’t like the food at the drug store, you could always walk across the parking lot to the Frostop, which had pretty good burgers and, more importantly, big frosted mugs for their root beer and orange drinks (non-carbonated – I hated carbonated oranges).
On the corner, there was a service station where you could get air for your bicycle tires, and once you were done, it was about a five-minute bike ride through Crestwood Park to the house. I had to lift my bike up onto about a two-foot ledge and ride across the dirt park. But I’ll talk about that ride, and the park, tomorrow.
In our little world, you could get pretty much anything you needed without ever getting in the car. And I guess it was everything in Crestwood Shopping Center was right there within a 50-yard radius. It wasn’t anything fancy or sophisticated, but it wasn’t so bad. It was just Birmingham – back when it was still raw.
*Thanks to Gil and Jean Simmons for correcting this!