Emily and I drove to the dentist office the other day. We happened to follow a car that had a pink pig antenna topper.
That made me think of the few years that my folks put a bright orange Styrofoam ball on our antenna because we had such trouble finding our car at a favorite shopping place. The place was the Sav-Mart on old U.S. 40 (Collinsville Road, a bit west of its intersection with Illinois 157). It was your basic “big store” in the early 1970s days before K-Marts and Wal-Marts become more common. Sav-Mart’s parking lot was packed on Saturday afternoons!
I think of this place with fondness because it was my primary source for LPs. Records listed for $5.98 back then but Sav-Mart’s price was $4.53. (Why do I remember this?) While Mom and Dad shopped elsewhere in the store, teenaged me checked out the selection: Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Cat Stevens, Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Yes, and so on. The store had an excellent variety of records. I always hoped that hyper-thrifty Dad wouldn’t become involved in my shopping, because he’d see bargain-bin records for $2 and sternly wonder why I didn’t buy those. After we’d shopped, the three of us went outside and tried to spot the tiny orange ball on the low horizon which would identify our car in the many rows of other cars.
During that time, Sav-Mart was the grand finale of our Saturday shopping trips. We’d go to downtown St. Louis’ Stix, Baer and Fuller and Famous Barr stores to shop in the morning and early afternoon. Then, as we headed east on I-70 toward our hometown, we’d get off at Exit 6 (Illinois 111), turn east on Collinsville Road. Along that road, we’d shop the Grandpa’s discount store and the Sav-Mart store, and sometimes even the Venture store. Grandpa’s was a good store, too. There I found Ray Manzarek’s 1973 LP “The Golden Scarab” and debated whether to purchase it.
One of my last memories of these shopping trips is sitting in our car at the fast food place across from Sav-Mart. (I can’t remember if it was Burger King or Burger Chef, the forerunner of Hardee’s). As I ate my cheeseburger, I looked at the Mahavishnu Orchestra LP that I’d just purchased, and wondered if it would be good. Usually I wasn’t very experimental with my LP acquisitions (I didn‘t buy Manzarek‘s excellent album, for instance, during that earlier trip), but in this case I’d read an article about John McLaughlin’s amazing guitar playing.
At about that same time, 1974 or so, an enclosed shopping mall, St. Clair Square, opened a few miles south on IL 159, and our shopping trips shifted there. I've love to know how long Sav-Mart lasted, although I vaguely remember that I passed by, years later, and it had become a liquor outlet. Who'd bother recording the history of a big box store?
Sometimes I get off at Exit 6 (or, if going the other direction, at Exit 11) and drive along the Collinsville Road. The Cahokia Mounds site is also along this route. Venture, Grandpa’s, and Sav-Mart are no longer open, though the buildings are still there and used for other purposes. It occurs to me that at least two economic processes were at work in my experiences: the business districts of small towns like mine (and downtown departments stores in large cities) could not compete over the long haul with discount stores, and eventually those stores could not compete with large enclosed malls. A third process would be the “flight” of the white and black middle-classes from communities such as those near the Sav-Mart.
A lot of everyday, 1970s memories from a pig antenna topper! Actually I thought of some of these memories a few weeks ago as I sorted my old LPs in order to donate several to an area book fair. Since I don’t play them anymore, I selected a few for their special memory value and relinquished the rest. (I’ve been through this process two or three times already during the past few years in the ongoing effort of managing our belongings.) I definitely saved a few that I remember, with reasonable certainty, that I purchased on one of these grand Stroble family shopping trips of "yesteryear."