GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - One day, John Brink, owner of Brink's Fine Jewelry with his beautiful wife, Janet, brought me some really cool photos that he had borrowed from his friend, Orrin Hibschle.
Hibschle was the manager of Zales Jewelers once located at 535 Main St. for 8 1/2 years in the 1960s. Hibschle has some great memories of Main Street being under construction during the days of Operation Foresight, the moniker given the revitalization of Grand Junction's downtown in 1962. We'll celebrate the 50th anniversary and the recent Uplift Project that "freshened up" the original design.
I asked Hibschle what it was like back then, going through that drastic transformation. He told me that the downtown merchants got together to try to solve the problem of Main Street being like North Avenue where kids would drag race up and down all night and day.
"It was like a regular International Speedway and you could hardly get across the street without getting run over." (He said and he was pretty sure Jim Spehar was one of those kids.)
Operation Foresight solved that problem. The biggest complaint that was heard was that it killed about half of the Main Street parking spaces, so the merchants got together again and decided that a big parking lot would solve the problem. They found that in the Central Chevrolet dealership on Colorado between Fourth and Fifth streets. They filled it with parking meters and it's still in use today. Most stores on that block gladly created back door entryways. Kinney's Shoe Store, Hested's, Schmidt Hardware, Jack and Jill and, of course, Woolworths all had back doors. I especially remember Woolworth's where I practically lived in the photo booth by the pet department and record department and the back door.
Mr. Hibschle went on to say, "The back door thing was hard on Woolworth's manager Jim Houle because it made it easy for petty thieves. One day I visited Mr. Houle in his office and was shown a pile of empty lipstick, toy car and other small boxes and he said, "I lost about $300 today!" (And no, it wasn't me, but I do remember Mr. Houle was always lurking by that back door).
But the neat mushroom-shaped canopies with the pay phone's attached, the curved streets, and neat brick planters for trees and flowers accomplished just what the merchants had wanted, a Shopping Mall instead of a Main Street drag strip. People came down that never had before, they window shopped and then became customers. No businesses closed up because of it.
"Sure, it slowed business down a little but they worked fast enough and went block by block. They tore the whole Main Street up at once to get the sewer, gas and water lines in first," said Hibschle. Many of the building owners and merchants with leases had to contribute to rebuilding the sidewalks and such. His landlord at Zales was Howard McMullin. Mr. McMullin told him: "Oh yeah, it's good for Grand Junction and I'm ready for it!" Hibschle always admired him for that.
The photos that Hibschle loaned me show a very successful Sidewalk Sale in the midst of all the construction. He and Brownson's manager, Ray Watkins ,brought up the idea at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. They thought that if they held a contest where they dressed all the stores and their employees up, it would really make people want to come down and shop. And it did!
"People came down to see how crazy we were. We had more fun and we were busy all day," he said. "Employees from the different banks were the judges and walked around and gave out prizes, donated by the merchants.
The late John Zellner, manager of J.C. Penney's, and his employees did a "Beverly Hillbillies" theme with Mr. Zellner as old Jed Clampett himself. People stayed and shopped till near closing time. The Zales employees dressed any way they saw fit. Mr. Hibschle was Mr. 1929 and his daughter, Theresa, was dressed up like a baby, too. He still chuckles over some big old broad-shouldered railroader that had to duck as he came in the door of Zales. He told Orrin: "Fella, I think I'd like to pick you up and burp ya!"
He also told me that back then people would dress up to go downtown to shop. The torn-up streets and big piles of dirt didn't stop the ladies in their high heels, they just climbed right over them. Nothing was going to get in the way of their shopping.
Fifty years later we'll celebrate what has made our downtown an experience beyond the imaginations of the men and women. Grand Junction won the designation of All American City from the National Civic League and cities all across the United States emulated our brave new downtown, just as they have with Art on the Corner.
Come Sept. 7-8, we'll celebrate, 1962-style. A new Legends Sculpture will be unveiled and there'll be a downtown party on every block.
As part of the Foresight celebration, I'm looking for old slides, 8mm movies and photographs of the Foresight Festival, Operation Foresight, construction, before and after and other memorabilia or memories. If you have anything you'd like to share, contact me at 970-260-5226 or E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org!