Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When Walmart Came to Town

Even though Walmart did not come to Northwood, it did.  Every small town mom and pop retailer felt the long arm of Sam Walton no matter the distance to the nearest Walmart, and the local retail venue was changed forever.  Elsewhere in this blog you can view a slideshow of Main Street Memories, not including this picture forwarded by Richard Holstad, and you can affirm things just aren't the same anymore.

Just as much as a retailer suffered from the low low prices of Walmart, the local theater was a victim of market forces in the form of that modern device called the television.  Hardware and craft stores couldn't give enough advice to win the hearts and souls of the buyers, and often gave away the advice and the buyer bought at Walmart.  The theater owner never had much of a chance to sell his vision one-on-one because the dial was already tuned in at home.

Perhaps the first movie I ever watched on television was "The River of No Return" starring Robert Mitchum, Rory Calhoun, and Marilyn Monroe, now available on Netflix Streaming.  (MORE competition.)  But it was in the theater pictured above that I saw the Hitchcock thrillers "North by Northwest" and "Psycho," and Charlton Heston fighting the wall of water in "The Ten Commandments."  I mean, as a Norwegian Lutheran, how could you NOT go to that movie?

My grandparents treated me to "The Greatest Show on Earth" in the early 50s, featuring a perilous fall from the trapeze by Cornel Wilde after he removed the safety nets, and though he didn't die, he did bleed copiously from the mouth.  And you remember things like that.  Though Cirque du Soleil it ain't.  (You really need to look up "Show" on Wikipedia - it was a real soap opera.)

Back to the theater itself - at first glance I was shocked to see admission was $1.25 until I realized that was the night's apparent giveaway of $125, and I'm sure you had to be there to win.  And when I looked at the late 30s model car, the barbershop and Rex Cafe on either side, I realized this was probably before my time.  It is.  "Ghost Breakers" is a 1940 movie starring Bob Hope and the lovely Paulette Goddard, so it's probably before your time, too, but it is available online as a classic.  YouTube has a number of clips you might enjoy.  Click here for one featuring Democrats.

Today Northwood apparently has a top-notch theater due to local philanthropy, and I hear often about the movies and events scheduled there including the "All Class Reunion" held last September.  If you still live in Northwood you already knew that, but most of us don't live there anymore.

These photos are the "before" and "after" or more suitably "then" and "now" versions of the J. B. Thompson Building on the corner of Highways 105 and 65 that houses the theater.  Growing up, I heard the old-timers sitting on the steps on the East side telling their stories, many in Norwegian, every Saturday night when we came to town to sell our eggs and buy groceries.  That's another tradition gone by the wayside, replaced by Walmart and thankfully by the good will and funding of the folks who make a theater like this one available.

I'm not sure - do we call all this progress?  Or not?

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