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Murray Journal

Ghosts of Murray’s Christmas shopping past

Dec 02, 2022 03:08PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

While New York City has the flagship Macy’s store, complete with Santa and Thanksgiving parade, and Salt Lake City has the candy-decorated windows in the Gateway Mall (née ZCMI), Murray too has had its stores that left indelible Christmas memories.

While Murray has had Fashion Place Mall, complete with Santa and festive trim, for 50 years, some longtime Murrayites remember the sights and sounds of Christmas at stores that no longer stand.

“My memories of Christmas in the old downtown Murray as a child in the ’50s are a lot like the beautiful, bustling, glistening small towns of the Hallmark Christmas movies. There was always a big Christmas tree on the east side of State Street and hanging light decorations strung from pole to pole overhead. There was always a Santa in one of the stores, which always scared me. And seldom did you go shopping between Grand Central and Penney’s without running into neighbors or someone my family knew,” reminisces Laurie Morris Carlson.

In 1908, James Cash Penney stepped onto Murray’s State Street and opened his eighth Golden Rule Store. Penney was known for his motto, “Not gold. But the Golden Rule.” Within three years, he combined his stores and collectively the Murray location became the third JCPenney store.  

Initially, the store stood near the corner of Vine and State Street, then sought a more prominent location in the Iris Building, today’s Desert Star Playhouse, 4861 S. State Street. Service was vital, as when you entered, the manager greeted you, and cashiers had a Lamson Cash Handling System that whisked away transactions.

Sharon Daniels remembers, “One of my favorite memories of JCPenney’s was when they put the change in the can and sent it up to the office, and the office would resend the can down to the check stand on the wire. Fun to watch as a child.”

Eventually, JCPenney would move two more times before closing its final location at 4859 S. State Street in 1972.

After World War II, the United States was awash in military surplus items and contracted with retailers to sell its backlog of coats, boots, ammunition and shovels. Roland Davis, Theron Jolley and Tom Cowley took advantage of this opportunity and opened Allied.

Not exactly the most fashionable merchandising location, the owners bought the Gillen Brother’s Livery and Feed (6400 S. State Street) and converted it into a store. They posted a giant billboard with a friendly Army grunt and an actual fighter airplane out front. Over time, the Army fatigues were painted over with blue jeans and a polo shirt, and plastered on the side was their sales jingle: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”

While the interior was on par with current warehouse stores, Allied’s tree lot endeared itself to many Murrayites’ Christmas memories.

“Ah, the smell of the flocked tree room at Allied. Every once in a while, I get a whiff, and it takes me back 40 years and makes me want to buy a flocked Christmas tree,” Becky Hansen Gray said.

“I remember Santa climbing down off Allied and passing candy canes out to all the kids waiting to see him. I think that they brought him in a helicopter,” Peggy Burch said.

Allied caught fire right before Christmas in 1993 and closed its doors a few years later.

With the advent of big box stores in the 1960s, Gibson’s Discount Center came to call Murray home (5900 S. State Street). Once part of a vast chain of stores, there are now only four locations left in the nation, the Murray store closed in the 1980s.

Many Murrayites remember the corn dogs sold in the front trailer, but it was also a place where anyone could find the right Christmas present for a good value.

“As a young girl back in the ’60s, my family and I went Christmas shopping at Gibson’s Discount.…I had a dollar to buy something for my dad. I found a small plastic container with screws and was so excited and couldn’t wait for Christmas for him to open it. On Christmas morning, my stomach had butterflies waiting for my turn to give him my gift. Finally, he opened it, and the look on his face was priceless. He made a big deal out of my gift, which I still remember to this day. I laugh now thinking about that small container of nothing, but the joy will always be implanted in my heart,” Brenda Nielsen said.

It has been 20 years since Sears closed its Fashion Place Mall store. One of the original mall’s tenants when it opened in 1972, the company started to shutter stores with the advent of online retail, and currently, no Sears exist within Utah; Dillard’s now has its place in the mall.

Still, Sears’ Fashion Place Mall location provided Christmas shoppers their first opportunity to purchase their first artificial tree and icicle lights. In addition, they provided Christmas gift wrapping, and customers could open a Christmas layaway account.

May Ann Gallego Davis remembers, “My sweet mom went to Sears at Fashion Place for the first time right after it opened. She was excited to go to Sears so close to our home instead of to SLC. It was a new thing to her. Anyway, she goes in, looks around, buys what she needs, and goes outside to her car. But her car was gone. She walked around but couldn’t find it. She went back inside to call my dad. He drove over, and they went inside. He asked, ‘What did you buy? What do you remember?’ They realized she had walked out on the opposite side of the mall. There was her car, right where she parked it.”