Sunday, August 19, 2012

Downtown Worcester then and now

Here is an interesting new feature that the Telegram and Gazette is featuring.  Of course I was so happy to see my beloved Denholms in the picture.

WORCESTER —  America’s love affair with the suburban mall changed the look of downtown's across the country.

Over time, consumers made it clear they preferred the convenience of one-stop shopping in a climate-controlled bazaar with food courts and other amenities.

No snow, rain or heat to contend with.

But this is May 25, 1971. Auburn Mall is just starting to excite people and the much-anticipated Worcester Galleria won’t open for another two months.

So shoppers patronize this stretch of boulevard for much of their non-food shopping needs. It’s filled with retailers, some of which have since passed into history.

1971 was an eventful year.

Charles Manson went to jail and former U.S. Army Lt. William Calley was sentenced for his involvement in the My Lai Massacre. The Apollo 14 crew played golf on the Moon and President Richard Nixon installed his secret taping system at the White House.

Ed Sullivan ended his successful television run and made way for the edgier comedy of Archie Bunker and his dysfunctional clan on “All in the Family.”

Shoppers stopped by Liggett’s drug store, browsed W.T. Grant’s for household goods and sat down at Kresge’s food counters for a hot dog, lime-rickey, root beer float or other treat.

Then, it might be a trip next door to upscale Denholm’s, “the Boston Store” that introduced Worcester to its first escalators.

Today the Telegram & Gazette and introduce a new weekly series, Then & Now. Go to to weigh in on where you think this historical photo was taken and leave a comment. Here’s a clue: This one mile shopping mecca also served as the transportation hub for local buses, much as it does today.

Return to print and online tomorrow for the answer and a photo of the locale today.

- Bronislaus B. Kush


  1. This is a terrific post! Love the angle of the photo especially with the Sharfmans Jewelers sign on the right. Sharfmans is celebrating their 75th year in business at its present location overlooking Gold Star Boulevard!

  2. Judging from the angle of the photo I'd wager this was taken from Federal Square - but what I'm REALLY noticing is that those deeply-fabulous (aqua and cream?) "Denholm's" signs (with that fantastic typeset!) are missing from the canopy covering the Main Street sidewalk.

    I'd always assumed they were installed during the 1960s, but now it looks as if I was wrong and that they were installed in after May 25th, 1971....probably to remind all those shoppers flocking to the Galleria at Worcester Center that Denholm's was still open for business. (I wonder whatever became of those two signs?)

    What's sad is that I always thought the Galleria was the most glamorous place to be when I was growing up and I even worked there for six months as an assistant manager at (cringe!) "Chess King" - but as I look at the vitality in this picture I'm overcome with a sense of loss. The Galleria was really just another mall, its anchor stores were really just satellites of the surviving Boston chains - but Denholm's was "Worcester" - and "Worcester" in a way that was never to be again.

  3. Hi there, Are you talking about the sign that went over the 484 entrance? That was erected in the fall of 1971 to tie in with the new signage in the auburn store. I have been looking for that sign for over 25 years but I think it went into a dumpster when they converted the building. I never knew it was aqua?
    Thanks for sharing and reading the blog!

    1. Hi, Chris. I am indeed talking about the signs which I believe were erected over b-o-t-h entrances to Denholms on Main St.

      Having spent a lot of time waiting in front of City Hall for the WRTA bus to Shrewsbury, I seem to recall the signs (or at least the sign located above the entrance closest to the former S.S. Kresge store) was still in place as late as 1982-1983. The signs appeared to be dusty aqua with a slight geometrically-squared background. The lettering was either white or off-white and definitely corrdinated with the signage for their Auburn Mall location.

      You're probably right that the signs (along with all sorts of good stuff) wound up in a dumpster when the building was renovated - but perhaps it was rescued: a few years back the Worcester Historical Society held an auction and a colleague of mine wound up with two "Buster Brown" mannequins (in their original outfits, no less) from Denholm's children's shoe department on the 3rd floor - so you never know what will turn up!

    2. You are so right. They had the grid pattern on them. I love the fact they were aqua as I have only seen them in black and white. I'm still always keeping my eye out for my next Denholms find

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Would like to know the address of Grant's dept store. Have a dinner bet on this with hubby.