Dayton History: Holiday Traditions

 Dayton History: Holiday Traditions

Visiting downtown Dayton for the holiday was a memorable treat, and it can be again.

By Brian Sharp

As we embark on the rush of the holidays, I can’t help but think about what that rush was like when I was young. Certainly, the holidays didn’t begin at Labor Day. We were actually able to enjoy Halloween and Thanksgiving before seeing Christmas arrive in town, but arrive it did, and in big style!

There was something you could hear people saying over and over: “Let’s go down to Rike’s.” Rike’s was a department store like no other. Rike’s had nine floors of selling, including a basement store all its own. Rike’s had multiple restaurants, and even an ice cream parlor. But at Christmas, Rike’s was magical.

Sometime after Thanksgiving (maybe even the day after), people would flock downtown for the Holiday parade. When I was little, Santa would arrive on the last parade float. There were white reindeer that seemed to be flying up the side of the Rike’s building. That wasn’t all: the display windows had magically been turned into animated scenes depicting the North Pole, Santa’s workshop and the wonder of Christmas.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was more! Much more awaited you inside. Upstairs was Santaland! It was like being transported to the North Pole. You would wind your way through snow-covered trees, reindeer and at the end of the trail was Santa, seated on what appeared to be a throne. For some, it was a scary place, as noted by the tears being shed on Santa’s lap during the photo opps. For others, it was just more of the magic. After the photo was taken, the kids could go into the Tike’s Shoppe—the store shopping experience just for kids. The Tike’s Shoppe had a short door and associates inside that would help kids shop for their parents and family. You could even have your purchases wrapped, just like the “big kids.” Rike’s also had breakfasts with Santa that were so big they were held in the auditorium.

Elder-Beerman was down the street and they, too, had a Santa. It was hard to figure out how he was in more than one place at the same time, but then I learned these were his helpers. I’m glad it all made sense then.

Shopping in downtown Dayton during my childhood didn’t just include Rike’s and Elder-Beerman. There was also the Metropolitan, Baynahms Shoes, Donenfeld’s, Walkers, D. H. Peer, Ltd., Gidding-Jenny, Thal’s and even a Sears store downtown.

What I wouldn’t give just to be able to go “down to Rike’s” one more time with my grandma. I am so thankful for all of those experiences that she made certain I enjoyed. Shopping was an experience—we dressed up, ate lunch in the Dining Room (enjoying chicken and noodles in the “little hen”). There were tea room models walking around, showing the latest fashions that could be purchased.

Shopping has lost its glamour. People run out to the malls—hurrying in and out—never getting to know the sales associates who are working countless hours to make our shopping experience a better one.

While some of you must be thinking that these days are gone, some of this magic can still be enjoyed today.

The Downtown Dayton Partnership works very hard to bring a great holiday celebration to downtown every year after Thanksgiving, including a parade and the tree lighting on Courthouse Square. It’s a perfect place to take your kids.

There is still a lot to do in downtown Dayton at the holidays. There are performances of The Nutcracker with the Dayton Ballet, there are concerts with the Philharmonic and there are even “Messiah” sing-alongs. Don’t just stay in the suburbs for the holidays, head to downtown Dayton. You may not be able to “go down to Rike’s,” but there is still plenty to do.

Believe it or not, you can all still enjoy part of what I enjoyed as a child. The Victoria Theatre Association brings back two important pieces every year—inside the Schuster Center (which sits in the exact location of the old Rike’s store), housed within the Wintergarden, is a sampling of the Rike’s holiday windows—full of animation. The Tike’s Shoppe is there, too! Don’t miss out on these great Dayton traditions. Let your kids shop in the Tike’s Shoppe. Nothing will break the bank, but the memories last a lifetime.

Don’t just fall into the trap of the holiday rush at the malls. Take some time; make some traditions of your own. As I sit here writing this, I can remember the sights and sounds of the holidays and the special times with family and friends. The holidays are a perfect time to renew those times together or reflect on memories of your own… or simply make new ones!

Happy Holidays!