I was hit by one such faded memory the other day when the word "mezzanine" came up in conversation. I was transported back to the first time I heard the word mezzanine. It was 45 years ago while I was shopping with my grandmother at G. Fox and Co. in Hartford.
To me, the world of retail revolved around G. Fox. What a place it was at Christmastime. The mezzanine was above the first floor, but not quite the second floor. It was a small retail world that housed many individual shops including the watch repair shop, the Boy Scout uniform shop, the luggage department and the Sir Allo shoe repair shop.
The view from the mezzanine was one of wonder and glitter — the main floor at G. Fox. The showcases gleamed, the metal polished to a high shine by industrious workers. The sales floor was appointed with garlands, Christmas trees and Christmas bulbs. Carolers sang at the front entrance.
Everywhere there was the hustle and bustle of the season.
Shoppers could descend from the mezzanine to the main floor by taking a winding marble staircase or by elevator, which was operated by a uniformed man with white gloves. He would call out the contents of each floor as the elevator arrived and then would spin a wheel to open and close the steel scissor gate to let passengers in and out.
The mezzanine and the main floor were only part of the G. Fox and company shopping experience at Christmas. The trip started with my grandmother driving (somewhat erratically) downtown from her house on Prospect Avenue in her latest Buick.
We would come down Church Street with G. Fox in front of us. This gave the full effect of the holiday display on the storefront marquee. There were figurines of carolers, a group of buildings depicting a small New England town in winter and, most important, Santa, his elves and his reindeer.
We would wind our way down to the main parking garage entrance behind the store, which typically had a "lot full" sign in the driveway. "Grandma, you can't go in this way, the sign says the lot is full!" my brother John and I would exclaim.
My grandmother would, despite our protestations, pull up to the sign and beep the horn. A garage attendant would appear and, with a big smile, say, "Hello, Mrs. Kennedy. I have your space all set for you, right by the door." He would then remove the sign and we would glide into one of the choice parking spots in the garage.
"Nice man, boys, I give him a bottle at Christmas every year," my grandmother would say.
We would then cross the street to the back entrance of the G. Fox building that soared 11 stories above us. We would be on our way to several stops in the store. First, to the young men's department to buy us jackets and possibly a winter coat. Then, onto the shoe department for an expert fitting. This was a time when being a salesman at G. Fox was looked upon as a career rather than just a job.
Next, it was on to the 11th floor, which, for all intents and purposes, was Santa's workshop in Hartford. It was filled with every toy imaginable. We would spend what seemed like hours exploring all the shelves.
We ate lunch at one of the restaurants on the second floor. A bustling cafeteria, also replete with Christmas decorations, served hundreds of shoppers with a wide range of fare. I remember great sandwiches, chicken pot pie and lemon meringue pie. The Connecticut Room, the other restaurant with its murals of Connecticut history, was only for special occasions.
After lunch, there would be that last bit of shopping that my grandmother had remembered during lunch. If we had not visited the myna bird (fifth floor, I think), we would do this as well.
The packages would all be collected and delivered to the parking garage where my grandmother's car would be brought around by a uniformed attendant and the trunk would be packed with our purchases. We would then head out of downtown Hartford, tired but happy.
Tom Kennedy, who grew up in West Hartford, lives in Wilbraham, Mass.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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