Hartley’s Department Store is long gone from downtown Fairmont, but it’s still alive and well in the memories of local folks who vividly recall the bustling business that offered everything from clothing to household goods.
And it’s especially nostalgic for people who worked there.
The store – which dated back to the 1880s and was officially known as J.M. Hartley and Son Company – closed more than three decades ago.
Arthur Vincent was just a young man – attending college before serving in World War II in the Army – when he was hired as a window dresser in 1942.
“I’d been working at Barnes Maytag for 25 cents an hour, but Hartley’s paid 35 cents – that whole dime was the reason I quit. That was a hot dog and a Coke,” he said.
Working with a team, Vincent and the others spent their days decorating the massive plate glass windows that patrons passed by as they entered the store through a revolving door.
Discretion was key, especially when it came time to dress the mannequins.
Sheets were hung in the windows as the work progressed, and a mannequin that had to be carried through the store was securely wrapped so that nothing inappropriate would be seen.
“There were a lot of windows and a lot of space for show,” he said, adding that other parts of the store were also decorated on a regular basis.
Christmas was an especially exciting time, he said, because one floor was devoted to holiday items.
“One time we built an organ and had a mannequin sitting at the keyboard like she was playing,” he said.
For a while, the space on Adams Street was occupied by the West Virginia State Office Complex – also known as the Arch Moore Building – before it was closed in 2009 after developing structural problems.
Even though there’s nothing in that spot now, Vincent still sees part of his life – and others, including the lady who used to operate the store’s elevator – there.
“You can knock a building down, but the memories will always be there because that’s when Fairmont was a really exciting place to be,” he said.