Hartley’s was always the place to be in Fairmont.
And that was especially true during the holiday season.
Christmas meant extravagant decorations and lavish window displays that drew many downtown.
Customers entered via the main sales floor which was draped with greenery, shiny garlands and oversized ornaments.
Shoppers especially loved when one floor was magically transformed each year into a toyland.
Santa was a perennial favorite with youngsters of all ages, and parents too.
Reindeer guided his sleigh, thanks to a special display that hung down from the ceiling.
The Marion County icon opened in 1877 as J.M. Hartley & Son Co., and was in business until 1985.
A newspaper ad showed the company’s community pride and its reputation for “a standard of excellence for 107 years.”
Former employees haven’t forgotten those glory days, and still meet monthly to share memories.
Maureen Kennedy Wolfe knows this history from personal experience.
Both she and her husband (a furniture buyer who became vice president), as well as their children, worked at the department store. Her mother was also an employee.
“I guess you could say this was truly a family tradition for us,” she said.
Hartley’s was always “bigger than life,” since it sold everything from work clothes to jewelry.
Just riding the elevator, courtesy of operators Cornelia and Carolyn, was part of the experience.
“They drove the elevator so you didn’t have to operate it yourself. And the doors were glass so you so every floor as you went up.”
“It was just such an important part of Fairmont.” That was especially true during the holidays.
Families would come to toyland every year.
“They would use part of the fifth floor for a toyland, and it really was magical.
You would go up in the elevator, and just be in awe when you got off because of all the bright colors. Plus they had an electric train running.
I also remember seeing big horses and all kinds of big dolls. There was just a special aura in that place,” she said.
Carol Amos, another Fairmont resident, has more than memories.
She still treasures a 1949 photo of her late husband Rick sitting on Santa’s lap when he was a very young boy.
Christmas was magical there.
Especially for children.
“The Christmas decorations were exquisite. I remember hand-blown glass ornaments decorating a tree on the main floor that seemed as large as my head,” she said.
She had a favorite holiday spot that offered a great view of the festivities.
“I remember the mezzanine. The word alone intrigued me. I could perch there, fascinated with the Christmas lights and watch everyone coming and going in the store.”
Jim Migaiolo’s memories haven’t dimmed over the years.
He often shares pictures on social media taken by photographer Clyde Chrislip, who helped document store happenings.
“I remember the air tubes for purchases. And it is the only time I saw an elevator operator. Those glass doors and the metal cage on the inside of it were something else.
Not often these days, but then you could buy a washing machine, living room carpet, furniture and clothes all in the same store.”