Published Articles by Doris Weatherford

Thoughts on New Years

December 31, 2016

This edition of LaGaceta will come out on New Year’s Eve, so like last week’s on Christmas Eve, I don’t expect many readers. If you are one, please let me know: your message will brighten the comparatively molasses-paced early days of January. Those of us who take Christmas to heart are busy, busy, busy, with shopping and wrapping, decorating and card-sending, baking and cooking – until the 26th, when it comes to a crashing halt. Especially in an election year, the inbox is empty compared with just weeks earlier, and for me, there won’t be a trip to Washington and an inauguration to anticipate.


New Year’s Eve has been an adult-only holiday for a long time now, but I remember a more child-inclusive time from my youth, especially New Year’s Day. It was a kind of second Christmas, usually spent with whomever in the extended family hadn’t been favored with our childish presence at Christmas. Black-eyed peas and pork were the focus of the meal in most Southern homes, while Up North, the turkey or ham that missed out as the star of Christmas dinner became the choice for the lesser holiday.


In Europe, visiting with family and friends was the point of New Year’s Day. Particularly in Scotland – a dark place at that time of year -- people set aside the whole day for paying brief calls. If the host also was out on visits, people left their calling cards, ate and drank with whomever was there, and moved on to their next destination. Middle-class families had at least one servant back then, and she tended to the buffet while family members went out and enjoyed other buffets. It was common to make a dozen or more visits, with a bit more time at the homes of the frail or elderly. Everywhere there was food, drink, and merriment.



Things Have Changed



Now increasing numbers of us never call on anyone, and we have “business cards,” not “calling cards.” New Year’s Day is spent cocooning in front of the TV or going to the mall. Chances are that women are doing one of these things, while men do the other – and what children do is disconnected from any adult activity. Mall parking lots are jammed on the holiday, while the television schedule features non-stop football.


The notion of open stores on New Year’s Day was inconceivable when I was young – and if they had been, my mother and her sisters would have considered it a sacrilege to go shopping on a holiday. While some of the uncles might have had a TV or radio with a ballgame running in the background, they were more likely to be outside tossing around a ball or helping a kid set off a firecracker. That, I think, was typical. Even a few decades ago – when almost every American household had television – New Year’s Day was less dominated by football, and much less by shopping, the revenge of football widows.


I once did an analysis of advertisements in the Tampa Tribune for January 1, 1964. The holiday fell on a Wednesday, but despite this mid-week placement, I found only four stores advertising that they would be open – and one of those, Showcase Interiors in Sulphur Springs, justified its unconventionality by calling their 9-to-5 hours an “Open House Party.” Self-Service Shoes was another of the four stores -- and that foreshadowed marketing to poorer customers, whose only time off work was on holidays.


Stores aimed at affluent customers were unanimously closed. Downtown’s prestigious Falk’s, “The Store with a Purpose,” urged customers to “start the New Year with wonderful price reductions” – but not until January 2nd. In contrast to Self-Service Shoes, which advertised women’s flats at $1, no shoes were available at Falk’s for less than $6.88 – and they would wait until the next day to sell them to you.


Maas Brothers (“Tampa’s Great Store”) spelled out clearly that all three of its locations – downtown, on Gandy, and at Northgate on Florida Avenue -- were “closed today” and urged customers to “shop tomorrow.” J.C. Penney, a national firm with branches at Northgate and Britton shopping centers, advertised a “Giant White Goods Sale” beginning January 2nd. “White goods,” my children, referred to sheets, towels, and other linens – most of which back then were available only in white. Mattress pads still are white, and Penney’s offered them at $2.66.



Shopping as Entertainment



There were no malls in Tampa in 1964, and indeed very few Americans were familiar with the concept of an enclosed mall. Instead, shopping centers that were not enclosed, such as Britton and Northgate, were the new phenomenon. They permanently changed buying habits, as fewer and fewer people left the suburbs for downtown’s individual stores. As private cars replaced public streetcars in the 1950s, the free parking in suburban shopping centers became another attraction. Even in small towns, the population boomed after World War II, and parking spaces were harder to find. Most city fathers further hastened the demise of downtown businesses by installing parking meters that limited shopping time.


The shopping centers of the 1950s, however, soon were replaced by the shopping malls of the 1970s. Air conditioning made that much more pleasant in Tampa, while Up North, shoppers no longer had to contend with ice and snow between stores. The first enclosed mall where I bought Christmas presents was in suburban Boston. It was great to move easily from store to store, but I was much too hot wearing my coat and boots. Maybe the fuel crisis that came a few years later solved that problem, but I wondered at the lack of enterprise in not providing lockers for shoppers. Malls still could benefit from that, or at least provide carts to carry purchases from place to place.


I nonetheless loved the concept of malls, and when we moved here in 1972, Hubby and I went all the way from East Hillsborough to Tyrone Square in St. Petersburg to do Christmas shopping. Tampa’s first mall was Westshore, which has expanded several times and continues to do well. The second was Floriland, at Florida Avenue and Busch; despite its convenience for affluent shoppers in Carrollwood and Temple Terrace, it did not do well and now is an office park. The reasons why would make an interesting case study for a business major.


What then was called Brandon Regional Mall was the first enclosed mall that I remember having a definite program to lure customers by featuring local performers. I went there more than once to hear caroling by high-school choirs and bands. Movie theaters also became a mall feature, and all over the nation, the downtown stand-alone theaters died. Malls indeed were entertaining. Today, I’d sooner eat a snake than go shopping on Christmas Eve, but when our daughter was a toddler, we went to University Mall just to enjoy the elaborate trains, trees, and other decor.


We did that at Westshore, too, and I think it was a giant mechanical pelican that greeted kids while they waited for photos with Santa. We dressed up on these Christmas Eves, and after visiting the mall, went elsewhere for dinner -- but now the aim of many “shoppers” actually is to eat. The Cheesecake Factory in the big Brandon mall may attract more people than any individual store there, and the same probably is true of International Plaza’s Bay Street, which is lined with good restaurants. The bottom line is that shopping has become more an entertainment experience and less a search for products.


That is partly because families have discretionary income generated by working mothers, something almost non-existent in my youth. Workingwomen who can afford a treat for themselves and their families are the reason that malls and other businesses continue to produce more and more goods and services that we don’t need, but we want. More than any other factor, it is these women who have changed today’s economy.


And trade with China. Look closely at your Christmas décor and many presents, and you’ll find them made in China or other parts of Asia. I’m wondering if that still will be the case next year because if the new administration keeps its campaign promises about limiting imported goods, you can expect higher prices. After 51 years of decorating for Christmas, I have everything I’ll ever need -- but if I were young, I’d make a point of hitting the post-holiday sales this year. Now that I think of it, perhaps I’ll stock up on bubble lights.



Football, Then and Now



So while my aunts were not shopping, my uncles were not watching football. The Super Bowl began in 1966, just days before Hubby and I got married. We didn’t notice. Today, however, one would have to be a hermit to avoid noticing that game. The Tribune analysis again offers interesting comparisons to our times.


The paper did not have a separate sports section, and the three pages of sports that were featured in the edition for January 1, 1964 covered a much broader range of activity. In addition to football, it reported on fishing, hunting, jai alai, judo, tennis, track, wrestling, and basketball, as well as horse, dog, and car racing. Most of the limited football coverage had a Florida focus, and virtually all of the attention was on college, not professional, games. Floridians even were restrained about the tourism aspect of football compared with today: one of the stories quoted Jacksonville mayor (later governor) Haydon Burns candidly saying that the Gator Bowl Stadium was “unsanitary and unsafe.”


The 1964 newspaper’s TV schedule listed four bowl games for New Year’s Day – but importantly, three of the four ran in the same time slot. In an era prior to VCRs and cable re-runs, viewers had to choose between the Sugar, Cotton, and Orange Bowls, all of which aired at 1:45. Channel 8 (WFLA, an NBC affiliate) carried the Sugar Bowl from New Orleans, while Channel 13 (WTVT and a CBS affiliate) broadcast the Cotton Bowl from Dallas. Our own Orange Bowl in Miami was relegated to WSUN radio and its UHF television station, Channel 38. Nor were there any remote controls to aid this simultaneous action.



The Only National Game



That would be the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The cultured town, which has wonderful museums and gardens, featured a pre-game parade that was a pre-Disney fantasy of flowers and floats -- and on a January day when roses were unimaginable in most of the country. Tampa had roses, too, but it was the difference between Pacific and Eastern time zones that made the Rose Bowl singular on Tampa television. WFLA aired it at 4:45 – or 1:45 California time.


Perhaps it was this exceptional time slot that motivated WFLA to buy the only Tribune ad for a ballgame. While the Super Bowl did not yet exist, the 1964 quarter-page ad for the Rose Bowl proclaimed it to be the “50th edition of a football classic.” It also is indicative of the era that WFLA listed its radio dial location first. The fact that WFLA’s television broadcast would be in color was secondary: although most families owned a TV by then, it still was likely to be black-and-white, not color. Seeing those roses in color was a motivation for many TV buyers.


But when the Rose Bowl was over in the early evening, there would be no more football – not that night, nor the next Saturday, nor the next Sunday, and certainly not Monday night. These habits are relatively new. Fathers then did not spend four of seven days a week preoccupied with football, nor did mothers take credit cards to malls on Sundays. Maybe both are forms of adult liberation that are overdue – but maybe not. In any case, these are significant social changes that should be noted in debates over young people gone wrong. While their parents cheered the TV or walked the malls during their growing-up years at the turn of the 21st century, what were the kids doing?



doris@dweatherford.com





Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.

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