Sixty years ago, Lexingtonians did their Christmas shopping downtown. The downtown Christmas parade brought nearly double the Lexington population to downtown. People not only window-shopped, they looked inside every department at Purcell’s to ogle the store’s renowned departmental displays.
In 1949, Lexingtonians shopped downtown at places like S.S. Kresge (a precursor to Kmart), Wolf Wile (where Gray Construction now resides) and Purcell’s. Even Sears was downtown, although it would later move to Fayette Mall before closing in 2014.
Purcell’s, at 320 West Main Street, opened in 1887 as a 5 & 10 called the Racket Store. In its heyday during the 1940s and 1950s, the store was noted for the displays in its 22 departments. It was one of the first in Lexington to have a live Santa Claus and strolling carolers at Christmas.
The store at one time carried 75,000 charge accounts and was noted for its promotions such as meat-carving and embroidery. It once put a man in a crate and delivered him to his girlfriend so that he could propose.
In downtown Lexington in 1949, 100,000 people turned out for the Christmas parade. The city’s population was 55,534 in 1950, but city and county were counted separately and had separate governments.
By the late 1960s Lexington’s downtown was being “updated” in the name of urban renewal. Turfland Mall gave Lexington its first taste of many retailers under a single roof in 1967 (Turfland closed in 2008), including major tenants McAlpin’s and Montgomery Ward. Fayette Mall opened in 1971 with Sears as an anchor tenant; Sears closed in 2014.
Nobody could imagine that the malls and “urban renewal” would steal away downtown’s shopping dominance. Hamburg Pavilion, which opened its first stores in 1997, offers shopping at separate big box retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and a smaller walkable “village” retail concept.
In 2017, shoppers have a thick cluster of choices on Nicholasville Road. At longtime favorite Fayette Mall you can find mainstream retailers such as Dillard’s, J.C. Penney and Macy’s (and the very popular restaurant The Cheesecake Factory).
At the upscale stores of The Summit are restaurants such as J. Alexander and Honeywood, upscale retailers such as Pottery Barn, Free People and Whole Foods, and a food hall featuring restaurants including Atomic Ramen.
Shoppers also skip the drive and shop online, to the despair of brick-and-mortar stores: By some estimates, Amazon.com alone was behind 30 percent of all U.S. online sales for Christmas 2016, when online shopping grew by 12 percent; physical store sales were up by only 1.6 percent over the same period.
But shopping springs eternal: The National Retail Federation reported that shoppers spent $335 over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend in 2017.