Newsletter: Let us know about your hometown Texas department store

·5 min read

Dear Texas history buffs,

We lost certain sense of community in Texas when most of our downtown department stores closed.

In Austin, the big one was Scarbroughs. It served the city, first downtown, then in malls and shopping centers, from 1893 to 2009.

On Sept. 4, I shared a rather thorough history of the Scarbrough family and their retail outlets in Austin.

On Sept. 19, I published reader memories of the department store. Their plainspoken, sensual, heartfelt remembrances can be read in today's Think Texas column.

This one in particular from Bea Esquivel touched me. It's got everything:

I found your story on the Scarboroughs store very heartwarming, and reading it brought back many memories. Although I wasn’t in a position to make purchases when I visited the store, I remember to this day how it felt to walk through those fancy, heavy doors on occasion, and the sights, sounds and smells waiting for me on the other side.

One memory etched in my mind is the day I shopped for my wedding dress. Convinced by my best friend to "just go look" for the perfect dress, we walked through those doors, knowing I could never afford to buy. I remember feeling the hesitation of the staff to wait on us, and sensing they knew perfectly well I would not be able to afford a bridal gown.

But I also remember how the staff guided me to stand on a perfectly positioned small platform, surrounded by mirrors, to get the full effect of seeing how beautiful the gown was and how I beautiful I felt in that moment. It was 1973 and I was just a kid at 17.

A few months later, we returned to Scarboroughs to be photographed for our high school senior picture. Both of these visits made me feel a little bit special and somewhat accepted at a time when acceptance was not common for me.

After learning in depth about the Scarborough family in your article, I can now see how the family strived to make customers feel welcomed, even a brown-skinned shopper like me who was "just looking." Makes me smile as I write these words.

Please send tips about Texas memory pages to mbarnes@statesman.com.

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THE COLUMN

Texas history: Readers share Scarbroughs in Austin memories after our story

If a Texas town was once home to a county courthouse, chances are it also hosted a department store.

Most of these retail palaces are long gone. Yet physical and archival evidence remains, in courthouse squares and on downtown streets. What's more, the stores live on in the remembrances of customers who shopped there.

Recently, I revived memories of Scarbroughs, a family-owned store that served Austin in various forms from 1893 to 2009. This story could be reasonably comprehensive because the archives of longtime manager Francis Amsler are now housed at the Austin History Center.

When it opened as Scarbrough and Hicks' general store in the 400 block of Congress Avenue in 1893, Austin was home to a mere 15,000 people, and most of the store's customers were rural.

Its 1883 predecessor by the same name served the Milam County town of Rockdale, population 1,000.

At the end of my Sept. 4 story on Scarbroughs, I asked readers to send in their reminiscences about the store. I'm sharing some of those memories here. Now I invite you to do the same regarding your hometown department store; email your memories to mbarnes@statesman.com

READ MORE

THE PODCAST

On March 2, 2020, J.B. Hager and I introduced "Austin Found" podcast for the very first time. Check out our inaugural episode. Then listen to the more than 80 that followed.

American-Statesman columnist Michael Barnes and Austin360 Radio personality J.B. Hager team up on "Austin Found," a podcast about how Austin became Austin.
American-Statesman columnist Michael Barnes and Austin360 Radio personality J.B. Hager team up on "Austin Found," a podcast about how Austin became Austin.

HOMETOWN HISTORY

This week's Hometown History theme is the beloved department store.

FUN TEXAS FACT

'American Nightingale' debuts in New York

On Sept. 22, 1920, soprano Josephine Lucchese of San Antonio made her operatic debut with the San Carlo Grand Opera as Olympia in Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffman" at the Manhattan Grand Opera House.

She was born in San Antonio in 1893, the daughter of bootmaker Sam Lucchese, and received her musical training entirely in the United States and primarily in San Antonio.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Mme. Lucchese toured in the United States and Europe, giving both opera and concert performances and singing opposite such leading tenors as Tito Schipa and Giovanni Martinelli.

Known in Europe as the "American Nightingale," Lucchese was an operatic success at a time when it was considered impossible to achieve an international reputation without having first studied in Italy.

Lucchese returned to Texas at the close of her operatic and concert career and taught voice at the University of Texas from 1956 to 1968. After her retirement from the faculty, she continued to give private lessons to a few select students. She died in San Antonio in 1974.

(Texas Day by Day / Texas State Historical Association) READ MORE 

TEXAS TITLES

I recommend: "Texas Dives: Enduring Neighborhood Bars of the Lone Star State" by Anthony Head with photographs by Kirk Weddle

I guess Sept. 27 is not too early to start a list of holiday gift books for lovers of Texas history and culture. Anthony Head covers both aspects of hang-out bars that we love so dearly in this Texas A&M University of Press volume. These neighborhood establishments typically held together the communities around them, and helped to define who we are as a state. More gift ideas to come in this space, then a column devoted to the subject.

READ MORE ON TEXAS TITLES

Happy Trails,

Michael Barnes, Columnist

Think, Texas and Austin American-Statesman

Michael Barnes
Michael Barnes

Email: mbarnes@statesman.com

Twitter: twitter.com/outandabout

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Plainspoken, sensual, heartfelt remembrances of Scarbroughs