February 14, 2010


As we begin to ease into the idea of retirement, Jan and I are starting to discuss how we want to live out our golden years. Probably the biggest consideration facing us is where to live. Do we want to stay where we are, or do we want to start out fresh someplace else?  And as time passes, "someplace else" is looking better and better to us.

One of the areas that we're seriously considering is southwest Missouri, where I was born and raised.  Jan's home base is St. Louis, but she attended college in my hometown, Springfield.  So we're both familiar with the region.

When I left Springfield in 1974, I was fairly certain that I'd never return to live.  But things change, and maybe it's true that home always lures you back in the end.  In the 36 years since leaving, I've not paid a lot of attention to what was going on in the Ozarks. Chats with my mom and occasional visits back are all that I've had to give me any semblance at all about what has been happening there.  But lately, I've been reading the local paper and doing other research to bring me up to speed.

It was during one of these searches that I found out what had happened to Heers.

Heers ... circa 1916

Heers (pronounced "hers") was the department store in Springfield.  Of course, there were Kresge's and Woolworths, but Heers was the big shopping mecca.  It was the one with the latest fashions, the newest household appliances and the best toy department.

During the years before I started what passed for kindergarten and the arrival of my sisters, mom and I would walk to the bus stop on Glenstone Avenue and ride downtown to the Square for a day of shopping. We'd browse the small shops, have lunch at the counter at Kresge's and then head for Heers.  We'd ride the elevator up and down, the operator calling out the floors and features, and would usually buy a thing or two before I became tired and cranky, and we headed home again.

Heers was the first building in the city with an escalator, and it was after my first escalator ride to the mezzanine and peering out over the wall to the first floor below that I realized that I had a paralyzing fear of heights.

The Heers Of My Youth ... 1950's

In my teens, the entire downtown area started to go to hell and Heers fell from popularity, a victim of the developing malls in the outlying areas.  The city spent millions closing off the Square to traffic and rechristened it "Park Central Square", although no parks were within walking distance.  After the bums, punks and drug addicts took over for a decade, the city spent millions more dismantling what they had done and reopened the area to traffic, where it once again became "The Square".  Nothing much changed though and the area remains stagnant and unappealing today.

Heers closed it's doors years ago, and it's many windows were bricked over in an effort to keep it from further decay.  Several years ago, a city slicker land developer from St. Louie made some deal with the city to buy the building and transform it into either a condominium or an upscale hotel.  Good luck with that city boy.

Heers Today ... Complete with Saviour (Or Not)

What happened to downtown Springfield wasn't that unusual. The same thing has happened to thousands of other places across this country.

If and when we ever decide to move back to the area, I think we'll find that we can go home again.  It's just some of the memories that will be missing.

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