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Sunday, July 12, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: Downtown shopping

In 1972, as Spokane was preparing for Expo ’74, retail shopping in the downtown area was undergoing big changes.

First-generation department stores like the Palace, the Wonder, Blakely’s, Kemp and Hebert and others had faded away. Even the popular dime stores, like Woolworth’s and Newberry, seemed dated and were trying to change their image. “We are a quality variety store, not a dime store,” M.K. Ganson, Woolworth’s manager, told the newspaper in 1969. But the Crescent department store had survived, and J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward were still popular downtown. Sears left downtown in the early 1960s but remained at NorthTown.

J.C. Penney, at 724 E. Main since 1953, moved to a new four-story building completed in 1973. Penney’s would stay downtown for 20 more years.

The former J.C. Penney store was remodeled for a new Nordstrom store. The proximity of the Bon Marche, Nordstrom and the Crescent created a destination for the upscale shopper.

The Crescent expanded to span from Wall to Post Street. It was owned by the Marshall Field’s chain at the time.

River Park Square also built a new parking garage, spanning Post Street below and tying the blocks together with interior spaces for smaller shops and indoor walkways between the department stores. The developer was Citizens Realty, a subsidiary of the Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review. River Park Square also underwent a major remodel in the 1990s, resulting in the current configuration.

Three new skywalks connected J.C. Penney, the Crescent and the Bon Marche with the mall areas, with tenants like the Squire Shop and the Calico Kangaroo.

The 1955 Shopping Center Building, with Woolworth’s store on the ground floor, stopped using two Pigeon Hole Parking machines in 1974 and was remodeled. Woolworth’s closed the downtown store in 1978, staying at NorthTown.

Spokane Chamber of Commerce President Bruce McPhaden commented on the moves, “It is one of the large projects triggered in part by Spokane’s Expo ’74. Altogether they are strengthening the downtown area as a base for business and helping lift the economy of the Inland Empire to a new and higher plateau.”

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