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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Full Suburban: East Sprague is a trip down memory lane

July 18, 2022 Updated Tue., July 26, 2022 at 2:42 p.m.

The iconic white elephant on East Sprague Avenue is seen during the Spokane Valley White Elephant’s last day of retail sales on Saturday, July 11, 2020, in Spokane Valley, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The iconic white elephant on East Sprague Avenue is seen during the Spokane Valley White Elephant’s last day of retail sales on Saturday, July 11, 2020, in Spokane Valley, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

I am a product of the Spokane Valley. My parents moved there from the San Francisco Bay Area when I was just 3 years old, a result of my dad getting transferred with his job at Hewlett-Packard. My two brothers and I grew up living a charmed life in the Ponderosa neighborhood and going “out on the town” with our parents to the shops and restaurants on East Sprague Avenue any chance we could get.

Driving down East Sprague these days is like taking a walk down memory lane. I get sentimental as I see all the old haunts where we used to go as children – or what’s left of them, anyway. One by one, the iconic businesses from my youth have either been knocked down or filled with new tenants.

I know it’s just the way things go – time marches on and all that – but it’s still bittersweet to see. When there’s a particularly painful store closing – the White Elephant and Hastings come to mind – I’ll take a picture of the barren storefront and send it to my now-out-of-town brothers, often with about five crying emojis attached.

But still, I never tire of looking at the old buildings and remembering what used to be.

I took tap dancing lessons (any other “Dance with Sherry” alums out there?) in what is now the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum. The probably-asbestos tile floors provided excellent acoustics for our tap shoes.

After dance recitals or band concerts, most of the families that we knew would head to Larsen’s Creamery, which was in a location along East Sprague that I no longer remember. It had an old-school soda fountain kind of feel, where people would call to their friends at tables across the room as they ordered hot fudge sundaes and gooey chocolate chip cookies smothered in vanilla ice cream.

Dairy Queen, where I discovered my insatiable love for Heath Blizzards, is now an Advance America building. Halpin’s Pharmacy, just across the parking lot, was a spot where you could get your watch repaired, fill your prescription for heartburn, and pick up a glass figurine to display in your living room curio cabinet, all in one stop. My brothers and I could spend hours in Halpin’s.

The White Elephant of course was an icon. We loved it for their huge selection of toys, but patrons could also go there to get ammo, fish bait, assorted camping gear, and a ride on a mechanical elephant to boot. I’m pretty sure my text to my brothers on the day the White Elephant closed said something like, “This isn’t a world I want to live in anymore.” Maybe a little dramatic, but seriously – did you every wander through their toy section?

The restaurant that is now called the Dragon Inn used to be Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, a clever play on words that I was delighted to finally decipher one day when I was about 10 years old. It was the fancy restaurant of choice where my parents would take us for special occasions; I would always order the teriyaki chicken burger with no mayo, please – it made me feel all kinds of grown up.

What is now Sun City Church was a state-of-the-art Rosauers when it opened to much fanfare in the early 1990s. My mom, little brother and I went there for their grand opening just to witness the wonders of modern-day grocery shopping. They had a drive-thru area where, after purchasing your groceries inside, you could drive through and have them loaded right up into the trunk of your car. And as if that wasn’t enough, near the deli section there was a giant glass fish tank where you could pick out the fish you wanted to take home for dinner. Not particular fish lovers ourselves, we never used that option, but wow – ain’t this world grand?

The stretch of East Sprague that I remember best from my childhood is a lot quieter these days. Most of the hustle-and-bustle has moved even further east or closer to downtown. But I can’t drive by without thinking fondly of all the time I spent eating, shopping and growing up along that road. It was small-town Spokane at its finest.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove reference to a “soon to be closing” furniture store that is in the former Halpin’s location. The owner of Complete Suite Furniture says he has no plans to close that or any of his Spokane-area locations. 

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