Shopping center experience launches in September 1965
Jimmy Spencer, the official Huck Finn for the Huck Finn Shopping Center, is pictured in front of a sign promoting the planned shopping center on July 2, 1964. Otis Howell photo, Steve Chou collection.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
The day that the JC Penny store opened in the Huck Finn Shopping Center, and subsequently closed its operation at 116-18 S. Main, could arguably be among the most monumental times in Baby Boomer history.
In actuality, the retail store was no more than a place to purchase ready made clothing and housewares. But in the culture of Hannibal, the 3+ mile move from east to west triggered a retail movement, with no end in sight.
Hannibal’s proud downtown had been its commercial center for decades. Buildings constructed both before and following the Civil War housed the businesses which were the lifeblood of Hannibal’s economic stability: Bowles’ Clothiers, The Famous, Sonnenberg’s, the Emporium, and the national chain store, J.C. Penney’s.
Located in between these major stores were eateries, taverns, tradesmen, entertainment venues, and hotels, fed by the nearby hospitality of the Mark Twain Hotel and traffic from the train depot.
The movement to the west was well chronicled in the Hannibal Courier-Post, which had its own deep roots in downtown business district. The opening of the Huck Finn Shopping Center was celebrated in a special edition on Sept. 28, 1965.
The headline: Grand Opening, starting tomorrow, Sept. 29th.
The J.C. Penney Co., opened in its new location on that date, now more than 55 years ago. It is the only business in the Huck Finn Shopping Center to remain in place, its business operations uninterrupted through the decades.
Other businesses in operation at the launch of the shopping center:
Tempo, Kroger, Super-X Drugs, TV Stamp Redemption Center, TG&Y Variety Store, Montgomery-Ward, Schiff Shoes, Village Bazaar and Andes Candies.
Opening soon after the shopping center’s entry into Hannibal’s business climate:
Colonial Coin Wash, General Securities and Fern’s Beauty Haven.
J.C. Penney Co.
The first manager for the J.C. Penney store at the Huck Finn Shopping Center was Howard Biesterfeld, who during his career worked for the J.C. Penney company for some 41 years. He began in the stock department at a store in Chicago Heights, Ill., and worked his way up into management. He came to Hannibal from Fort Madison, Iowa, where he served as store manager. In Hannibal, he was active in civic organizations and was affiliated with St. John Lutheran Church and school. He died January 14, 2018, in Bella Vista, Arkansas.
The Penney store at the Huck Finn Shopping Center introduced a new concept: A 5,000-square foot auto center attached to the store. Frank Oltman, an experienced Hannibal mechanic, was named manager of the auto center.
At the time of the Hannibal store opening, James Cash Penney, the company’s founder, was 90 years old.
The first business to open its doors at the new shopping center was Tempo, managed by Bill Wanless, previously store manager at Sedalia. Tempo was promoted as a one-stop store, including automotive, housewares, appliances, refrigerators, clothing, garden supplies, television and radio and health and beauty aids.
The store had 57, “specially dressed employees instructed in the principle that ‘the customer is always right.’ Nearly all of the staff are local people and several are graduates of the special retail sales class under the Manpower Development and Training Act.”
In addition, Tempo offered a special room where customers could relax and watch color TV.
Business hours at the shopping center were 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Kroger’s and Super-X Drugs were open on Sundays.
Some 40 boys competed for the opportunity to represent the Huck Finn Shopping Center as its official “Huck Finn.” The winner was Jimmy Spencer, the 12-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. James Spencer, 319 N. Sixth. Jimmy, an eighth-grader at Hannibal Catholic High School, received a $100 U.S. Savings Bond.
The original 23 acres for the shopping center, and an additional five acres purchased later on, were sold by Mr. and Mrs. Mike Kostogian.
Primary in the development of the center was Sydney Jacobs, president of National Chain Store Leases Inc., the organization which developed the Hannibal shopping center.
Harry Musgrove was Hannibal’s mayor at the time of the shopping center’s development. His family was instrumental in the commercial center to the north, known as the Musgrove-Screnco property. Located in this center in 1965 were Sandy’s Drive-In, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company’s business office, and Culligan Soft Water Service.
Among the original stores in the Huck Finn Shopping Center was Andes Candies, which also maintained a location on North Main Street. Dale Kirlin, president of Kirlin’s Inc., said the was the 12th such store owned by Kirlin’s in the Midwest. The store was located in the Penney’s wing of the shopping center.
Simultaneous to the construction of the new shopping center, work was under way to widen U.S. 61 to four lanes, from the college all the way south to the Oakwood junction. This work would result in four-lane travel from north of Palmyra to south of New London.
TV stamp store
Nell Darnell, who managed the Top Value Stamp redemption store when it was located at 308 N. Third street in downtown Hannibal, remained as manager when the store moved to the Huck Finn Shopping Center. The location - two doors west of the Kroger Store - consisted of 4700 square feet. Top Value Enterprises Inc., operated 450 redemption centers across the country.
Kroger’s, the anchor store on the east end of the shopping center, distributed TV stamps with purchases.
Promotional material from the opening of Super-X, located next door to the Kroger store, noted that the pharmacy was designed to suit women, who were the primary drug store shoppers. Edith Davis was the store’s cosmetician, available to help women and teens with makeup concerns. A pharmacist was on duty at the store during all business hours, including Sundays.
Stanley Smith, long-time Hannibal Kroger store employee and manager, was in charge of the new Huck Finn Shopping Center store. R.E. Long assumed management of the company’s store on Broadway.
Like at Super-X, the shopping experience was designed for women.
“Women usually do the family food shopping,” explained C.B. Stream vice president of the St. Louis division of the Kroger Co., “and we men long ago found out that the female of the species knows exactly what she wants in her food store. Kroger tries to design each new supermarket to meet the exact needs of the homemakers who will be shipping in that particular store.”
One unique feature at the new Kroger store was a convenient drop off point at the entrance of the store for bottle returns. “There’s no trudging through the store and waiting for a receipt. It’s on the honor system - just tell the cashier how many “soda bottles” you returned when you check out and receive full credit.”
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com
Top row, from left,
Bill Wanless, manager of Tempo
Ray West, employee of JC Penney
Fred Paolicchi, JC Penney
Charles Perkins, TGY
Second row from top,
Stanley Smith, Kroger manager
Frank Oltman, JC Penney
Glenn Dunehew, Super-X
Nell Darnell, Top Value Stamps
Howard Biesterfeld, JC Penney
Margaret Oltman, JC Penney
Robert Koser, JC Penney
Jimmy Spencer, an eighth grader at Hannibal Catholic High school, was the official Huck Finn representative, 1965. Hannibal Courier-Post photo, Sept. 28, 1965.
Dale Kirlin is pictured in the new Andes Candies store at the Huck Finn Shopping Center in 1965. Hannibal Courier-Post photo, Sept. 28, 1965.
The Montgomery-Ward Store moved from 222 Broadway to the Huck Finn Shopping Center in 1965. Frank Anderson was store manager. Hannibal Courier-Post photo, Sept. 28, 1965.
Village Bazaar was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Gregg Irvin, Hannibal residents, in 1965. Hannibal Courier-Post photo, Sept. 28, 1965.
This photo, by Otis Howell of the Hannibal Courier-Post, was taken on Oct. 1, 1965, during the grand opening of the Huck Finn Shopping Center. Steve Chou collection.
After an original announcement about the Huck Finn Shopping Center in February 1963, the actual property transfer was concluded on April 5, 1963. Shown left to right are Mike Kostogian, his wife frances and Sydney Jacobs, president of the National Chain Store Leases, Inc., developers of the center. The property was transferred by warranty deed. Hannibal Courier-Post photo, Sept. 28, 1965.