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Shopping in years gone by Richard Peña | Sat, Dec 10 2011 12:00 PM

I have on more than one occasion reported in this space how I have kids that are good to me. This is particularly true of the female sector of the clan. 
My two daughters, and my daughter-in-law Terri and granddaughter Kristin never forget my birthday or any other eventful days and quite often shower me with gifts. And the beautiful part about this is they give me those things that I would never buy for myself. Oh, they don’t go overboard with things that border on the outlandish. I, for example, have yet to see a brand-new Lexus in my driveway or a 62-inch television gracing my living room wall. I leave those things to daydreams.
Thinking about Christmas and gifts the other day made me look at the calendar. I see where time is running out and I have yet to plan gift-giving much less shop for them. Like most households I have received dozens of catalogs in the mail and have been tempted to page through them and select appropriate items for each of my charges. But something deters me, probably the habits and traditions of the many years when I haunted the downtown stores, and the out-of-the-way emporiums for that perfect item for that particular person.
I am afraid that such a scenario was in an age long past. The downtown stores, as we used to know them, are no more. All cities, at least those cities that we know of, are safely ensconced in the shopping mall mode, something that present-day economics have deemed most profitable.  Those of us who were brought up in a different age lament the passing of the nostalgic department stores and mom and pop shops that were the norm.  We, however, can spin daydreams about them.
In my Christmas columns of years past I have referred a bit to some of those times. They form an important niche in that bevy of happy memories that most of us have stored up and which we dust off and share with others from time to time. Since they involve family, particularly the younger set, those memories are way up in the scale. They are much more important than some of those mundane things like the time we bought our first new car or the time I almost made that hole-in-one.
It was a routine that we followed for some years. We would select a Saturday, well before Christmas, and make our downtown jaunt.  The kids would dress in their finery and even I would wear something of the season. We would leave the mother at home — it being a sort of holiday for her —and away we would go to the San Diego equivalent of adventureland. 
This was the downtown department stores of which there were quite a few. Our first stop, as I recall, was  Walker-Scott that was on the corner of 6th and Broadway. This was a multi-story edifice that had elevators that would take you from floor to floor, each floor with their own specialty. The elevator had an operator who would intone the floor and its specialty.
We would enter the store and go down.  This was the toy department that had all sorts of attractions for kids six to 60. Chief of these was the train display. They had a layout with about a half dozen different lines, all Lionel Trains, and all operating simultaneously. The display had villages, mountains, tunnels and many other unimaginable items. 
The shoppers would be mesmerized by the display and it took some coaxing to tear them away. They had to be reminded that they were uptown to shop and get something for their mom if nothing else.
The rest of the day was as eventful culminating with a lunch at the old Mannings Cafeteria. This was a downtown eating establishment that had the best chicken salad and coffee I have ever had. The shopping venture generally ended with a matinee at one of the downtown movie palaces.
Adventures such as those are simply memories. Judging by previous years I will somehow get my shopping done. And I am sure that other members of my family will get theirs done. I really don’t know what to expect.
Just to be on the safe side on Christmas morning I will be looking outside toward my driveway. You never can tell, you know.

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