Sunday, November 11, 2007

M.E. Moses

Hazel e-mailed saying she'd found something at Crapapedia on retail stores that had closed in the United States. She went down the list and saw one "you probably never heard of but it was my Toys-R-Us as a kid, M.E. Moses." She clicked on the link and got nothing. She wondered if we knew anything about the chain of stores and had anything to share?

After identifying the region, we contacted various Texas TCI community members. Dallas, Billie and Ramona were able to help out. Others weren't sure if they were remembering M.E. Moses or Mott's (another chain in the area) or Woolworth's (a national chain).

"I got my Charlie's Angels dolls there in 1978 or 1979," Ramona remembers. "Cheryl Ladd was already playing Kris and they only had Sabrina, Kelly and Kris. These were little dolls, like eight inches. I'd been waiting and waiting forever. I'd wanted Jill, Kelly and Sabrina for Christmas the year before but there was some issue about whether the show was too 'mature' for me. I got a Charlie's Angeles lunch box at the start of the year so it was decided it wasn't too 'mature' now. But Cheryl Ladd was already playing Kris and most of the stores, the bigger stores, weren't carrying Jill anymore. So I was begging and pleading. I finally got my parents to agree to all three if I got straight A's for the six week report card. That was hard but I did it. We go to the store and they don't have Jill. I was so upset. There was Kris in her green jumpsuit and I really didn't like Kris. I didn't say, 'I told you Jill would be gone!' Probably because I didn't, my father felt bad and told me I could get the Farrah Fawcett doll. It was 12 inches so she towered over the rest of them. I remember the Charlie's Angels dolls came in these sealed plastic containers, not boxes, like Barbies. And I think they cost $8.99 a piece. I have kids now and we've got Toys-R-Us and toy stores in the mall. I don't remember anything like that when I was growing up. When I was a kid, you went to M.E. Moses and your mom looked at the fabric while you ran to toy aisle. If it was a really big M.E. Moses, there might be two aisles. We weren't poor, we were just above poor. My father was a truck driver and my mother worked at my school as a teacher's aid. There were at least two times when the trukers went on strike. They may be the only ones who could still strike successfully in the state. But when they went on strike, it was pots of beans. We'd have a pot of lima beans with a bit of ham in it and that would be dinner and the next night we'd have the rest of it. Then it would be pinto beans. Then it would be black eyes peas. I never thought much about money until then and that's when I learned that everyone wasn't in the same situation, some were better off, some were worse off. My brother could usually get some little item when we went to M.E. Moses and I could too. It would be something like a new dress for Barbie. If I saw candy that I wanted and a dress, I'd take the box with the dress over to my mom in the fabric section and ask her, 'Can you make something like this?' She always had left overs on fabric when she finished whatever she was sewing so, unless it was something with spangles on it, I usually went with the candy and just got her to make a dress for my dolls. But what I'm going through all of that for is how the world has changed. I know people struggling more than my parents and they're buying their kids toys that cost over a hundred bucks, even adjusted for inflation. M.E. Moses was a big deal to me because it had toys. Sears had toys but if we got toys at Sears we usually went to what I think was a Sears outlet store. Most of the time, it was M.E. Moses for toys. And I knew that the really big things, usually on the top shelf out of the reach of kids, was out of my parent's reach financially and not to even ask. My mom would be going through patterns and fabrics for probably two hours and my brother and I would stay on the toy aisle and not even notice each other. We'd be staring at the toys and, with the ones we knew we weren't getting, just dreaming about them, fantasizing how we'd play with them. I have a younger sister who I love but I was in high school when my parents had her and already everything had changed. There were toy stores, stores of just toys, and all this other stuff. The first time we went to Toys-R-Us with her, I was just shocked. Not envious, just overwhelmed. There was so much and, for me, I don't think I would've appreciated as much. For her and other kids that grew up with it, they probably do because that's really what they know but for me there was just something magical about that aisle in M.E. Moses and thinking I'd have all the dolls on it one day."

Dallas remembers a M.E. Moses on Bruton Blvd. in Dallas and what stood out the most was the fact that it was on a strip mall and that side had the best slope for skateboarding ("though you'd get yelled at"), a movie theater, a Gibson's, a big grocery store ("I think Kroger's") and a lot more. His cousins would go there with his teenage uncle on the weekends when his uncle "got stuck with us." The cousins would run up and down the mall "saying we'd buy this or that but, in the end, not buying anything except some candy -- and M.E. Moses had the best display of candy, like the candy stores in the mall today -- because there was a Dairy Queen across the street and we'd save up our money to go eat there. We'd get to there about noon, maybe a little before, my uncle would wait with us until his friends pulled up, then they'd tell us to get lost and he'd go off with his friends while we did what we wanted until a little after five. He'd usually come out of the movies and if he was just with his friends, that meant we had some time to kill still but if he was talking to a female that meant he thought he had a date and we better be headed for the car because he had to go home and get ready which was really just change his shirt and splash on some cologne that I think was called Nuts & Bolts."

At M.E. Moses, "we'd really just look at the candy or maybe some of the models you put together -- airplanes, cars -- we were already too old for the toys although sometimes we'd buy one of those airplanes with a propeller and fly those or, if we wanted to walk a bit to the high school, we'd pool our money for a kite. We'd talk about seeing a movie but never had the money for that and several hours walking around. The one time we did go see a movie, it was at night, Superman II, and the electricity went out. It was late and one of the guys was whining that he was going to hear about it so we finally left and didn't even see the end of the movie."

Billie remembers the layout of the store she went to. "I don't remember the street but my grandmother's beautician was two stores down. So she'd send us into M.E. Moses and go get her hair done. I remember you walked in and the front center was the registers. The left side you were facing was where you'd spend all your time if you were a kid. The right side had fake flowers, household stuff, fabric, towels, etc. The left hand side might have some toys right when you walked in that were the 'hot' toys of the day. They'd have their specials, on everything, there. Then, as you walked past the registers, you came to the candy which was set up in a square and they had counter and you could get stuff to eat. I don't know what because I never ate there. I think ice cream, probably a burger. After you passed that, you were in the land of the toys. When it got closer to Christmas, the aisle next to the toy aisle would also become a toy aisle so you'd have two aisles of toys. The left side of the one aisle was where they had the 'boys' toys which was action figures and anything non-gender specific. The right-side was a wall of pink. Dolls in pink, pink everything. They had Barbies, and they had baby dolls. They had this one doll my sister begged for that was five feet tall. It was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen in my life with thin hair that barely covered the head. But she thought it would be so great to have a doll taller than her. The selling point was supposed to be that it walked. Anyway, she could always twist my grandmother around her finger and, after a few weeks, she got it. It was the worst doll in the world. You were supposed to stand next to it, hold it's hand and as you walked it would take a step if you had put the legs just right. That was the walking doll -- one step if you set up the legs right. It was this cheap, thin, hollow plastic and the hair started falling off almost immediately. The store next to it had costumes at Halloween and, around this time, they had a Batgirl costume in the window. It was for adults but the cape was like on TV. These were adult costumes and not the shoddy things we had as kids. The cape and the wig alone I would have worn forever. It was the same price as the doll and when the doll ended up behind the house in a garbage can a few weeks later, I couldn't help thinking, 'If we had gotten that Batgirl costume . . .' But that was the thing that stood out. You had some cheap toys like that, inexpensive and cheaply made, and you also had some name brand stuff. If you were lucky, you could always get my grandmother to at least get you a knock off after she'd finished getting her hair done. The other thing that stands out is that it was always cooler on the right side of the store. We didn't go over there very often but one time my sister and I were looking at something like door handles for cabinets. They were in these black, wire baskets and we had to get really close because it seemed like that side of the store was less well lit and also cooler -- a.c. wise cooler. Another reason we didn't go over to that side very often was adults would glare at you. If you were on the left side of the store, no one bothered you. But leave the side with the toys and adults seemed upset you were on their side and the employees seemed convinced you were going to shoplift. Which, it turned out, they were right to worry about. My sister shop lifted all the time. I never found until we were in junior high. Some of that stuff I thought she'd talked my grandmother into buying, she'd hadn't. She'd just tell me and our parents that after we got back to explain how she had whatever new toy it was. That really ticked me off because she was pocketing left and right and never even bothered to pocket anything for me. I remember when mood rings were a big deal and they had them up front, in M.E. Moses, on a register. It was a display. My sister had three mood rings and I didn't have one. She wouldn't even let me wear one of her's. She'd say, 'If you put it on, it won't tell my mood.' So when she finally told me the truth about all the goodies she'd picked up over the years, my first question was, 'Did you steal a mood ring?' She stole all three."

Ramona and Billie both say they never expected the stores to close but Dallas maintains he was prepared for it, "Gibson's carried vinyl albums and 45 singles. M.E. Moses carried vinyl albums and so did the grocery store. My uncle bought an All in the Family album there one time just for the cover because he had the hots for Sally Struthers. Then one day, the grocery store stopped carrying vinyl. Then M.E. Moses stopped carrying it. We used to flip through the vinyl at all three so when it dropped down to two and then one, it became obvious things were changing. I actually think a friend pointed that out. But we were all in agreement. There had also been a place next to the Dairy Queen that was a drive-in. You couldn't eat inside because inside was just the kitchen. But people would go there and hang out in the lot, even if you were a kid and didn't have a car. It closed down and then it was just the Dairy Queen. So there signs like that if you noticed. Or the grocery store. I think it was a Kroger's and I say that because it flipped about five times during my childhood. It was a Skagg's, it was an Alpha Beta. It was always changing."

"Today you have the dollar stores," Ramona said referring to three different chains with "dollar" in the title. "They really aren't the same thing. With the candy and the toys, M.E. Moses seemed geared towards children. Or we thought so. You walk into a dollar store and it's like the ideal customer is someone on their lunch hour rushing in to buy detergent."

Billie agreed with that noting that they toys at M.E. Moses included "the cheapest, mid-range and expensive for those times. At Dollar General, you just have these cheap knock offs. If you're a kid buying a toy there, you're pretty much getting what you want right away. There's no bargaining of 'I really want this but could I have this?' We used to do that with my grandmother all the time. And, after our first several trips, we got smart enough to always ask about the most expensive one right away to let her get her 'no' out of the way."
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