Christmas 1928: City Recognized as Appalachian Shopping Center

During Christmas 1928, Johnson City was merrily clad in holiday yuletide adornment as the holiday spirit prevailed throughout this area where hundreds of enthusiastic people had arrived to shop. The much-awaited day fell on Tuesday that year.

Because Johnson City merchants knew that shopping would occur on a far greater scale that year, they secured additional stocks of goods several months prior in order to take care of shoppers’ expectations. Store windows throughout the downtown area were elaborately and colorfully decorated, enhancing the excitement in the air. Many people shopped early to beat the ever-growing crowds.

Special programs were given in local churches and schools as the big day neared. Attendance was so good that some houses of worship had to schedule additional services. The “white gift service” that had become an annual tradition in many area churches resulted in churchgoers placing gifts wrapped in solid white paper under a selected tree for distribution to the city’s needy folks.

Steam driven trains that were crowded to capacity chugged along on all railroads tracks passing through Johnson City as the festive season approached. College students and people from all sections of the country were en-route to their homes to spend the holidays with friends and loved ones. It was truly a joyful time of the year.

Typical chilly weather prevailed that year in East Tennessee, although little snow had covered the ground. Weather forecasters offered news of the possibility that the North and Middle Atlantic States might enjoy a white Christmas. However, fair weather with temperatures somewhat below normal was predicted for the South Atlantic and East Gulf states. Rain or snow was anticipated for the Ohio Valley and parts of Tennessee.

Christmas trees were available in abundance. In the downtown section, large numbers of them lined the sidewalks and in vacant lots all across the city, hundreds of well-shaped trees were being sold at below normal prices. Area markets were stocked with plenty of turkeys and chickens while local stores carried an abundance of cranberries, nuts, celery and other food items considered essential for a delectable Christmas dinner.

As had been present in previous years, large Christmas shopping crowds were jamming city streets on that Saturday afternoon before Christmas. A majority of those seen on city streets were out-of-towners making Johnson City their shopping headquarters. Many residents can recall when Main Street was so jam packed with people on Saturdays that it was an effort to maneuver through the downtown district. Automobiles, buses, cabs, trains, streetcars and other means of conveyance were everywhere. Shoppers swarmed the city on the Saturday before Christmas, visiting the various stores until late at night making purchases. Christmas Eve also brought a frenzied swarm with late shoppers buying last minute gifts.

King’s Department Store advertised a “Half Million Dollar Holiday Campaign” that year, which included a family night dinner on its fourth floor from 5:30 to 7:30 on the Tuesday evening before Christmas. The menu included fried chicken, creamed potatoes, creamed asparagus, fruit salad, hot rolls, chocolate pie and a choice of coffee, tea or milk. The cost was fifty cents. Since the downtown was nearly filled to capacity as Christmas approached, many businesses extended their store hours to accommodate late minute purchases.

Times were happy that Christmas of 1928, but unknown to the masses, within ten months the dark ominous clouds of the Great Depression would abruptly descend on the economy adversely affecting Christmas shopping for several years to come.