When I was a boy growing up in Windsor, Ontario it was safe to go downtown alone to either be among the hustle bustle of a thriving city center, or even to buy something if we had a few cents to spend. All the buses had a shiny steel pole in the front as soon as we boarded, the pole had a line etched into it and if you were shorter than the line you rode free otherwise we would have to pay a nickel for the ride. The trips downtown were always an adventure, S.S.Kresge store the largest of all the retail outlets, Woolworths, Metropolitan stores and Adelmans where Mom would take us for our back to school clothes, and service second to none. The Capital, Palace, Vanity and Empire theatres were all downtown as well as some of the best restaurants, oh how I remember the hot beef sandwiches for only .85 cents.
The minute Kresges opened their doors in the morning the fifty seat lunch counter was filled to capacity and stayed filled through breakfast until the dinner hours. The store itself was the busiest of all the stores downtown and at any hour of the day there would be at least three or four dozen shoppers milling around. But that all ended on December 24, 1945 when a fire gutted the entire store. It seemed the city was alive with sirens blaring from every direction, at first no one knew what was happening or where the fire engines were headed because the war had ended only a few months prior, but the news quickly spread about one of the city’s greatest loss.
It was again in December we heard the sirens, December 14, 1948 when Adelmans was completely destroyed by fire. Adelmans was around the corner from Kresges no more than a block away, a shopper’s paradise among Windsor’s downtown attractions. Much like the Kresge fire, it took firemen days to finally put out the last stubborn embers.
It seemed downtown Windsor was not the place to be when danger reared its ugly head because the worst devastation of Windsor’s downtown was the explosion at the Metropolitan Store, just a few blocks away from Kresge’s and Adelmen’s. On October 25, 1960 the store was destroyed by a massive explosion which killed ten shoppers and injured more than one hundred, ambulance sirens rang out for hours on end. A defective gas line that extended along the main floor ignited blowing out the rear wall, causing the two upper floors to collapse trapping many customers and employees. The blast shattered the front glass scattering debris and broken shards up and down Ouellette Avenue injuring all those who were nearby.
WW II air raid sirens had long since been dismantled and we no longer had to endure the haunting shrill alerts, but I can still vividly remember the firetruck and ambulance sirens in the middle 1900s echoing across the city, and as we enter a new year I am saddened recalling those devastating disasters that helped end the era of the popular 5 and 10 cent stores.