Remember When You Did Your Last-Minute Christmas Shopping at ... FIRESTONE?


Times have changed. Half a century ago, Santa didn't have to trek back and forth to his workshop at the North Pole when he needed to refill his bag with toys for Memphis boys and girls. And neither did Mom or Dad, looking for that last-minute holiday gift.

Hard to believe, maybe, but back then all you had to do was drive over to the local tire and auto-supply store, and take your pick from an astonishing selection of merchandise.

This December 1940 window display at the Firestone Auto Supply and Service Station, located downtown at the corner of Third and Washington, announced, "Gifts for All." And boy, did they mean it. Just look at the Firestone Super Chief wagons, Stanley tool chests, Teddy Tooter and Woofy Wowser pull toys, boxing gloves, Treasure Hunt and other board games, footballs, basketballs, bowling pins, toy typewriters, toy dump truck, printing presses, and lots more.

The prices cause sticker-shock, but a different kind from what shoppers experience today. A gleaming Red Fox wagon cost just $2.99. Tinkertoys were $1.75, and a super-cool microscope set was $3.99.

So many years later, it's possible that some of these sturdy toys have survived — as cherished possessions handed down over the generations, or as costly items displayed for sale in an antique mall (or listed on eBay). But I'm sorry to tell you that the old Firestone store is long gone. The site today is occupied by the Shelby County Justice Center.

Like this photo? Want to see more? The hard-working staff of the Memphis and Shelby County Room (on the fourth floor of the main library) has arranged a nice display of some three dozen vintage photos showing holiday-decorated store windows and Christmas-day activities, including a few snapshots from Goldsmith's Enchanted Forest. There's even one photo of a cute little kid proudly wearing the brand-new cowboy hat he got from Santa, but I promised I wouldn't say it was Wayne Dowdy.

Reader Comments:
Dec 22, 2011 11:08 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

There was a Western Auto store corner of Poplar and Cleveland. My metal wagon was a Radio Flyer; Daddy later painted it silver to prevent rust, as of course it stayed outdoors.

My bicycle was from Western Auto, too.

In early adulthood, that's where I bought my motorcycle helmet !


Dec 26, 2011 11:30 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Thanks for posting this great old photo of Firestone. My Dad and his uncle both worked there. Great uncle Jack worked there from the late 30's till about 1950, my dad in 1950 and '51, both of them in the service department. After seeing the picture, I called my dad and asked him about Firestone selling toys and such. He said that with their easy credit they sold a very large amount of toys and appliances plus the tires, batteries and service work they are more known for. He remembered fondly that his first bicycle was a Firestone brand bought at that very store by his uncle in '41 when he was 10 years old. Dad might have worked there longer but the Korean War got in the way and Uncle Sam needed his assistance in quelling that little "Police Action". Something that he said about the building I found incredible considering the present state of crime in the city. The service department had large openings to drive the cars through for service but no doors, they were wide open. Tires and batteries, belts and hoses and even the mechanics toolboxes were just sitting there with no provision for locking them up, yet he couldn't remember anything being stolen. Amazing. I wish we could have the city like that again. I also asked him what they did about working in the winter with no doors. He said, "Well, we were cold".

Oct 22, 2012 02:51 pm
 Posted by  teeg

I so love this picture! I'd love to have those toys sitting around here right now - such cool things. And I love to see the prices - funny that Tinkertoys are still one of the top-selling toys every year!

- Teegan at

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

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