Skip to main content
An Ideal Life

It Takes a Village: The Beginning

Part 2 of 3
The Howard Hotel in Omaha Nebraska
Published on August 14, 2012 : 15 comments

Share It!

PrintPrint
EmailEmail

It Takes a Village is a 3-part series about downtown Omaha by Christine Lind. Click here to read part 1 and part 3.


The Beginning 

As I sit at my desk writing this article, I hear the sound of a bus going down 16th Street. You’d think the noise would bother me, but instead, I lean back and feel comforted. I haven’t ridden a bus since my teen years, but I remember it well.  How could you forget your first independence, riding the Number 6 bus to downtown by yourself? The bus safely took me away, away to a place where I could shop, see the sights, and explore.

I had a lot of time to think on that 30 minute ride to downtown from North Omaha. I remember I’d stare out the window day-dreaming about what I’d buy with my babysitting money. Pendant watches, windbreakers and madras shirts danced through my head. The starting, swaying, stopping and starting of the bus, intermingled with my thoughts. Each cycle of thought with bus maneuvers, got me closer to downtown, Omaha, the Emerald City of Nebraska, my very own village where everything’s waiting for me.

When I’d get near my stop in the heart of downtown, I’d pull the cord and walk to the back exit like a pro, making sure to hold onto the back of the seats so I wouldn’t fall into a fellow passenger’s lap. The hissing sound of the bus’s air brakes signaled the start of the race for me as I patiently waited for the exit doors to open. After politely spitting me out, the bus heaved onward, lumbering on its designated course, leaving me standing alone on 16th & Dodge. 

Brandeis Store in Omaha NebraskaBrandeis Store in Omaha NebraskaI’d begin my hunt at Penney’s and then go back out to 16th Street to its next door neighbor, Woolworth’s. After savoring a malted milk through a paper straw at the Luncheonette, I’d use the underground exit and walk with other shoppers through the tunnel under Douglas Street and pop out into the bargain basement of Brandeis.

One of my many haunts included Kresge’s Drug Store down from Brandeis on Harney. It was a wonderland of movie magazines, costume jewelry, and cans of Aqua Net. Kilpatrick’s and Goldstein Chapman’s were also on my treasure map; and of course, part of the downtown shopping experience had to include eating at Bishops Buffet, where the assortment of a la carte dishes excited me as much as the variety of bobby pins at Walgreens.

I kept watch over the time, vigilant not to miss the last bus to get me home by curfew. Walking briskly to catch the bus ordained to deposit me safely back from whence I came, I usually planned to reach my bus stop with time to spare for the trip home. Waiting with other travelers on 14th Harney in the alcove of Borsheim’s, I clutched one large bag from one of the major department stores that held all my treasurers. After boarding, I had 30 minutes of bus ride ahead. There, I’d relax and reflect on a job well done.

Staring out into the night, I mentally checked off my purchases as my reflection in the window stared back in agreement that I’d once again secured my membership in the in-crowd: White lipstick, fake nails, curlers the size of orange juice cans, Dippity Do, Clearasil, Max Factor cake mascara, and a 45 rpm single, “Love Potion No. 9.” But best of all, in my faux leather billfold contained two coveted receipts promising a windbreaker and madras shirt safely secured on layaway at Natelson’s Department Store.

Little did I know as I rode the metro bus back and forth to downtown as much as my mother allowed, my grandparents and the generation before them were making history, and helping to form part of the downtown culture today. I couldn’t possibly have appreciated it then, but I’m completely indebted to them now.

My ancestors immigrated from Lentini, Sicily to Omaha as early as 1912 with the hope of work at the Union Pacific shops, and settled in at a boarding house on 10th & Howard.  Besides the rail cars that needed to be repaired, sewers and tunnels needed to be excavated. Articles needed to be written for the newspaper and costumes needed to be sewn for the opera. Leather shoes needed repair and the courthouse needed drapes. And the foreshadowing of the most popular culture of downtown today: The market district needed vendors for flowers, produce and Christmas trees.

My ancestors didn’t stay long at the boarding house. They moved into their own homes, and became restaurateurs, florists, grocers, dry cleaners and professional photographers throughout Omaha, supplying the needs of the growing city while establishing their own village, Little Italy.

ChristineLindChristine Lind writes about downtown Omaha and makes the best biscotti cookie in town.

Comments

Anonymous (not verified) says:

December 31, 2012 : 3 years 38 weeks ago

Anonymous's picture

what was the name of the restaurant on farnam on the south side of the street between 16th and 17th st.

ChristineLind says:

January 1, 2013 : 3 years 38 weeks ago

ChristineLind's picture

Happy New Year!

Not sure if this is a question or if you’re just wondering if I know about the restaurant. I believe you’re referring to the Northrup-Jones restaurant that was located in the Farnam Building. The Farnam Building has now been renovated into apartments.

I never patronized this restaurant - might even have been before my time - or was probably too expensive for a teenager with only babysitting money! I saved my nickels and dimes for a malt at Woolworth’s!

Hope this answers your question and thank you for commenting!

Anonymous (not verified) says:

July 17, 2013 : 3 years 10 weeks ago

Anonymous's picture

My mom used to take us to Northup-Jones on shopping trips.. It was cheap and cheerful, and she remembered it from her working girl days at “The Phone Company”. It was cafeteria style, and it had HUGE urns of coffee, and they served them in glass mugs with wire handles. Instead of regular tables, they had high tables with stools.

Christine Lind (not verified) says:

July 17, 2013 : 3 years 10 weeks ago

Christine Lind's picture

Oh the memories of childhood. Downtown had it all. Almost everyone I talk to remembers the great cafeterias inside the department stores. Nothing compares to them now. Food Courts just don’t hold the same “wow” factor as the buffets, luncheonettes and lunch counters of our day! Thanks for sharing!

Christine Lind (not verified) says:

July 17, 2013 : 3 years 10 weeks ago

Christine Lind's picture

Oh the memories of childhood. Downtown had it all. Almost everyone I talk to remembers the great cafeterias inside the department stores. Nothing compares to them now. Food Courts just don’t hold the same “wow” factor as the buffets, luncheonettes and lunch counters of our day! Thanks for sharing!

Connie (not verified) says:

November 2, 2013 : 2 years 47 weeks ago

Connie's picture

I too worked at the phone company and we walked to Northrup Jones for lunch- standing at a round table to eat. I remember their Cheese salad sandwiches and I woulde absolutely love it if I had that recipe to make them at home. There were different kinds of diced cheese in it with some nuts as I recall. Anybody know where I might find that recipe?

Anonymous (not verified) says:

November 5, 2014 : 1 year 46 weeks ago

Anonymous's picture

Yes The good old days when America had class
and women wore dresses & heels. My family shop here. Dad drove into Ohama on snow day old highway 30. BrandiSe cafeteria in the basement best lunch. Dinner at Blackstone or Tower on Dodge. Yes the Lamp light too. Thanks

Anonymous (not verified) says:

November 5, 2014 : 1 year 46 weeks ago

Anonymous's picture

Yes The good old days when America had class
and women wore dresses & heels. My family shop here. Dad drove into Ohama on snow day old highway 30. BrandiSe cafeteria in the basement best lunch. Dinner at Blackstone or Tower on Dodge. Yes the Lamp light too. Thanks

Jo Ruma Margritz (not verified) says:

September 6, 2015 : 1 year 3 weeks ago

Jo Ruma Margritz's picture

I also would like to get the “cheese salad” recipe—it was the greatest. We would eat at Northrup Jones as often as we could—
cheese salad on homemade wheat bread and cup of coffee in the glass mugs. This was in the 50’s.
Like Christine Lind, my ancestors came from Sicily (Carlentini).
They loved America and all the opportunities offered here.
All the places mentioned Downtown were memories of a lifetime for me—I’m now almost 81 years old and still think of the wonderful
Omaha of yesterday.
Thank you, Christine, for this wonderful look into the past.

ChristineLind says:

September 6, 2015 : 1 year 3 weeks ago

ChristineLind's picture

Hi Jo,
Thank you for your sweet comment. I wondered about your name “Ruma.” Are you related to Sarah Ruma? My maiden name is Marino and my mother’s maiden name is Pepitone.

Rick Horn (not verified) says:

October 29, 2015 : 47 weeks 4 days ago

Rick Horn's picture

Was it Northrup-Jones that had mostly sandwiches and 2 or 3 hot meals each day and you paid by putting coins in the bus coin collectors at each station?

Rick Horn (not verified) says:

October 29, 2015 : 47 weeks 4 days ago

Rick Horn's picture

and Joe and John Radiccia had the small newsstand in front of Goldsteins on 16th and Farnum.

Connie (not verified) says:

October 30, 2015 : 47 weeks 3 days ago

Connie's picture

OH, thanks for that reminder Rick Horn about the Radicia’s having the news stand. In later years, one of the brothers was a neighbor to us in an Elkhorn area.

Dan (not verified) says:

October 30, 2015 : 47 weeks 3 days ago

Dan's picture

Goldstein-Chapman’s always looked so sophisticated. I don’t know that I was ever inside the store, but it looked classy on the outside.

Connie (not verified) says:

October 30, 2015 : 47 weeks 3 days ago

Connie's picture

Goldstein Chapmans, Natelsons and other womens clothing stores were our usual haunts over our hour long lunch hour. Quick shopping then back up the hill to work. Brandeis had such nice seasonal windows. Ah, the good old days!