It used to all happen downtown, especially on Friday nights

Echoes of our past
William & JoyWangemann • forThe Review

Through out Sheboygan’s history when ever a joyous occasion occurred, it was downtown Sheboygan that was traditionally selected as the place to celebrate.

But nothing could compare with the huge crowds of deliriously happy people that spontaneously poured into the streets of downtown Sheboygan the day World War II ended. Factory whistles blew, church bells rang, and traffic on 8th street came to a halt. Merrymakers snake danced down the streets, impromptu bands seemed to spring from nowhere to lead the dancers; many others went to church and gave thanks.

In the postwar years of the late 40s and early 50s downtown Sheboygan reached its zenith. Most days the streets bustled with shoppers and traffic, but Friday night, was the night to shop.

In those pre-shopping center days all the stores closed at 5:30 p.m. daily and were closed all day Sunday. Friday night was the only day of the week you could shop at night, and Friday, was traditionally payday.

At the very center of downtown Sheboygan at southeast corner of N.8th and Wisconsin Ave stood the very successful H.C. Prange Co. The Prange Co. first opened its doors on Oct. 4, 1887. Founded by Henry C. Prange the company became much more than Sheboygan’s largest department store, it became an institution.

If a Sheboyganite said they were going downtown shopping it meant, they were “going down by Prange.” Just across Wisconsin Ave. to the north of the Prange store stood the produce department.

It was here that farmers from through out the county brought fresh produce such as eggs, vegetables, and fruit they wished to sell.

In payment for the produce Prange bought, the company issued due-bills in the amount owed the farmers, which they could in turn use in the store to purchase whatever they needed. Prange due-bills were so highly regarded that at times they were used as currency in the county. It is recalled that one farmer used due-bills he had saved up to purchase a used tractor from his neighbor, who gladly accepted them as payment.

One of the most memorable and eagerly anticipated events of the year took place when the Prange Co. unveiled their beautiful animated store windows on Thanksgiving Day, the start of the Christmas shopping season. As a young boy I and thousands of other youngsters waited all year to see these mechanical wonders.

Can many of us old enough to remember, ever forget the hospitality the Prange Co. showed to hundreds of high school graduates? Each year at graduation time the store cleared off the counters on the first floor for the yearly ritual of yearbook signing. During this time a customer was overheard to ask Mr. Prange “are you not losing a lot of sales with these kids taking up nearly the whole first floor?” Mr. Prange smiled and replied “Oh no, they are all perspective customers.” And you know, he was right!

Shoppers were not however limited to just one department store, there were others, J.C. Penney Co., Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, Hills Department Store and Jung’s Department Store.

Then there were the soda fountains and candy stores, Athen’s, Keitel’s, the Palace of Sweets to mention a few, where for just a few cents we could indulge ourselves in those pre-calorie counting days. Then there were also many fine restaurants such as the one on top Sheboygan’s only “Sky Scraper” at 8th and Center Ave. The once fine restaurant with its spectacular view of Lake Michigan is occupied by office space. The N. 8th Street we remember is all gone now. Even the once proud Prange building is now a vacant lot.

Sheboygan was a marvelous place to grow up during the 40s and 50s… but then, I think it still is!

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