The brick facade of the mid-century modern building on Green Avenue began coming down last week the scent of Maple Nut Goodies, bolts of new gingham and red rubber balls were long gone.
But the 1956 building, used for years by Lamar State College-Orange and the local U.S. Representative, was once the home of the popular dime store, Perry Brothers (usually abbreviated Bros.).
The store chain, based in Lufkin, had a store in Orange dating back to at least the early 1930s. Back then it was known as a “Five and Dime” store, or a “variety store.” The variety meant it covered a wide variety of items from toys, clothes, novelties to home decorations and snacks. The “Five and Dime” part meant the goods were inexpensive.
On May 25, 1956, the store had the grand opening in its new home at the northeast corner of Green Avenue and Fourth Street. Soon, TSO (Texas State Optical), Western Auto, and the Green Stamp purchasing store were in the strip of shops.
Perry Brothers was in Orange at least by 1933. The Orange Public Library does not have old city directories dating to the 1920s to see if the store was here by that date. References to the company appear in The Orange Leader by 1933 with a January 23 story that year.
The news on that day was that someone unsuccessfully tried to break into the penny weigh scales in front of Perry Brothers on Fifth Street. The machine had slight damage, but no money was missing.
The Perry Brothers in the early 1930s was at 304 Fifth Street, which would have been on the east side of the street where the old mirrored bank building is today. Felix Weil had a store at 205 Fifth Street.
By the 1940s, city directories list Perry Brothers store at 205 Fifth Street, which was on the west side where the Lutcher Theater parking lot is today. The David family’s Orange Insurance Agency was at 205 B Fifth Street. Griggs Stationery and Office Supply was on the same side of the street.
The J.C. Penney store was next door at 207 Fifth Street and Griggs Stationery and Office Supply was on the same side of the street. Rip’s Cafe was across the street.
During the days of the Great Depression, the 5-10-25 cent and $1 store was a popular place to shop for bargains. People from that time remember fondly being able to spend a penny at the candy counter or splurging on Tangee lipstick. Kids would spend time checking out the toy department as their moms wished about new towels or new material for a dress.
World War II brought an influx of customers as the defense shipyards provided jobs for the locals (many of the men went into the military.
Dr. Louis Fairchild, an Orange native, wrote a 1993 book, “They Called It the War Effort: Oral Histories from World War II Orange, Texas.”
Herman Wood told Fairchild he was manager of Perry Brothers during the war. “I could sell anything I could get in the store…Anything I could get to sell was automatically sold.”
Those items included, according to a newspaper ad, leather huarache sandals for women. Shoes were rationed during the war and the huaraches from Mexico were not covered by the ration rules.
Perry Brothers updated the Orange store after the war by building the new one on Green Avenue. The store bought a full page ad for the Thursday, May 24, 1956, evening paper for the Friday Grand Opening. The J.C. Penney store, which by that time had built a new store on Green Avenue at Fifth Street, to the side of First Baptist Church, had an ad welcoming “our new neighbor” Perry Brothers.
Also opening that day was the Site Service Station at 2414 MacArthur Drive in the years before the first shopping center was built. The service station had Site Cresyl gas (regular) for 19.9 cents a gallon. The premium ethyl, called Site Cresyl-110, cost 22.9 cents a gallon.
The Perry Brothers store had an automatic door, still a novelty for Orange at the time. The bargains included a “young parakeet in a cage only $3.98 for both.” “Delicious fudge” was 19 cents a pound. “Fresh delicious orange slices” were also 19 cents a pound. The “fresh” would not have meant juicy fruit off a tree, but the gum drop style candies.
Boys sports shirts were $1 each and men’s sports shirts were $1.49. A parent could buy a boy, up to size 8 years, five “polo shirts” for $1.
A Fiesta cup was priced at a bargain 15 cents, even though it was a “second” from the regular priced 39 cent cup. Fancier people could get a gold band cup and saucer for 19 cents. “Beautiful doilies” were 15 cents each and came in colors. “Buy several and beautify you home,” the ad read.
Perry Brothers in the 1970s opened another store in Northway Shopping Center. The one on Green Avenue closed in the 1980s. However, big box stores and dollar stores took customers away from the old-fashioned dime stores. By the end of 1997, Perry Brothers at Northway closed.
The Perry Brothers chain once spread across Texas. One is still open in downtown Lufkin, the city where the company began.
-Margaret Toal, KOGT-