Continuing on visiting along Gallatin Street, we stop in at Lia’s Gift Shop & Home Décor.
A Little Bit of History…
Richard and Lia Jenner own and operate Lia’s Gifts & Home Décor Shop, located in the main intersection of downtown Vandalia, on the site of what was originally known as “Atkinson’s (Grocery) Corner.”
It was the place to be on Saturday nights in Vandalia – the northwest corner of Gallatin and Fifth streets.
It was the hub of activity, the gathering place for everyone. People would stand out on the corner for hours, visiting, discussing business and family matters, the war, etc.
If you wanted to see someone, you would just hang around Atkinson’s Corner, and usually that person would show up there.
There would be such a crowd that people would actually be standing out in the street a ways talking, and cars would have to edge carefully around that corner.
And no one seemed to complain.
Saturday nights were so big that people would get downtown early just to get a parking place along the Gallatin Street, to watch the people walk by as they visited the various stores.
Another big draw were the Liberty and the Lincoln movie theaters. The smaller Lincoln Theatre was located across from the Vandalia Statehouse on Gallatin. Both theaters showed different movies on Saturday nights, with two evening showings.
The Liberty also had Saturday afternoon matinees, which were very popular with the kids, as cowboy movies were featured. Those showings also featured serials, with the episodes ending in suspense every week to assure the return of the kids the next week.
Garland Troxell’s popcorn stand was on the corner of Fourth and Gallatin, across from Allen’s Furniture Store to the west, so you didn’t have to go into a theatre to enjoy some popcorn.
Parents often visited the Allen sisters in their store while their children were in the movie theatres.
Television sets in the homes took a big toll on Saturday nights downtown (especially when TV wrestling became so popular), and the event of stores opening away from downtown made a huge difference.
Things Seem to be Changing
Once again, we are seeing vehicles parked along both sides of the streets and people on the sidewalks. This is what Richard Jenner was talking about, and that he and Lia are glad to see.
Rich opened the gift shop and crafts supplies store seven years ago and has persevered. He ran a wholesale business featuring both products he made and some products that he was importing.
As he lives in Vandalia, he decided to open a retail shop.
“It was a big hit. Our first year was probably our best year ever,” he said.
But changes came to downtown, and one of the challenges was the street work a few years ago, when the sidewalks were under construction and customers were denied easy access to the business entrances.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Richard shared. “There have been some years that have been a trial. “The street and sidewalk construction, that was just a kind of ‘hang in, if you can bear it’ situation,” he said. “We knew it would be difficult. and we were prepared to go through that.
“And the streets are beautiful now.”
The gift shop began in a small amount of space in the store front, and expanded as more merchandise and crafts supplies were in demand.
They carry several well-known names in gift and home décor items.
“Our top line includes the Jim Shore indoor and larger outdoor items,” he said. “The figures are very popular, colorful and have a quilting theme. Every piece has a quilting design, Shore’s trademark. They are made of resin, but look like carved wood.
Foundations Angels, Precious Moments and Cherished Teddies items are also top-of-the-line gifts. There seem to be gifts for everyone and every occasion, in every price range. Also on the shelves are Americana, Lincoln and Vandalia items, chickens and dolls, and used and new furniture is in stock.
They also carry an extensive supply of crafts and hobby needs.
“That is what has probably sustained us for the past year. We try to stock things that cannot be found locally, except for the staple items, such as glue. We carry DMC floss, skeins of floss used for embroidery and cross-stitching, and we sell it daily,” Lia said.
She also mentioned decorative candles, candle-holders, greeting cards, gift wrapping and carved wood toys. Also for sale are used DVDs and video games.
The Jenners offer lay-away at the store.
“We really like it when people compliment us on our prices,” Rich said, “so we try to keep them low or reasonable.”
Lia and Rich would like to see downtown Vandalia be more like it used to be, with people downtown shopping, visiting, eating, etc. – simply enjoying their hometown.
Hopefully, downtown merchants – like Rich and Lia – with their attitude and attentiveness to their customers needs will help make this vision come true.