The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 30, 2013

Remembering the good times at the Kress Building

Mary Jo McCoy, guest columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — There was a popular song at the time, “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week).” Nothing could have been further from the truth in Enid — those were the days of the USO in the old post office building and the sparkling Kress Building directly across the street.

A young girl of 16 got her first job there by informing the manager she was 5 feet, 9 1/2 inches tall and therefore would be able to see over the candy counter. Furthermore, she was extremely skinny at the time and probably wouldn’t be tempted to eat too much of his candy.

Our entrance to the store was the back door right next to the old fire station, where the firemen liked to sit on their bench in front of the station and watch us come and go. We would wait in an upstairs room until our bell rang, then file downstairs and across the oiled wooden floor to our counter.

Our cash registers were regularly checked for accuracy — no automation to tell us what was due back to the customer. We had to exercise our math skills. We were paid in cash each week, our few dollars and cents passed out to us in a sealed envelope. We were rich!

Occasionally, we girls would meet after work for a 5-cent cherry phosphate (what in the world was really in it?) and a 5-cent bag of hot, salted peanuts at the Boston Fountain right next door. Only later did we learn those cherry phosphates contained a few drops of acid phosphate — they were good.

Most of the clerks were young girls, as was I, and most had friends from the recently activated Enid Flying School (as did I!). The girls behind the jewelry and “record” counters were instructed to keep the record player going on Saturday evenings, playing all of the popular sentimental songs of the time, the melodies wafting throughout the store. Soon, on schedule, a little old gentleman would arrive to purchase his weekly supply of Bay Rum aftershave.

Not long after that, young, handsome soldiers started drifting in to wait for their Saturday dates. After closing, girls in bobby socks and with artificial flowers pinned in their hair and their companions would all meet again across the street at the USO.

Yes, I was that 16 year-old girl. Yes, I was assigned to the candy counter where I was advised to keep my head out of the dumbwaiter shaft when shouting for more candy to be lowered down from the floor above. Yes, I met my future husband at the USO — a Connecticut Yankee, Eugene Joseph McCoy — 72 years ago (now you can exercise your math skills and add that up). Yes, I watched anxiously on Saturday evenings, and soon he would come in, walking through the facade of Kress. Not only did he become my husband, but also a longtime respected educator in Enid.

Yes, as pointed out in the Enid News & Eagle’s Oct. 24 editorial (“Preserving the Kress facade would take too much time, money”), what remains of Kress is only a facade for what occurred behind it. Sticks and stones bring no comfort. That comes from good memories and moving on. We have all moved on, and the city of Enid should, also.

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McCoy, 88, worked at Kress as a high school senior in 1941 as “just the candy girl.” She was in the secretarial pool at Enid Army Air Field for two years. She went to work for Continental Grain Company in 1945 where she became the country’s first female terminal grain elevator manager in 1982 until her retirement in 1992.