In a time before malls and online shopping, the holiday season in Evansville meant you were in need of a trip Downtown.
The stores were not only for Christmas shopping, but also places to see holiday window displays and decorations. In the early 20th century the season kicked off with the openings of Toyland in stores along Main Street. Beginning in 1902, both The Boston Store and Lahr Bacon had competing Toylands. Competition escalated in 1913, when The Boston Store advertised that “a real live Santa Claus is in our Toyland every day.”
By the 1920s, Toylands featuring Santa Claus proliferated the Downtown shops. When Sears announced Little George, the world’s smallest clown, would be their Santa’s helper, R&G Furniture countered with Mickey Mouse as their helper for ol’ Kris Kringle.
With the onset of the Depression, merchants needed to do more to entice people Downtown. In 1932, the first Downtown parade to welcome Santa Claus and open the holiday season was held. Later, the parades became more elaborate with the involvement of the WPA and National Youth Administration. In 1941, a group called the Knights of St. Nicholas was created to continue the parade. The parade was discontinued after 1942, due to the second World War, and did not resume for a number of years afterward.
The 1950s were a holiday boom time for Downtown. Sear’s Wish Book still fueled the desire of children to visit their Toyland. Despite the baby boom and good economic times, however, the Downtown holiday monopoly was drawing to an end. Movement to the suburbs brought new shopping areas. By 1966, the rise of shopping centers resulted in the end of the Downtown Christmas parade as a holiday fixture. When the parade resumed in 1969, it and many of the stores had moved to Green River Road.