Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Businesses in Harrold
Businesses in Harrold
By Gary Heintz
I wrote the history of Harrold for its’ centennial book in 1986, doing research on the birth and growth of the small town. I became familiar with the main street and the businesses that occupied it, all two blocks of it. Some of the businesses were still active when I was a kid in the 1950s, but many had disappeared with only a shell of a building standing or the hole of a basement remaining to remind us there had been a part of Harrold there once. We kids grew up not knowing the history of that little main street, so the research I did was like reading an exciting novel.
The west side of the main street was the most interesting, mainly because few buildings were still standing and only three were still in use. The old two story bank building had been converted to a hotel/café in the early 1940s, the café on the ground floor and the hotel upstairs where the bank offices used to be. I remember eating there as a very young boy, but mainly I remember the deserted building, windows broken out, where we used to play and explore, much to our parents’ concern. I worked on the crew that tore the old building down when I was in high school.
The building on the next block that had been the center of much of Harrold’s social life was a two story frame building that had a general store on the main level with a dance floor on the second floor. It was said that Lawrence Welk and his Hotsy Totsy Boys played for dances there on a regular basis. On the Saturday nights when there wasn’t a dance, the proprietor sponsored boxing matches. He had a boxing ring on wheels that rolled out to the middle of the floor, and chairs were set up around it. The matches usually included high school boys, who, win or lose, earned a bottle of pop and a candy bar. Community events were held there throughout the year.
The movie hall is a big part of my memory as a young boy, partly because it was just across an empty lot from my dad’s barbershop. It was a popular spot on Saturday nights, especially when a western movie was showing. The front half of the theatre was always filled with kids, eating popcorn and candy, with their parents sitting in the back. I remember the scandalous night we heard the word ‘hell’ in a movie. There was a gasp that echoed throughout the theatre. The theatre closed down in the early 1950s, the floor was leveled and became a dance hall where square dances were held weekly. The projection room was neglected, and again we kids explored the deserted hall years later. I found a glass hand- painted slide promoting Red’s Barbershop, my dad’s shop, in perfect shape. I think we still have it packed away with other memories.
An older couple ran a small grocery store down the street from the barbershop. They lived in the back room of the store, so they were our closest neighbors. They invited us for Christmas dinner when I was in the first grade and served oyster stew. We sat around a small table behind the heavy curtains that served as a wall between their home and the store. Mom was concerned that I wouldn’t like the stew, and kept a watchful eye on me as I bit into an oyster. She was quite surprised that I seemed to like the taste, and even had a second helping. The store closed after the husband passed, and it was sold to the VFW, which, again turned it into a dance hall, with gaming rooms in the basement. The gaming rooms mainly held slot machines, which were illegal. During the week the machines were hidden in the trunks of several cars, and were unloaded after dark on Saturday nights, then loaded back into the cars early Sunday morning. I don’t know if the threat of getting caught was ever serious, but the members had fun hauling those slots around. The old building is still standing, wedged between two other empty brick buildings on what used to be a bustling main street in a booming town on the prairie.
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