The questions and stories associated with a photograph may lead you someplace unexpected. A pink and black plastic bag used for trick-or-treating in the early 1970s prompted me and my sisters to reminisce about Livingston’s, a women’s department store in Youngstown, Ohio, in the mid-twentieth century. And that led me to our mother and her hats.
Launch point: 1970s Halloween photos
I went trick-or-treating ca 1973 dressed as a clown. I knew these two photos were from the same Halloween because of the red and white checkered shirt visible in both pictures. I was obviously happy with my candy haul; check out the old Nestle Crunch wrapper near the bottom of the candy photo. I was never a fan of Sugar Daddy’s, but one can’t go wrong with Hershey’s or M&M’s; I think I see Snickers and Milky Way in the mix as well. After assessing the 1970s candy collection, the pink and black bag tossed off to the side caught my attention.
Pink and black mystery bag
My mother always saved paper and plastic bags for re-use. There was a small wooden box at the top of our basement stairs, attached to the wall by my father. That’s where we stored the bags for a future need. I’m not sure why I didn’t carry a plastic pumpkin for trick-or-treating, or a pillowcase (which I remember lots of neighborhood kids using). I was young, so maybe this small bag was deemed sufficient for what I expect was my first trick-or-treat outing.
The bag’s colors were soooo 1970s: pink and black. The first letter looked like an “H,” and I remembered hearing about Higbee’s department store. I texted my sisters, 15 and 18 years older, to see what they might recall.
Youngstown department stores
Wikipedia was helpful in terms of Higbee’s and Strouss department stores, but not for Livingston’s. I came across articles about a Livingston’s in Illinois, but it wasn’t the same store. Then I came across this Classic Youngstown: Livingston’s Comforter, and that confirmed the logo (not the colors, but pink and black comforters probably wouldn’t sell). There are over 43 products with the Livingston’s logo at Redbubble.
There was also a 1950s picture of Federal Street in Youngstown, mentioning Livingston’s. At some point, Livingston’s moved to the Boardman Plaza; my sister Sue shared this memory of a sophisticated aunt who worked at Livingston’s:
My research also turned up three vintage round hat boxes from Livingston’s. Our mother loved hats, so I have to wonder if she purchased any of hers at Livingston’s over the years. Her daughters and grandchildren were often embarrassed when she wore hats to church, but now the individuality she expressed is a fond memory. It occurs to me that we only have a few pictures of her wearing hats; I wish we had some from the late twentieth century.
My niece remembers that when she and her brother would enter the sanctuary of Boardman United Methodist Church, Aimee would always tell Justin to look for a hat; it was the easiest way to locate Grandma. Our mother always sat in the same pew, but two young grandchildren would not have known that.
Viewing by appointment only
Richard S. Scarsella’s book: Memories and Melancholy: Reflections on the Mahoning Valley and Youngstown, Ohio, yields the most information I could find about Livingston’s (see the “Affairs of the Heart” chapter):
“Youngstown’s ‘ladies department store’ was named Livingston’s. This New York inspired downtown firm catered to an upscale clientele. Its bridal boutique was unrivaled in the valley. Within it [sic] velvet draped walls one could find exquisite garments tailored from French chiffon, Italian satin, Flemish lace, and Asian rainbow sequins. Fifth Avenue creations by Milady, Bianchi, Dior, Givenchy, and Chanel all were stocked for viewing by appointment only. These exclusive dresses were all featured in national publications and supplies were limited. Until it closed, Livingston’s was considered a trendsetter.”
I gotta say, I had no idea that the Mahoning Valley had ever had a store that stocked anything for “viewing by appointment only” – definitely before my time.
Livingston’s final decades
I came across an April 21, 2020, obituary for George F. Livingston, Jr. It shed a bit more light on the history of Livingston’s in the Mahoning Valley:
“In late spring of 1946, he returned home and attended Washington University in St. Louis where he studied retail management. He then joined the family business at the store in downtown Youngstown. After the store was sold, he owned and operated a children’s store in Warren and Juniorsville in the Boardman Plaza. Later he took back the family name with the opening of Livingston’s in the Eastwood Mall, where he worked for 20 years before retiring.”