Write Again…Christmas Memories of Toyland

Published 9:42 pm Thursday, December 22, 2022

I would like to share memories of a young man growing up during the height of World War II. While the war was a constant presence in daily life for Americans, at Christmastime, that reality slipped away for me in a special place at the Belk-Tyler building – a place called Toyland.

As time passes, the mists of memory swirl ever greater, but some things still linger.

Especially sweet are the memories of childhood Christmases. How much is really true, and how much is absorbed by listening to others tell of Christmases past through the years, makes valid specificity questionable.

I do, however, clearly remember the excitement engendered when Toyland opened each Christmas season on the third floor of the Belk-Tyler Co. It was magical in the display of so many wondrous toys. Oh, yes.

During the war, even during the war, Toyland opened. And as just a little fellow in those early 40’s, visiting that third floor of the first (of three) Belk-Tyler buildings was such an experience. The elevator ride was exciting too.

The store was on the north side of Main street, and had opened in 1936. In 1955 the unused Keys Hotel and Carolina Dairies building directly across the street was acquired, and greatly altered and refurbished. In 1972 a new store was opened in the relatively new Washington Square Mall.

But it was in the original building, the former Bowers Brothers store, that Toyland was such a magnet during the holidays. Good memories.

As childhood slipped away, I became more and more aware that Christmas was a real hardship for struggling families, and that toys were almost a luxury for far too many.

Also, as a child, I didn’t really understand how the war was such an almost ever-present concern to so many of my elders here on the home front. I knew there were shortages, rationing, but they weren’t realities that were foremost in my mind.

But Toyland? The electric trains. The wagons. The dolls. The stuffed animals. So many wonderful and diverse things to make the eyes of any youngster big and bright. A smorgasbord of all kinds of wonderful offerings, so it seemed to those of my young generation. A substance of sawdust and glue was used to make toys, unsatisfactory though it was.

And so it was during Christmas seasons, so many years ago.

Wishing you happy holidays.