"Main Street was alive, it was vibrant, because it had all of these lovely cars and lots of people and the sweet little Cozy Chat and the smell of the french fries - and it just bustled, it was vibrant."
These are the words of Yvonne Courtney (pictured below), a retired teacher who was born and raised in Grand Falls in the 1950s and 1960s (before the amalgamation that created Grand Falls-Windsor). For her, that was the heyday of the community. In her memory, Main Street, Windsor, was an exciting place full of wonderful tastes, textures, sights and sounds. One notable aspect of life back then was the Newfoundland railway train that ran through the town.
“Close to the train time, the place would fill up. People would come in and get a soda or get a cup of tea or whatever you are going to order, waiting for the train. The cars would start bustling on Main Street. The place would get thick with cars and you would hear the train. The train would have the most distinctive sound and smell. You would smell the smoke of it as it entered. It just permeated everything.”
As a teenager looking for the latest fashions, Yvonne and her friends would head to Riff’s department store. Riff’s ladies department buyer Austin Clarke was the source of fashion information for the girls of Grand Falls and Windsor, Yvonne recalls.
“The ladies department was always tight. The racks were sometimes circular, and then sometimes rectangular. Always silver, lovely chrome-looking racks, but they were so tight with clothes it was hard to pull them apart to just move the stuff to see the fashions. But they were really smart because they would have mannequins around the areas so [if] you saw something you like…Austin knew where it was and what size it was going to be in etc. Ladies, too. I found Austin really, really…I wouldn’t call it helpful, I would say knowledgeable because he could look at you and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got just the thing for you. I know exactly what would look great on you.’ And he was usually right. He knew what was going to be absolutely chic on you.”
In the 1960s, Cohen’s revamped its department store, including ladies’ fashion. “Cohen’s had elegance right off the magazine covers,” Yvonne recalls. “They had changed the shop completely.” While it still stocked dry goods and “men’s stuff” downstairs, Yvonne says, the upstairs was a fashionista’s dream.
“Well, when you walked up those steps on the left hand side and entered the world of Cohen’s fashion, you were just blown away. Everything was gorgeous. There were velvet coats or fur coats, fur-lined coats; there were hats like you had never seen before; there were shoes that were really today’s shoes with a clutch purse to match; and the clothing was just gloriously beautiful, and there was carpet on the floor and the dressing rooms were snazzier. Everything about Cohen’s was just snazzy. Cohen’s really had a fashion sense that was a cut above. Cohen’s had a way of presenting it that was in a league of its own.” - Interview conducted and transcribed by the Collective Memories Project
For more Windsor memories, click here to listen to the full interview with Yvonne Courtney.
About Collective Memories
The Collective Memories Project is an initiative of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador to record the stories and memories of our province. If you have a memory of old-time Newfoundland and Labrador to share, contact Dale Jarvis at email@example.com or call 1-888-739-1892 ext 2 or visit www.collectivememories.ca.