Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

The Peanut Shop

29

It was a common scene in the mid-20th century: while shopping downtown, stopping at a peanut shop for a little bag of freshly roasted peanuts.

Peanut shops started appearing in America’s downtowns in the 1930s, and most of them were built by the Planters Peanut Company. My hometown of South Bend, Indiana boasted one in the thick of the shopping district on Michigan Street, the town’s main thoroughfare. Planters got out of the retail business in 1961 and sold many of its stores to their operators. South Bend’s store was among those, but it held on for only another dozen years, give or take.

Peanut Shop South Bend proc

I passed by a handful of times. I was very young, so my memories are dim, but I’ll never forget the delightful but almost overpowering scent of freshly roasted peanuts that radiated for easily 30 feet from the front doors. I also remember the peanut-filled windows being at eye level. What a marvel! I stood on my toes trying to see over the nuts.

Peanut Shop Interior proc

I think I remember being inside once. I definitely remember seeing the peanut roasters in this picture. If we went in, it would have been on one of a small handful of days when Mom took my brother and I downtown on the city bus. I think Mom was trying to give us some connection to the good lifestyle available during South Bend’s better days. She grew up downtown and always told stories of shopping there, especially at Christmas when Michigan Street was decorated for blocks and the department stores’ windows were filled with festive holiday displays.

Mom could see that downtown South Bend was in decline. As was happening all over the country in the early 1970s, shopping was moving to strip centers and enclosed malls at the edges of town, and downtown was scrambling – and failing – to remain viable. Historic buildings in downtown South Bend became unable to sustain tenants, fell into decay, and were systematically demolished.

Peanut Shop proc

In an ill-advised attempt to stanch the hemorrhaging, in the mid-1970s South Bend closed busy Michigan Street (which was US 31 then) to motor vehicles and turned it into a pedestrian mall. It didn’t work. More businesses closed and more buildings were lost. In the background of this photo, you can see the Indiana Bell building under construction, a rare boost for downtown during a time of decay.

I suppose the Peanut Shop relied on impulse buys – who could resist the wonderful scent as they passed by? I’m sure falling pedestrian traffic is what killed The Peanut Shop.

Peanut Shop corner 2011 Google Street View

© 2013 Google

Most of my downtown memories of the corner where The Peanut Shop stood involve the building in this photo.Michigan Street was restored to limited vehicular traffic 15 or 20 years ago, thank goodness, when the failed pedestrian mall was removed. Retail sales are said to have immediately gone up in the few shops that survived that disastrous experiment. Some new businesses have moved in, notably the South Bend Chocolate Company and its Chocolate Cafe, which a favorite place for me to stop for coffee when I visit town.

This 2011 Google Street View image shows the Indiana Bell building (now the AT&T building) complete, as it has been for 40 years. But the demolitions haven’t ended – the former Avon Theater, a 1920s movie house at left in the photo, was demolished last year.

Even though the peanut-shop era has been over since the 1970s, a few incredibly tenacious shops remain across the nation. See some of them here.

Except for the Google Street View photo, I found the rest of these photos on a Facebook page about South Bend.

readmore2

South Bend’s Main Street isn’t the main street.
One block remains paved in brick; see it here.

29 thoughts on “The Peanut Shop

  1. Ward Fogelsanger

    In the photos of the peanut shop I noticed that the streetlights were the same type as downtown Terre Haute had at that time too. The stores stayed open late onMonday and Thursday night and the street was Wabash Avenue which was US 40. The department stores were Meis and Roots and Schultz ( where you got your Cub Scout and Boy Scout uniforms etc.) There also was a Sears and Montgomery Ward downtown then and I can remember going to the Deming Hotel and the Terrre Haute House to eat occasionally although my parent’s favorite was the Horse Shoe Club right across from St. Mary of the Woods college on US 150. Everything moved south to Honey Creek Square by the late 60’s when I 70 was built.

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      I imagine those were a common style of streetlights in those days. I only remember Terre Haute’s downtown from after everything moved down to the Honey Creek area. It was sad, sadder than South Bend’s downtown at the same time. There has been a slight resurgence of Terre Haute’s downtown since I left in 1994 — there are more businesses there now. But it’s still nothing like the heyday.

      1. Sharon Turner

        They are putting businesses and apartments in downtown Terre Haute to attract college students. I would not call what exists on Wabash Avenue between 3rd and 7th streets ‘downtown’ by any stretch of the imagination. Its businesses replacing any downtown stores that may still be lucky enough to be standing. You can be sure if it has any architectural or historic significance, Terre Haute will give it to the university or take a wrecking ball to it (or both).

  2. dmswriter

    Nice post, Jim. Reminds me of when JC Penney stores used to have ice cream counters. My big thing was getting two scoops of bubble gum and enjoying it on the sidewalk. Now it looks like JCP is going to go the way of the peanut store, doesn’t it?

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      Wow, I never knew about the ice-cream counters at Penney’s! I do remember having lunch on the mezzanine at Robertson’s, South Bend’s big local department store.

  3. davidvanilla

    Little red-skin Spanish peanuts! Ooh, my mouth is watering. We had such a shop on “Busy Corner” in Colorado Springs, and for a dime a famished Western Union messenger could re-energize.

    Anderson attempted the same “ill-advised” trick on its main downtown street years ago. I was there recently, and see that they have abandoned the notion, too.

      1. Steve Miller

        They aren’t hot, fresh-roasted peanuts, but Five Guys provides nice, salty-in-the shell peanuts for your enjoyment as you wait for your burger order.

        Didn’t have ice cream at the JC Penney’s in my home town, but I seem to remember the Woolworth’s a couple doors away had a nut and candy counter. Both stores are long gone, as are the nut shops that graced the Indianapolis malls when I first landed here. Gone, too, are the GC Murphey’s which featured (?) caramel corn booths, and always near the front doors.

        Willing to forego the nuts, if that’s what it took to make the caramel corn disappear…

        1. Jim Grey Post author

          Yeah, true. My sons like the nuts at Five Guys. Me, I never eat ‘em.

          I miss the soda fountain at the five and dime that used to be in my neighborhood when I grew up.

  4. James Jacocks

    Rockville Maryland was flooded with jobs and folks from everywhere starting after WWII who inadvisably elected a progressive council. They proceeded to gut the town of all it’s shops and small businesses replacing them with soviet style concrete edifices. The urban renewal (removal) failed and the business district imploded. Twenty years later a glitzy business promenade was planned and built. It has been mostly successful but neighboring towns which kept their history are far nicer. Most Rockville residents know nothing about the loss.Our nation’s migratory work force has no memory or responsibility. Rockville is now modern and soulless. The developers had a party! At least iron belt towns weren’t deliberately destroyed (for the most part). Their fate was due to migration of jobs to places like Rockville. Our nation has little memory and your post reminded us of the cost.

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      I drove through Maryland on the old National Road a few years ago and so enjoyed the historic downtowns through which we passed.

      Urban renewal failed pretty much everywhere it was tried. But it was triggered by decline in downtowns as suburbia began after WWII. Cities and towns were desperate, but history shows they were misguided.

  5. John Smith

    What is fascinating is that before the age of instant connectivity, this same scene was playing out at the same time in small and medium sized downtowns across America. In my little upstate NY downtown, Washington Avenue was the shopping hub. I can remember in the 60s and 70s, my Mom taking us to “The Avenue” for an afternoon of shopping. There were two department stores, a yummy bake shop, a real old fashioned record store, peanut shop, two Five & Dimes, an incredible hardware store, three or four men’s clothing stores, women’s dress shops, a Singer Sewing Machine store, several diners and a grand old movie theater with a balcony. Washington Avenue was decorated to the hilt at Christmas time with holiday music blaring from horn loudspeakers mounted on the street light poles. Washington Avenue declined slowly in the late 70s and 80s as shoppers flocked to the “new” mall on the outskirts of town. Today, “The Avenue” is place to be avoided, not visited.

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      By the time I was born, downtown South Bend’s glory days were behind it. Vestiges of days gone by remained: you could still shop at Robertson’s and Penney’s downtown, and the State Theater still showed movies, and the Peanut Shop was still open. But it all eroded away through the 1970s and into the early 1980s. I have far more memories of Scottsdale Mall on the south side of town.

      Interestingly, Scottsdale Mall faded and died and was torn down 10 or so years ago. Everything sparkly and new eventually becomes old and dies.

  6. pesoto74

    I wonder if the downtown mall worked anywhere? I do remember that it was one of those ideas that seemed good at the time. Here in Central Illinois I think every town over 30,000 went for the idea. It ended up not working here and all the malls are gone now. I am glad that I am old enough to remember some of the glory days of downtown’s. What I miss most is how each one had a lot of uniqueness and reflected its city. Today’s shopping centers are all so much the same.

    Since I enjoy peanuts that peanut shop sounds great. Although I might weigh twenty pounds more if I lived near one.

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      I think the downtown mall failed everywhere it was tried.

      It’s interesting to see that we appear to be at the end of the suburban enclosed mall’s life span. More and more of them are ghost towns. The one near my childhood home was razed several years ago.

  7. Denny Gibson

    Nice smelling post. From your ending link, I see that there is a shop still operating on the National Road at the east edge of Springfield, Ohio. Sorry to admit that I didn’t know it was there but intend to check it out the next time I’m in the town.

      1. Denny Gibson

        Oops. Missed that one completely. Plus I now see that Krema Nuts has a couple of retail locations in Columbus. They’re probably not very vintage but any place with a gourmet PB&J menu can’t be all bad.

  8. Bernie Kasper

    Great post Jim, it’s really sad to see the downward spiral of the small town main streets and their shops. We aren’t too far behind here in Madison, most shops here have become either glorified yard sales, pawn/gold buying shops or are just empty.

    Really don’t know the answer and fear our Historic downtown will follow in the steps of most of the other communities that have failed.

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      I’ve seen in the years since I first visited Madison how the businesses on the main drag have declined. It’s sad, because your downtown has so much real potential.

  9. Ida (Breden) Mercer

    Having lived through the demise of Downtown South Bend.(I was the owner of The Peanut Shop at the time),I find it heartening that people still remember and miss it. It was a wonderful business and a lot of fun. Wouldn’t a time machine be nice? Thank you for the very nice write up bringing back so many memories.

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