“We trained people to go south—to see entertainment, to shop, to eat.”
This story is part of our Flight Paths initiative. Produced by Rebecca Werner with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. www.storycorps.org
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Transcript for You Have to Have Places
Downtown Gary was wall-to-wall people. Stores up and down. It was just a beautiful city. Jobs everywhere, and the population of Gary at that time was probably close to two hundred twenty-five, thirty thousand, if not more. U.S. Steel alone had twenty-six thousand employees. The Budd plant was going. There were mills one after another: American Bridge, the rails, you name it. And there were a lot of stores and shopping in this area. You had Tittle’s, you had Kroger’s, you had National, Jack Spratt, which was an ice cream place. And Glen Park Bakery. And part of that downtown business started to move south. Well, Merrillville opened up. Southlake Mall, Methodists built a hospital out there, so people started to move: your attorneys, your doctors, some of your store-owners went to the mall and opened up stores, and it was the beginning of the end of downtown Gary.
They built a huge hotel downtown, and they built a Genesis Center across the way. They were trying to make it so that people would have their conventions here, and they had a place to stay, but then Southlake opened up with the big theater over there for Dean White, which drew a lot of people. They had a lot of restaurants. They had the stores. Gary didn’t have that, so conventions went—they stayed over there, and they had big-name people coming. There were no casinos back then, either, so all these big actors and actresses came here and performed over there. We trained people, again, to go south—to see entertainment, to shop, to eat.
But the thing is, you have to have places to shop, and we have some stores that are doing very well on Lake Street, and they’ve been there, and they’re staying there, and we have good restaurants. That draws people. We got Miller Bakery, which is a good restaurant, top-notch. You got the pizza place, Miller Pizza, which is a good place, and of course, one that’s been in business a long time is Arman’s, and they’ve been around close to sixty-some years. It’s just a hot dog place, but everybody comes back to that place to have that Polish sausage, and the memories, the smells. And again, we try to get people to come here, but again, you know, you go to Chicago, it’s so crowded, the traffic, the noise, you know. We have crime. They have crime. I don’t think—there is no place that doesn’t have crime of some nature. So, you just have to take precautions, you know, and you just keep going. That’s all you can do.