In the 60s, our annual trip to a big department store in the city was to to have our photo taken with Santa Claus. We didn't spend too long in the toy section - and we knew that anything we saw that we really coveted had to be mentioned to Santa, then it was fingers crossed until Christmas. (As an adult, it always amuses me to hear and see liitle kids throwing tantrums in toy departments and getting really expensive stuff bought for them, on the spot, just to make them shut up.)
One Christmas, Santa's grotto in Grace Bros was filled with old, gnarled trees (rather like the cranky ones that threw their apples in "The Wizard of Oz"), and my little brother was freaking out by the light-up creature eyes in some of the darkened, hollowed-out trunks. For several years, he refused to enter numerous department store toy sections for fear of meeting "big eyes"!
I ended up going to teachers college around the corner from that Grace Bros store in 1977. For three years, it was my daily haunt for lunchtime bargains. During one huge sale, they opened up a basement-level department filled with boxes of LP records, books, toys, etc. I suddenly had a very weird, nostalgic feeling and lo, behind a trellis partition were the same old papier-mache and chicken wire trees (and many oversized thematic decorating props from decades gone by!) These days that kind of stuff is alway rented, never stored, restored and created by a permanent team of department store workers. Another day, I suddenly realised that the guy who sat behind a booth, and made the regular announcements over the sound system every day, was the old store Santa we'd meet annually in the 60s! I also saw him on a TV news segment once: every year, he ran the Sydney Santa School for prospective store Santas.
A more recent department store anecdote: when Playmates had the boxed set of "Star Trek" action figures on the TV bridge, I wanted to buy a second set for customising. One big city store had created a basement level toy section (moving down from the sixth floor), and it was quite reminiscent of the basement toy grottos of old. I watched the price stay high on one last boxed set, then it disappeared. I'd waited too long. Then they had a massive "50% off everything sale" and the set was there again. I took it over to the till and a young salesman watched me buy it, helped to bag it, then said to the young woman serving me, "Those sets are so great. I've got one for me, put aside in the back room."
My parting memory is of his stunned and disappointed face when she said, "That is the one from the back room."