Wacker’s Beats Walmart All to Heck

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The world was a better place when Wacker’s, not Walmart, was the place to buy cheap stuff.

Wacker’s was a low-budget store at the corner of Crawford & Comanche in Norman, sort of round the back from Main Street, in the low rent part of town.

It was always busy. You had to park along the street, because there was hardly ever any room in the cramped parking lot out back.

Wacker’s held about as much stock as a store three times its size. It had started in the Depression, and the Wacker’s Sales Ladies stuffed it to the gills to get maximum return on every square inch of shelf space.

The aisles were just barely wide enough for two people to pass, if they’d turn sideways and say “S’cuse me” as they brushed past each other.

They say the Wacker’s building was originally home to a grocery store and a bank, which explains why a vault with 10-inch concrete walls was used as the layaway room.

Ironically, despite the bank vault, I bet the owners never spent a dollar on repairs or remodeling. When you walked from one cluttered room into another, the tile floor would drop down a couple of inches and literally groan under your weight.

Fire Sale

Wacker’s could sell their goods so cheap because they bought them from businesses that had recently gone bankrupt or were actually on fire at the time.

I truly don’t remember a Christmas in my youth when I didn’t get my best and coolest stuff from Wacker’s.

Levi’s?

Check. Five-button fly, straight-leg or boot-cut, thank you ma’am.

Overalls?

Check. The pin-stripe kind you’d wear with a tight T-shirt that showed off your football muscles.

Waffle-stompers?

Check. Brown leather uppers, thick black soles — perfect for kicking down items of interest and running like a Banshee.

Levi jackets?

Are you kidding me? Yep, complete with Marlboros in the front pocket.

What? Yours didn’t come with ‘boros in the pocket? Hmm. I’ve no idea why mine did, because football players did NOT smoke. Or drink. Or do other Seventies kind of stuff.

Well, maybe a little bit.

Winter coats?

You bet. I still wear my 45-year-old (Dear Lord, say it ain’t so) quilted jacket with a fake fleece collar. It’s the perfect putting-up-fence-and-shoveling-crap-in-the-back-jungle kind of coat (although, probably because of global warming, it’s shrunk around the mid-section.)

But, perhaps the most important thing about Wacker’s was that Norman’s own James Garner shopped there.

In my mind, I can clearly see James showing, say, John Wayne around the store. I can even hear the old tile floors creaking under the old cowboys’ formidable weight.

Western Wear

Without doubt, Wacker’s had the best, cheap cowboy gear in the universe.

Every Christmas, I’d get a pair of rough-out cowboy boots. By the next December, the heels would’ve worn off and the toes gone all shiny, after the rough-out leather had been stomped-off or kicked-off.

But while boots would come and go, a young fella’s cowboy hat was forever. I get emotional just thinking about it.

You see, I developed a deep and abiding relationship with my $7 Wacker’s straw cowboy hat that smelled of smoke and horses when I bought it in 1971.

Over the years it developed its own unique look and molded perfectly to my head, at least until a buddy’s ’64 Chevy, “Gator”, ran over it. But even that just added a few creases and a little more character.

I dearly loved that hat.

It took me years to get over the trauma when some vermin stole it off the back seat of my ’69 Firebird convertible.

By then, I lived in Texas, so I couldn’t have whipped back to Wacker’s for a replacement, even if my heart was ready for another long-term relationship with a cowboy hat.

And, trust me, it just wasn’t.

But decades have now passed.

I long for Wacker’s; to smell the leather and the smoke, to squeeze through the aisles with a polite “S’cuse me”.

I long to try on real Levis with a button fly, cowboy shirts with pearl pocket snaps, and, most of all, cowboy boots and a new Sombrero Somberlina.

Because I am finally ready to move on to a new cowboy hat.

But, dammit, they ain’t no Wacker’s Department Store.

I understand it closed in 2001, because Normanites had abandoned the old downtown in favor of the horrible “Marts” out West.

And that’s just a crime.

Because the world would be a much better place if Wacker’s was still there, smelling of smoke, and leather, and straw.

hat

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Click HERE for more Oklahoma memories.

And HERE for my little boy cowboy duds, featuring red boots and Fanner Fifties.

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2 Responses to “Wacker’s Beats Walmart All to Heck”

  1. Lillian L.. says:

    OMG! I haven’t thought of that in decades. You are so right, the world would be a better place with it still there. Absolutely way better than Wally World.

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