Taking a trolley to Richs was a ride on a magic carpet, delivering children of my generation to a department store in downtown Atlanta that was a place to shop, a place to eat and a place to dream.
Streets around that rambling store swarmed with activity. Mr. Peanut in his top hat offered sidewalk samples. Once you were tall enough, you could peek through windows of the Atlanta Journal and watch a roaring press print that day's news.
Nearby dime stores were tempting, but even tiny shoppers knew the true treasures were inside that department store where we sat on Santa's knee and ate coconut cake that was better than mother's -- though we were smart enough not to admit that.
In a world without malls or online buying, such places were retail landmarks. Atlanta had Rich's. Memphis had Goldsmith's. Birmingham had Loveman's. LaGrange had Mansour's. Columbus had Kirven's.
That's why a decade after its brand vanished from the marketplace, a first-time author has written a book that preserves the history of a store that for 138 years was part of a city's soul.
"Rich's: A Southern Institution" (History Press: 223 pages, $19.99) is more than the story of a retail giant. Author Jeff Clemmons gives readers that never shopped there a peek at what many of us learned long before we qualified for one of the store's coveted charge cards.
He pays homage to its liberal return policy, its great tree at Christmas and the army of children that rode the Pink Pig during the holidays. He weaves those tales into the story of a Jewish family that immigrated to Atlanta just after Sherman's fires went out in 1867.
My memories are of escalators that went to the sky, the smell of leather baseball gloves in the sporting goods department and windows that every December looked like Hallmark greeting cards.
After I moved to Columbus people told me about riding the old Man o' War for all-day excursions at Rich's. At the newspaper, we continually wrote about rumors that Rich's planned to build a store here.
Clemmons draws other connections. He writes about Sol Kent, a fashion designer from Columbus who got his start working for Kirven's. The author misspells the name of the local store but praises Kent's role in expanding Rich's charm after World War II.
The store finally came to town in 2002, moving into the former Montgomery Ward location at Peachtree Mall. That was the chain's final expansion outside of Atlanta, for nine months later the Rich's sign came down and the Macy's sign went up.
Internal takeovers sent Rich's to the retail graveyard along with other familiar stores. Clemmons deals with the nostalgia and the financial dealings.
His work done, Clemmons stood in awe of a remarkable southern institution and probably longed for a big hunk of coconut cake.
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. He is also found at www.richardhyattcolumbus.com.