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Former Diamond employees plan one more party

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ever since The Diamond department store closed its doors 30 years ago, its employees have been meeting once a year to relive old times.

"The second Sunday every September," said Nancy Fletcher, a Charleston native now living in Parkersburg. "When the store closed, we got everybody's address and phone number," she said. "They closed in 1983. We had a reunion that September."

That tradition is coming to an end, as the reunion scheduled for next month will apparently be the last for the former store workers.

Back in the '50s and '60s, The Diamond was one of the hubs of Charleston's bustling downtown shopping districts. Old photos shows people crowding the sidewalks, especially in the month before Christmas, when folks would stop to gawk at the window displays of the eight-story department store.

That's when Fletcher started working.

"I went to work part-time in 1965 ... in gift-wrapping, and then full-time in package shipping until they sold it. I stayed on till it closed. I was head of housekeeping.

"It had five floors plus the basement. There was a luncheonette with huge cinnamon rolls, and a cafeteria on the fifth floor. They'd have style shows up there. The seventh floor was all storage and the offices were on the eighth floor.

"They had an appliance department. They sold lawnmowers. The candy department on the first floor did big business at Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter. We'd have gift wrappers on the first floor, the second floor, fourth floor and if we got real busy on the fifth floor."

All that came to an end when the city's retail center moved a few blocks west to the flashy new mall at Town Center. The Diamond Building now is home to the state Department of Health & Human Resources.

In earlier days, reunions were often held at Coonskin Park, where picnic shelters used to be in such demand people waited in line to reserve them at the beginning of each season.

"I've been at Coonskin Park as early as 3 in the morning," said Fletcher, who has taken over reunion organization duties from others.

"When we first started we'd have close to 200 people, sometimes more."

Numbers are down considerably, she said. "A lot of them have passed away. Last year I think we had 38."

For the final bash, scheduled at 1 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Rand Community Center on Church Drive, Rand, Fletcher is hoping for a larger turnout. She urged anyone planning to come to bring a covered dish.

For information on the reunion, call Danny Proctor at 304-925-7401.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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