Bessie Earls recalls riding the Indianapolis bus line as a teenager back in the 1940s and being struck with awe every day when it stopped in front of L.S. Ayres and Company, the city’s destination department store.
A behemoth building that stood tall at the corner of Washington and Meridian Street, L.S. Ayres provided an adventurous shopping experience. During the holiday season, shoppers were greeted by carolers, and children could ride a train to meet Santa. With its elaborate window displays, elegant Tea Room and sprawling selection of fine clothing, cosmetics, furniture and jewelry, it compelled people to spend the whole day shopping. It wasn’t just a store — it was a luxurious getaway. It’s now regarded as an important piece of Hoosier history. The Indiana State Museum even includes a replica of the Tea Room, where visitors can enjoy a dining experience modeled after the original room’s look, menu and service.
When Bessie shopped at L.S. Ayres, it was largely geared toward women, and it even included a charm school for young ladies. The look of the store was formal and sumptuous yet its products were universally appealing and affordable.
By the time Bessie started working there, the store had already been open for more than 40 years. A few years after graduating high school, she got a job behind the counter in the women’s department, mostly selling blouses. After filling in for a co-worker in the hosiery section and thriving in sales, she moved to that area of the store. She also occasionally modeled the hosiery during fashion shows in the Tea Room.
As Bessie said, she excelled at “filling up the register.” She enjoyed drawing upon her social skills, not only for making sales but for getting to know people from all walks of life. She loved serving everyone — from teenage girls to grandmothers.
“It was fun to get dolled up and meet new people every day,” Bessie said. “I’m good with people, and I cherished talking to customers. I had great, loyal customers, and I made a lot of friends.”
After four years of devoted service to L.S. Ayres, Bessie and her husband moved to Greenfield, where she went on to work for the Sears department store until she retired.
Bessie moved to Greenwood Health & Living just last year, and she feels right at home. Talking to residents and staff members reminds her of chatting up customers and co-workers at L.S. Ayres.
“I’m very comfortable,” she said. “My experience living at Greenwood has been highly satisfactory. I have everything I need here.”