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This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In real life, there sometimes is such a thing as a straw that breaks the camel's back. For downtown Rock Island, that straw would have to be McCabe's Department Store. In an age where there are few loyalties to place left, it is difficult to explain to newcomers the feelings we Rock Islanders had toward McCabe's.

L. S. McCabe opened a small mercantile store in Rock Island in 1870. It was called McCabe's Plunder Shop from the fact that it sold household goods and personal items. McCabe knew what appealed to women, and the store outgrew several locations before ending up on Third Avenue in downtown Rock Island. It was McCabe who introduced the practice of sales in August and January where women could pick out their own material and patterns, and then have McCabe seamstresses make dresses for them. Women came to these sales from a hundred miles around.

By its fortieth anniversary in 1913, McCabe’s had become a small comfortable city within a city. Along with twenty-five different "departments," there were rest and reading rooms, a branch post office, an information bureau, long distance phones and a telegraph office.

On the mezzanine was a tearoom serving light lunches to shoppers and clerks from other downtown stores. One could disappear into McCabe’s with children or grandchildren for almost an entire day—a free theme park from its bargain basement on up.

McCabe's secret was that it never lost the personal touch. Even the clerks one did not know by name could be depended on to sell women belts and ties their men would actually like. Even the men who ventured into the small men's department usually found a coat they could use. McCabe’s was our store.

Customer loyalty, and the loyalty the last owners felt toward those customers kept McCabe’s open until 1985, long after Ward’s and other department stores had given up on the downtowns and left for the malls. While McCabe's was there, we kept the faith. Its closing was like removing the keystone from an arch. Old fashioned downtown Rock Island crumbled, and we along with it.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.