By Kim Jansen
News Report Staff
Jim and Doris Rhodes have many memories of the Village Square Mall in Effingham, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering they have set up a holiday gift booth every year at the mall since it opened in 1971.
For the past 46 years, Jim and Doris, of Mason, have sold a variety of gift items at the mall in November and December. But now that both are in their 80s, they decided this was their last season at the location.
“It has been too hard these past few years,” said Doris, who has pain related to breaking both of her hips in recent years. “It makes it hard for me to stay on my feet, so I can’t work like I use to.”
As they packed up their gift items from their corner store one last time, they recalled how it all started.
At the time the Village Square Mall was under construction, the couple lived next to Orville and Mildred Mayhood, whose son Gene Mayhood was the force behind the mall construction.
The Rhodes had several gift items at the time — mostly polished rocks — that they sold at a stand they had at Six Flags in St. Louis. But during the winter months, the couple traveled to set up gift booths at a few different shows.
“Orville Mayhood brought Gene over to look at the rocks, and they thought we might like to have a booth at the new mall,” said Doris.
The Rhodes agreed to the booth and remember the first year at the mall, when everyone was so excited about the new stores.
“It was only about half of this size,” said Jim, adding the next year the mall was expanded to accommodate more stores, making it even more popular.
“It really started to fill up and was full of stores,” said Doris.
Doris added with the variety of stores available, followed in later years by the creation of the indoor amusement park Lincoln Land, the mall was at its heyday.
“It was so full of people that you would have to stay on your side of the aisle,” said Doris. “There were always people here because there wasn’t any other mall around.”
“It was busy back then,” added Jim. “Everybody knew everybody in the stores.”
To create inventory for their gift shop, the couple would travel each summer across the country collecting rocks, which Jim would then polish by hand to create gifts like jewelry.
Doris, who was a school teacher, remembers working with Jim at the booth in the evenings after school, and said it was always busy.
“I would bring papers home to grade and take them to the stand, but it was always too busy to grade papers,” she laughed.
Over the years, the Rhodes have created and sold many gifts at the mall, which most recently have included dragon figures that Jim creates and Doris paints.
Three years ago, the Rhodes moved from their tables in the hall of the mall into a small store on one of the corners in the main hallway.
With the move, they not only had access to more display space, but they also were able to stay out of the cold drafts that would come when traffic came in and out of the mall.
As the Rhodes have reached retirement age and with the traffic at the mall slowing down over the years, the couple decided it was time for them to slow down, too.
“We have made a lot of friends out here,” said Jim. “We have enjoyed the people we have met and became friends with.”
Doris agreed the couple have met many friends along the way.
“I am going to miss talking to the people the most,” said Doris, who added they have loyal customers who come each year from all over Illinois.
Now that the couple is retiring from their shop at the mall, Doris looks forward to the next Christmas, when she will not be working at the gift shop.
“For the first time in my life married to him, I am going to be able to do Christmas shopping,” she said. “I am going to slow down and enjoy Christmas.”