As it has grown, Columbia offers more shopping, restaurants, activities
Parkway South High School, Manchester, Mo.
Cultural diversity was an oxymoron when Margaret Leong attended MU.
“There weren’t many foreign students in Columbia,” said Leong, who graduated from MU in 1941. “There was only one Indian, the first one I had ever met, and three Chinese people. Today about 60 percent of Columbia is foreign.”
Leong, 87 and a retired poetry teacher, moved to Columbia in 1939 after her father lost his job in St. Louis during the Depression and has watched the city change dramatically.
Leong lived through a shift in population and thinking.
“There were about two men to every woman,” Leong said. “And families would give up everything to pay for the son’s education but rarely the daughter’s.”
Getting around town wasn’t easy, either. Leong said many people walked everywhere because there were no buses. In addition, dining and shopping options were limited.
“It was a very different life when I was growing up in Columbia,” Leong said. “There was only one of everything then. Harris’ was the only restaurant in town, and I remember eating dinner there for only 19 cents.”
Like Leong, Laura Crane, 74, has seen a big transformation during her time in Columbia. She was born in Boone County in 1936, grew up in Rocheport, graduated from Hickman High School and graduated from MU in 1958.
“Columbia has changed a great deal over the years,” Crane said. “There were different stores, businesses and there were no malls in the 1940s.”
Along with a different array of businesses and stores, grocery stores were also different. Crane said there were no large grocery stores like there are today, yet they had small markets that even delivered the groceries.
Crane remembers coming in to town as a child with her mother.
“My mother made dolls, so we would come in to town a lot to get supplies to make them,” Crane said.
Taking family trips into town to go shopping are Crane’s favorite childhood memories.
“I remember being 12 years old and coming into to town to go shopping,” Crane said. “It was right after (World War II) and everyone was talking about the ‘new look.’ I remember seeing girls wearing skirts and dresses that were ankle length. It was the ‘new look.”’
Being a big fan of St. Louis, Crane sees Columbia as a smaller version of the big city.
“My favorite thing to do is to go to St. Louis,” Crane said. “Columbia has many of the shops and theaters that St. Louis has. It’s fun living in a small city because it has a lot of good points such as a better way of life than a small town and in some ways a big city, too.”
Going to a drive-in movie is among the things Crane misses most about Columbia.
She remembers taking her young son to the Broadway Drive-in that was off West Broadway and has become a shopping center.
Along with Crane, Barbara Marston, 70, also has noticed several changes since arriving in Columbia in 1966. A rearranged school system is among them.
“They have changed the arrangement of grades,” Marston said. “They added middle school to the system. There are a lot more schools, stores, businesses and malls in Columbia as well.”
One part of watching Columbia grow has always bothered Marston, who said there are some things she wished would be left alone.
“It’s always sad when they bulldoze trees out of an area and build on it,” Marston said.
Along with the others, Dorothy Murphy, 66, has seen rapid changes in and around Columbia. She has lived in the Boone County area all her life, moving from Boonville to Columbia in 1987, and has seen numerous buildings go up and a lot become empty.
“I have seen mainly fast-food places go up in Columbia lately and also some locally owned businesses as well,” Murphy said.
Murphy and Columbia are likely to see more of such growth. Columbia’s population has grown about 48 percent since 1990 to about 100,000 today, according to clrsearch.com.
“Columbia is going in every direction,” Murphy said. “I think Ashland and Columbia will eventually be one big city.”