3 Cleveland’s Earliest Retail Traditions

The dilemma of sustaining department stores downtown was anything but a problem one hundred and twenty-five years ago.  Growing communities throughout the U.S. welcomed them.  In fact, they could not open them fast enough.  Nowhere was this more evident than in Cleveland, Ohio.  An up and coming late 19th century city, Cleveland provided an ideal setting for new store growth.  Those 19th century downtown stores that survived possessed the uncanny knack of not only fulfilling the immediate demands of their shoppers; but also, anticipating their future.  Shrewd, insightful businessmen, many quickly became respected community leaders.  Most importantly, they provided Clevelanders with the kind of quality products, fair pricing and impeccable service previously unimagined.

Like so many other Midwest cities, Cleveland originated as a small government and trading outpost within a wilderness district called the Western Reserve of Ohio.  The first years of settlement were tough.  Completely isolated from other growing communities such as Cincinnati, Youngstown and Detroit, this heavily forested village contained bears, coyotes and wolves.  If that were not bad enough, its winters were frigidly cold and its summers unbearably hot.  Many weary travelers did not consider this community a welcoming place.  Yet, in spite of its initial handicaps, Cleveland managed to survive and grow.  The privately-funded turnpikes of the 1820s; state-operated Ohio and Erie Canal of the 1830s and railroad lines of the 1850s insured future growth.  The development of the steel industry in the 1850s and oil refining in the 1860s guaranteed its economic importance nationally for many years to come.  These many business and technological breakthroughs also impacted retailing.

Local shopkeepers, beginning in the 1820s, reaped the economic benefits of locating here.  In this case, large-scale investments by entrepreneurs, in a wide variety of coveted businesses such as retailing, significantly increased the amount of disposable income.  This financial situation enabled Clevelanders to spend more on merchandise than had been the case before.  It also minimized overhead costs and maximized profits for those retailers who remained on the cutting edge of innovation.  The ever-increasing demand for better merchandise made retailing an ideal investment opportunity.  Even recessions in 1819, 1837 and 1857 did not dampen the enthusiasm of investors.

The nature of local retailing practices changed significantly over time.  Originally an isolated village that barely provided its settlers the essentials, by the 1860s, Cleveland had become a sophisticated regional center.  The city’s retailing reflected this newly established cultural, economic and social refinement.  Dry goods stores first appeared during the first decade of the 19th century.  Cleveland merchants such as A.M. Perry and Orlando Cutter provided early settlers with basic necessities and daily groceries all within a warehouse-like setting. [1]  These facilities in many ways resembled general store settings found in Hollywood Western movies.  The random placing of barrels bursting with pickles, nails, and dry fruit placed in front of display counters crammed with assorted tools, candy, gloves, etc. surrounded by foul-smelling beaver pelts and furs, cured strips of beef, and sparkling trinkets all hung precariously from wooden ceiling beams provided a colorful shopping experience.  Such retailing was not for the faint of heart.

Bartering determined the price of items and product quality varied from one shipment to another.  It was undoubtedly a seller’s market.  As a result, most merchants saw little reason to spend much money on clever advertising or flashy window displays.  After all, everyone knew them and besides they all sold much the same merchandise at about the same price.  The reputation of a store owner more than any other business consideration determined customer choices.

Small shops, like the ones owned and operated by A.M. Perry and Orlando Cutter, soon lost out to larger retail concerns.  The needs and wants of Cleveland shoppers, by the 1820s, had changed considerably from pioneer days.  Customers demanded more choices and competitive pricing and they wanted to shop in pleasant surroundings.  These demands did not escape retailers such as Peter Weddell, Edmund Clark and George Stanton. [2]  They represented the latest breed of dry goods merchant ready to tackle any-and-all challenges.  These enterprising businessmen, in 1827, founded the Cleveland and New York Line, a Commission, Storage & Transport Company.  It included a small retail facility street side and an adjacent large warehouse.  They sold groceries and specialty items on both the retail and wholesale levels.

Through their intricate trade network made up of national retailers and wholesalers, Weddell and his partners purchased butter, corn, grain and whiskey from nearby farmers.  They transported these staples to the East Coast where they auctioned them off.  These Clevelanders then took the money received from these auctions to purchase high quality manufactured items, which they sold in their store at full retail price.  High markups on all merchandise guaranteed huge profits.  Apparently, this business arrangement worked quite well.  These merchants, in 1846 moved their operations from cramped quarters in Cleveland’s Warehouse District to spacious facilities in the basement of the Weddell House.

Weddell, Clark and Stanton were not the only successful early 19th century retailers.  A host of other merchants also profited from the city’s phenomenal growth.  They included E.S. Baldwin, George C. Davis, S.C. Cram, S. Raymond, Taylor Griswold and Thomas Early.  Many of these entrepreneurs became permanent fixtures within the Cleveland retail scene, while others faded away.  S.H. Fox and C.C. Carlton represented two popular retailers who left an indelible mark on the city’s retailing.  Strategically located at the corner of Division and Merwin streets, S.H. Fox provided customers fresh groceries and produce along with hardware and software items all within a hospitable environment. [3]  In fact, Cleveland’s business community praised him for his excellent customer service and fair prices.

C.C. Carlton afforded a positive shopping experience for those wanting to purchase fancy dry goods. [4]  Both establishments generated huge profits well into the 1850s.  The number of local dry goods and specialty department stores increased from fifteen in 1850 to sixty by 1900.  Average profits for the city’s largest retailers rose from a modest $36,000 in 1850 to a whopping $500,000 by 1900.  Better quality merchandise, higher income levels and increased mobility accounted for much of their success.

Many mid-19th century Clevelanders shopped at W.P. Southworth & Company at 22 Huron Road. [5]  An energetic and enterprising leader, William P. Southworth (1819-1891) knew what customers wanted.  His innate business sense enabled him to initiate advantageous changes quickly.  To illustrate this last point, Southworth was the first retailer in the city to offer home deliveries using his-own wheel barrows.  Southworth also extended credit to loyal shoppers long before others did.  He further appreciated the importance of keeping his premises neat and clean and providing friendly salespersons.  Southworth wanted his customers to enjoy each and every visit.

Most retail establishments at the outbreak of the Civil War were cramp, dingy places, hardly inviting places for shopping.  Southworth in 1858 took decisive action and relocated to a spacious, four–story building near the corner of Huron Road and Sheriff Street.  Valued at more than $150,000, this renovated commercial block served as the home for Southworth’s until March 1882 when a massive fire destroyed it.  Undeterred, the W.P. Southworth & Company reopened on the same site later that same year.  The new store was a grand facility.  Called “The People’s Store”, it featured opal counters and elegant cigar humidors.  Its many aisles of affordable clothes dazzled customers.  One of the early 20th century national retail journals described it as “the most handsome and commodious store west of New York City.” [6]

Other leading Cleveland retailers during the second half of the 19th century also provided their customers with a variety of merchandise choices and specialized services.  They included Captain Thomas S. Paddock, W.P. Fogg, E.M. McGillin, and Kleinschmidt & Ambrosius.  Captain Paddock began his long career in retailing in the 1840s when he opened his first retail outlet with his business partner Aaron Barker.  Their dry goods store at 19 Superior Avenue sold a multitude of items including manufactured clothes for both men and women.  The partnership dissolved in 1847 and Captain Paddock moved his operations to a larger site at 39 Superior Avenue. [7]  Three years later, this enterprising businessman partnered with Stoughton Bliss (1823-1896) to establish T.S. Paddock & Company. [8]  Offering reduced prices for those shoppers paying in cash, this retail concern grew very quickly.

Captain Paddock, in 1858, relocated to 221 Superior Avenue where he remained for over thirty years. [9] He sold everything imaginable from furs and leather travel trunks to silk hats and children’s clothes.  The Captain’s son Charles S. Paddock, in 1864, joined the firm.  Now called T.S. Paddock and Son, this shop was nicknamed “The Old Reliable Hatter and Furrier.”  That slogan continued into the late 1880s when these retailers became known as “The Veteran Furrier.”  Business disagreements between father and son in 1888 resulted in Charles S. Paddock opening his own store at 114 Euclid Avenue.  The elder Paddock remained at 221 Superior Avenue until his death in 1891.  His heirs, sold T.S. Paddock Company to the Halle Brothers. [10]

W.P. Fogg, in the late 1840s, opened a small china and home furnishing store also on Superior Street. [11] Like so many other 19th century retailers, Fogg took advantage of the city’s unprecedented growth to expand operations.  He relocated, in 1853, to a larger facility at the corner of Superior and Seneca streets. This new shop offered a variety of quality items including gold trim china, fashionable vases, oil lamps and teas sets.  He also sold gas stoves for cooking and gas fittings for houses.

This very successful shopkeeper, in the early 1870s, broadened his product line to include hard-to-find items such as commercial water coolers, ice cream freezers and large refrigerators. [12] He also added wallpaper and decorative bronze figurines to that list.  His wedding present department featured top quality glass vases made by foremost European manufacturers such as Royal Worcester, Wedgewood and Dresden.  Hounded by creditors following the Panic of 1873, Fogg, in 1879, declared bankruptcy.

E.M. McGillin & Company represented another popular Cleveland dry goods merchant.  McGillin’s, founded in 1868, specialized in children’s clothes, lamp shades, crockery, curtains and men’s accessories.  He merged with the Cleveland Clothing Company (CCC) in 1888. It was located at 120 Ontario Street.  A devastating fire, in February 1892, and dwindling sales forced McGillin’s, in April 1898, to close its doors.  E. R. Hull & Dutton Company bought its merchandise.  Kleinschmidt & Ambrosius in 1869 opened their shop at 223 Superior Avenue. [13] This dry goods store sold needle point products, children’s games and paper dresses. [14]  These enterprising businessmen by the mid-1870s had expanded their merchandise selection to include imported toys, wheelbarrows, rocking chairs and baby strollers.  They led the pack in selling Japanese novelties.  Both partners in 1880 retired.

Crow & Whitmarsh Dry Goods Company was another very profitable late 19th century concern.  Founded by David Crow and C.W. Whitmarsh in November 1885 and located a 4-6 Euclid Avenue, it was known as “the busy store.” [15]  It remained a vital part of the retail scene for nearly thirty years.  It primarily served the needs of the Euclid Avenue elite.  Changing fashion tastes, high inventories and mounting debt at the beginning of the 20th century undermined this well-respected retailer. Unable to compete against larger, more dazzling competitors, Crow & Whitmarsh, in May 1912, filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11.  The May Company bought it. [16]

A casualty of the fast-paced, growing retail market of the early 20th century, Crow & Whitmarsh nevertheless left a permanent mark on early Cleveland retailing.  Appealing to the carriage trade, its impeccable sales staff, elegant atmosphere and top quality items set the pace for others to follow.  One of the leading early 20th century retail trade journals called Glass and Pottery World praised Crow & Whitmarsh for its first-rate merchandise and fair pricing. [17]  This Euclid Avenue store also received national acclaim for its fine Irish and Scottish satin damask pattern tablecloths.  However, Crow & Whitmarsh symbolized much more than a local seller of fine Irish and Scottish goods.  It led the pack when it introduced January White Sales and advertised home furnishings. [18]

Many other late 19th century store owners also lent their expertise to the local retail scene.  E.R. Hull & Dutton Company represented one of those many innovative establishments to gain the public’s trust.  Founded in 1890 by Edward R. Hull, William F. Dutton, Samuel E. Graves and John C. McWatters, this department store was located on the south side of Public Square near Ontario Street. [19]  Surrounded by other prominent local retailers such as Cleveland Dry Goods Company, W.P. Southworth Company, William Taylor Son & Company, Crow & Whitmarsh and Sterling, Welch and Co, Hull & Dutton took full advantage of its favorable site to promote sales.

E.R. Hull & Dutton Company dated back to the mid-1870s when Edward R. Hull and Christopher R. Mabley ended their business partnership.  The founder of a popular chain of clothing stores and called “the Merchant Price,” Christopher Mabley wanted sole control of the store.  Hull blocked this takeover by purchasing it outright.  Shoppers loved the new E.R. Hull & Company at 170-172 Ontario Street. [20]

Hull’s low prices coupled with his more than ample supplies of men’s and children’s fashions served his customers well.  “Dress ‘em Well” became his new slogan.  Edward Hull, in 1880, refurbished his premises.  Renovations included creating more usable floor space, adding a majestic rear staircase finished in butternut, walnut and ash, enlarged salesrooms on the second and third floors and storing his inventory in the basement. [21]

The Plain Dealer in 1878 praised Hull by saying that “good location is where a well conducted business has made it so.” [22]  This entrepreneur did indeed operate an attractive store.  With business thriving, Edward Hull in the mid- 1880s authorized further renovations.  This refurbishing effort included enlarging the main entrance by adding sidelights and installing both gas-operated and electric-powered lights.  His well-trained polite sales staff assured growth.  His ready-made clothing line was second-to-none while his cash-only policy guaranteed fair pricing.

E.R. Hull & Company led other Cleveland retailers in 1884 when it opened its first branch store.  This branch, located at 584-588 Pearl Road on Cleveland’s Near West side, boasted store sales significantly.  Hull soon expanded his operations to Akron, OH; Newburg, OH and Youngstown, OH.  Modern shelving; an elegant main business office done in the finest oak and a new cash system significantly improved sales downtown.

Hull believed that the future of retailing in downtown Cleveland belonged to large department stores.  With that thought in mind, Edward Hull, in 1886, purchased one of his chief competitors the Cleveland Clothing Company.  This merger netted Hull over $150,000 in common stock which he soon liquidated at a much reduced price. [23] The additional capital generated by this purchase enabled Hull, in 1888, to construct a new main store on the site of the former Wright House.  Opened later that same year, it featured spacious sales rooms, brightly decorated wall surfaces, large display windows and gold-leafed coffered ceilings.  This palatial store came with a high price tag. [24]

In an attempt to lessen its mounting debt, E.R. Hull & Company sold off its less-than-productive operations in Youngstown, OH.  It also welcomed two other retailers to its fold: Samuel E. Graves and John C. McWatters.  Both invested heavily in this store.  E.R. Hull & Company, throughout the 1890s, promoted sales by giving away gifts to boys whose parents’ bought expensive suits and/or overcoats.  These gifts ran the gamut from downhill sleds and Torpedo rifles to tool chess and sets of nine pins.  This particular promotion generated more than $100,000 in sales.

Edward R. Hull also relied on other advertising ploys to entice customers to his store.  For example, he ran a contest in 1896 that asked shoppers to guess how many Ohioans would vote for the Republican Presidential candidate William McKinley, and his Democratic challenger William Jennings Bryant.  Six persons guessed the correct answer. [25] This enterprising businessman also encouraged children to visit Santa Claus at his store.  One oddity capturing the public’s attention occurred in 1897.  It involved a Japanese figure displayed in one of the store’s display windows.  People did not know whether it was a real person or a mechanical device.  It turned out to be a real person.

One very special exhibition revolved around a sacred painting by Louis Ransom.  Entitled “Follow Me,” it portrayed a majestic Jesus Christ.  Crowds came from everywhere to see this most inspiring masterpiece. [26] E. R. Hull & Company also sponsored a team bicycle race on a specially-designed course that ran throughout the store.  Bicyclists with the highest number of recorded miles won $200. Store officials in 1898 also proudly hosted a “Passion Play.”  Failing health led Edward R. Hull to seek out buyers for his popular store.  William F. Dutton in August 1890 bought the establishment.  William Dutton was not new to retailing having been a successful Baltimore-based clothier for many years.  Most importantly, he possessed the kind of capital necessary to keep E.R. Hull & Company financially afloat.  Hull and Dutton made John C. McWatters and Samuel E. Graves full partners.

Following the merger, Hull & Dutton further refurbished its premises.  Earlier renovation efforts appeared outdated especially when compared to rival companies such as Crow & Whitmarsh or Southworth.  The new owners believed that to remain competitive they must modernize the downtown store.  These efforts resulted in an enlarged shoe department; expanded floor space, new dressing rooms for men and women, a comfortable public waiting room, new plush carpeting throughout, magnificent chandeliers and large plate glass mirrors. [27]  However, those cosmetic renovations were only the beginning.  Construction began in May 1898 on a brand new store.  This seven-story fireproof building at 126-136 Ontario Street was built from the finest construction materials.

Topped by the company’s landmark clock, this new store featured electric lighting throughout, iron elevator enclosures, embossed iron stairways and ornate plate glass windows.  Opening day that October brought thousands downtown.  Many customers visited the millinery and dress shops, while others investigated the furs and women’s hats.  Many of the men headed straight for sports goods, while children rushed to see the latest toys.  Hull & Dutton officials commemorated opening day by giving away barrels of flour as souvenirs.

Now called the “Headquarters for the Family’s Needs,” Hull & Dutton’s unorthodox approach to advertising was well-known by all.  As stated earlier, a large percentage of their advertising budget went towards promotions.  Promotional prizes ranged from baseballs and baseball bats to ponies and carts.  One promotional effort to gain national attention involved the company’s massive spotlight.  With carbon arcs each ½ inch in diameter mounted in the center of a sixty inch iron drum, this spotlight’s five foot six inch wide beam could be seen up to 140 miles away.

Unfortunately, clever promotions did not, in themselves, insure long-term financial success.  Quality products and impeccable service guaranteed repeat business.  Unfortunately, Hull & Dutton never developed that kind of loyal customer-base, and it quickly fell behind other more fashionable retailers.  Mounting deficits and decreasing profits forced store officials in June 1898 to file for bankruptcy. [28] Its liabilities were about $300,000, while its total assets equaled only $500,000.  Judge Frank Ginn (1868-1938) permitted Hull & Dutton to lessen its current debt by liquidating its remaining merchandise and re-organizing its business. [29]

Store officials sold nearly $60,000 worth of goods in a special “Reorganization Sale.” A fire in September 1898 destroyed part of the store.  Fortunately, it did not prevent officials from holding a three-day sale in mid-October.  This event included a brass band.  Hoping to entice additional shoppers to its store, Hull & Dutton showed animated film clips by Monograph Pictures highlighting the recent Spanish American War. [30]  The crowds loved them. Hull & Dutton enjoyed modest sales gains that Christmas.  Behind the scenes, store officials engaged in merger talks with a national retailer. Store executives on February 5, 1899 announced that the St. Louis-based May Company had purchased Hull & Dutton.  This merger signaled the end of a landmark retailer.  The May Company wasted no time before making major changes.  It began with officials removing all Hull & Dutton signs and replaced them with May Company banners.  The board also hired many former Hull & Dutton employees.  Cleveland’s latest department store opened with great fanfare.  Over $100,000 worth of sales occurred during opening months. [31]

Artemus Ward, a popular 19th century humorist and onetime writer for The Cleveland Plain Dealer, once remarked that “if you can’t buy it in Cleveland then it either doesn’t exist or has not yet been invented.”  There was a great deal of truth in what he said.  Cleveland retailers continually updated merchandise; expanded clothing lines, lowered costs and upgraded services.  Business innovation remained foremost on their minds.  Their unspoken motto was “beat the competition, but always, in an honorable manner.”  Communication among major Cleveland retailers became crucial especially as their growing customer-base became more demanding.  “Keeping up with the Joneses” became an integral part of daily retail practices.

Individual shopkeepers determined store hours.  No fast rules applied here.  Retailers established store hours based on what they thought their customers needed and wanted.  That often meant ten to twelve hours daily seven days a week.  Officials frequently changed their hours when current economic and/or social conditions warranted it.  Following the First World War, the majority of Cleveland department stores posted similar hours: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed Sunday.  Some of the larger stores, as a courtesy to their customers, remained opened one or two nights a week until 10:00 p.m.  These hours remained in effect until the early 1940s.  With the outbreak of the Second World War, many retailers cut their hours.  Normal business hours resumed in 1946.

With the intention of serving their customers better, leading downtown retailers in 1900 formed the Cleveland Retail Merchant’s Board.  An outgrowth of earlier discussions at the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, this vital organization focused on pertinent retail issues for nearly seventy years.  These issues ranged from extending business hours and controlling shoplifting to improving working conditions and initiating more effective advertising.  This board also established moral guidelines along with rules/regulations.  It also afforded members special assistance.  Board members in 1968 moved from the Greater Cleveland Growth Association to the Cleveland Credit Bureau.  Decreasing retail activity downtown prompted the board, in 1973, to rejoin the Growth Association.

The popularity of early 19th century retail shops notwithstanding they were not modern department stores.  They lacked the professionalism and sophistication of a later age.  Part of pre-industrial America, these retailers frequently conducted business in a slow, tedious fashion.  This made shopping less than pleasant for many customers.  Also, since many of the items purchased were perishable this meant frequent visits to the same stores.  Widely accepted retailing practices of the 20th century such as standardized items; uniform weights, fair pricing, appropriate packaging, product warranties, professional salesmanship and special in-house services did not exist.

Unscrupulous shopkeepers often sold tainted food and doctored drugs.  Prior to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 many grocers sold rotten meat to their customers.  They also overcharged for bulk products by rigging their scales.  Other unethical shop owners freely dispensed addictive and powerful drugs such as morphine and opium to their shoppers.  The elixirs, pain remedies and patent drugs they peddled often contained large amounts of potent drugs in them.  These concoctions may have eased the pain and provided a sense of well-being for those taking them; however, when used over a sustained period of time often resulted in death.  The federal act forbade the manufacturing of and transporting of poisonous drugs through interstate commerce.  It also required truth in labeling and prosecuted those who knowingly cheated their buyers.

Early 19th century dry goods merchants in Cleveland conducted most of their business in warehouses along River Road, east side of the Flats.  These warehouses functioned as showroom, offices and storage space.  A congested area, most shop owners by the 1840s relocated to the new central business district at West 6th Street and Superior Avenue.  Progress notwithstanding a great many retailers sought out inexpensive quarters often the basements or ground floors of these new office buildings.  Escalating rents and minimal space for store expansion in many of these buildings convinced several enterprising retailers to build new retail outlets along lower Euclid Avenue.  This trend begun in the 1850s continued well into the 20th century.

The shopping experience for many early 19th century Clevelanders was an adventure, to say the least.  It began with the customer sitting down with either the shop’s owner or a salesperson to order the desired merchandise.  Once the owner and customer agreed upon a price, then the shopkeeper would go back into the warehouse and bring the items to the front.  The customer would then inspect the products and pay for them.

Most shopkeepers did not provide shopping bags or free delivery services.  All sales were final and most involved cash.  Dry goods merchants rarely offered any credit options.  Under this arrangement, store owners, not customers, determined how goods were sold.  It was, without a doubt, a sellers’ market.  However, by the mid-1850s all of this changed.  The Industrial Revolution produced a wide variety of affordable, high quality goods available to a multitude of retailers.  No longer compelled to purchase whatever a specific merchant might offer, customers increasingly exercised their right to shop around for the best value.  The growing number of local retailers made competition fierce.  It was quickly becoming a buyer’s not a seller’s market.

Mass production and the pressing need to sell large amounts of merchandise, within a highly competitive retail market, led to more inviting and spacious stores.  From the 1850s to the 1870s, daily retailing activities, in cities such as Cleveland, progressed forward.  Ornately decorated emporiums with monumental edifices replaced earlier, no frills small shops and warehouses.  Yet, they were not modern department stores.  Traditional retail practices persisted. For example, most local dry goods merchants continued to assist each and every customer entering their premises.  Sales clerks may have aided store owners in consummating the sale; but ultimately, it was the retailer, not the salesperson, that finalized the deal.

Traditional retail practices also impacted such things as window displays.  Originally viewed as an oddity, hardly worth noting, display windows by the 1870s had become an indispensable part of advertising and marketing throughout the U.S.  Yet, the majority of post-Civil War merchants in Cleveland remained ambivalent to the whole process.  Cost considerations undoubtedly played a big role in their attitudes.  However, other, perhaps less obvious, considerations may have prompted their current mindset.

These shopkeepers, many who traced their ancestry to Puritan New England, saw no purpose behind such frivolous displays.  They believed that the products sold themselves based on merit and practicality.  As the old Biblical adage once said “waste not, want not.”  No need to oversell items.  These retailers concluded that courtesy, fair pricing and good merchandise would always triumph with thrifty shoppers.  Only with time, did they recognize the folly of their thinking.  No frills shopping may have dominated the Cleveland retail scene during the first seventy-five years of the 19th century; however, as local society matured, customers increasingly welcomed bolder, newer approaches to retailing.  Department stores provided an ideal way for innovative retailers and savvy shoppers to each profit from the quality products manufactured during the first phases of the Industrial Revolution.

As was the case throughout U.S. cities, many of Cleveland’s initial department stores originated as small, independent dry goods establishments.  That is not surprising given the limited market area and minimum capital available early-on.  However, insightful merchants knew that things were changing quickly.  They fully recognized the profit potential this growing city offered for those retailers who made it to the top.  However, remaining on top was not easy.  Staying in the forefront meant continually modernizing stores, balancing books and updating business practices and procedures.  They also must remain abreast of the latest retail trends.  Fall behind in any of these crucial areas and all may be lost.

It became apparent to many local shopkeepers by the 1870s that the era of small shops was fast coming to an end.  In its wake, a new kind of retailing establishment called the department store had gained widespread acceptance.  With its seemingly endless variety of affordable merchandise and multitude of special services, all geared towards the needs and wants of its growing customer-base, the department store easily outstripped nearly all of the earlier dry goods outlets.  Many enlightened merchants quickly capitalized on this latest trend.  In some instances, they simply changed a store’s name or spruced up their premises.  In other cases, it led to a complete overhaul of their current operations.

Those taking the financial plunge early-on generally reaped the greatest financial rewards.  Forming partnerships with other energetic business leaders enabled many of them to remain on the cutting edge.  Some specialty department stores focused their business attention on certain product lines at the exclusion of others.  The logic behind such action was easy enough to understand.  In separated from the pack, specialty store buyers were able to purchase their items far ahead of their competitors.  This astute marketing strategy frequently resulted in smaller inventories, reduced overhead costs short-term and higher profit potential.  Other retailers chose the more traditional, full-service route.  They believed that their future financial success rested in appealing to a broader customer-base.  After all, everyday merchandise sells no matter the economic situation at a given time.

Cleveland dry goods merchants as early as the 1830s advertised in city directories and local newspapers.  These costly advertisements were both direct and simple.  They often included proprietor’s name; service or services offered; location and brief descriptions of featured items.  Shop keepers also relied on newspaper advertisements to announce the arrival of merchandise from the East Coast or Europe.  As the city prospered and the number of dailies grew more retailers started to advertise seven days a week.

Advertisements describing a multitude of popular promotional activities also gained popularity with local department stores.  Promotions ranched from special customer-based contests offering prizes, annual carnivals, and keynote lectures to celebrity book signings, in-store demonstrations and holiday parades.  These events definitely increased sales.  Promotional activities continued to expand during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  They now included such things as lotteries and sweepstakes.   Cleveland department stores from the 1940s to the 1970s sponsored popular radio and TV programs.  Some retailers in the 1980s turned to the internet to bolster sales.  Innovation knew no bounds.  Yet, through it all, the economic antecedents responsible for this phenomenal retail experience did not originate in distant cities such as Paris, London or New York; but rather, with a modest group of successful dry goods merchants in Cleveland’s Warehouse District.

The eight major downtown Cleveland department stores, discussed in the following chapters, represented the height of local retailing as reflected through traditional large scale retailing.  Their financial success was unprecedented, nothing like it before.  Within a span of several decades, one group of energized retailers successfully controlled a growing major market that had previously been dominated by a group of less than sophisticated small shopkeepers.

However, these new department stores symbolized much more than impersonal retailers that had somehow sapped the life out of earlier merchants.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  They were products of a changing age where large manufacturing concerns supplanted cottage industries.  What these enterprising store owners did was to provide eager manufacturers the golden opportunity of selling large volumes of their wares to a waiting public.  In fact, many earlier dry goods merchants became successful department store owners.

Their methods, rather than their actual goals, served to distinguish this new breed of retailer from its predecessors.  A product of the Industrial Revolution, they provided the best possible products and services on an annual basis.  Who can forget the likes of Francis A. Coy, Walter M. Halle or John P. Murphy?  They were icons in Cleveland retailing.  Reviewing these long-established institutions from a business perspective may offer some insight into local retailing.  It may also provide 21st century store leaders some valuable business and human resource lessons especially regarding what constituted effective retailing, and how these principles might be applied to today’s unsettling retail climate.


  1. The Cleveland Republican. November 9, 1819.
  2. The Cleveland Republican. December 8, 1818.
  3. The Cleveland Herald. July 17, 1846.
  4. The Cleveland Herald. January 2, 1840.
  5. “Brick for Sale.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 9, 1852.
  6. The Ohio Architect and Builder 14, 1909, pp. 56.
  7. “Co-Partnership Dissolved by Mutual Consent.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 16, 1847.
  8. “Notice of Co-partnership.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 12, 1850.
  9. “New Hat Store.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 4, 1858.
  10. “Slaughter Sale.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 10, 1891.
  11. “China and Home-Furnishing Store.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 4, 1853.
  12. “Headquarters for Refrigerators and Ice Chests.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 2, 1867.
  13. “Removal, Reopening Kleinschmidt & Ambrosius.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 9, 1869.
  14. Ibid.
  15. “Gratifying, Indeed, Crow & Whitmarsh.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 22, 1885.
  16. “Will Get Styles from Paris Daily.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 6, 1913.
  17. “Helps to Profitable Crockery Selling No. 9.” Glass and Pottery, February 1906.
  18. Borsodi, William. “House Furnishings Advertising: A Collection of Selling Phrases and Descriptions and Illustrated Advertisements as Used by Successful Advertisers.” Memphis, TN: General Books LLC, 2012, pp. 116.
  19. “E.R. Hull & Dutton.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 17, 1890.
  20. “Dissolution of Partnership.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 1, 1875.
  21. “Cleveland’s Most Successful Retail Clothing House-A Short Sketch of its Career.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 9, 1880.
  22. “A Model Establishment.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 23, 1878.
  23. “The Biggest Yet, E.R. Hull & Company Buy Out Cleveland Clothing Company.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 2, 1886.
  24. “A Great Store, E.R. Hull & Dutton’s Building Entirely Remodeled.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 19, 1890.
  25. “Throngs of People Flock to E.H. Hull & Dutton’s To Determine Estimates.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 20, 1896.
  26. “A Sacred Painting.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 11, 1897.
  27. “Getting Ready to Build, Work on E.R. Hull & Dutton’s Immense New Store to Begin May 1st.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 12, 1897.
  28. “Doors Closed E.R. Hull & Dutton Makes Assignment for Benefit of Creditors.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 23, 1898.
  29. “By Permission of Court the Store of E.R. Hull Will Again Do Business.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 2, 1898.
  30. “Monogram Pictures, the Hull & Dutton Company Giving Their Customers Wonderful Entertainment.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 6, 1898.
  31. “Hull & Dutton Consolidation Sale is a Winner.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 12, 1899.

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Cleveland's Earliest Retail Traditions by Richard Klein, Ph.D is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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