1 Modern Department Stores Origins

The rise and fall of department stores in Cleveland is a most interesting story wrought with drama, intrigue and occasionally peril.  Passionate about their calling, locally-based retailers took great pride in the merchandise they sold and customer service they provided.  Fierce rivalry forced them to remain on the cutting edge of innovation.  Coincidentally, this breakthrough in retailing occurred at a time of unprecedented economic and demographic expansion nationwide.  Late 19th and early 20th century major department stores, in growing cities like Cleveland, set the business and ethical standards for retailing worldwide.  Harry Selfridge had nothing over the likes of Cleveland top retailers such as William B. Davis, Samuel Halle, Edwin C. Higbee, Max J. Lindner, Frederick A. Sterling or William Taylor.

Before discussing some of the important innovations and unique business strategies made by retailers in Cleveland, it is important to briefly review the economic precedents responsible for this phenomenon.  Breakthroughs in 19th and 20th century retailing resulted from a marked increase in affordable quality items manufactured during the Industrial Revolution.  Begun in 1765 in the United Kingdom when a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer named James Watts invented the steam engine, the Industrial Revolution quickly spread to the U.S.  It started modestly enough in 1793 with the Slater Mills in Pawtucket, R.I.  Designed by Samuel Slater (1768-1835), a former engineer with the British firm of Arkwright & Strutt, this multi-story, wood frame structure was the very first U.S. textile mill to utilize steam power for carding, roving and spinning.  The Salter Mills became very successful very quickly. [1]  A model of efficient manufacturing repeated in the Merrimack Mills in Lowell, MA; Chicopee-Dwight Mills in Chicopee Falls, MA and Amoskeag Mills in Manchester, NH, to name but a few, the Slater Mills symbolized an amazing achievement given the limited building materials available and primitive construction technology of the late 18th century.

Wood frame construction in the early 19th century consisted of numerous large, hallowed out vertical wood posts placed atop a rough-cut stone basement.  Builders strategically positioned these posts throughout the structure to support intricate wood rafter beams above.  Regrettably, the span between posts was very small.  Supporting the horizontal rafter beams with the appropriate number of posts, while maintaining as wide a span as possible between them, was essential.  Rafter beams served as the base for the floors above and gable roof in the attic.

Samuel Slater compensated for the limited work area by utilizing every available inch of floor space.  His ingenuity insured maximum occupancy within confined spaces.  This mill design remained popular in the U.S. until the 1850s.  Recent breakthroughs in construction, in conjunction with the widespread use of iron and steel as primary building materials, signaled the end of these wood frame structures.  Brick warehouse-like factories, with plenty of open work space, soon replaced them.

A major dilemma facing early 19th century mill owners and their investors involved tough state laws regarding personal financial liability.  These antiquated laws prevented many eager investors from experimenting with the latest business techniques and manufacturing methods.  This meant that any innovations made in manufacturing and distribution had to be weighed against possible financial losses and legal penalties.  Any miscalculations might lead to bankruptcy and possibly imprisonment.  Therefore, caution prevailed into the first decade of the 19th century.   Better utilization of natural resources and an insatiable appetite for more manufactured items after the War of 1812 led to a relaxation of earlier harsh state laws.

However, none of these changes would have occurred without the development of a new legal device called the corporation.  First introduced at the turn of the 19th century, the corporate legal entity sanctioned business expansion and production innovation by limiting personal liability. [2] Under this newly business arrangement, a legally recognized body called the corporate dummy controlled all company assets and liabilities.

The corporation also enjoyed legal rights and liabilities that were distinct from its employees and stockholders.  Those investors using this new legal form elected a board of directors to oversee the company’s operations.  Opponents argued that there were no legal precedents for such action and that if left unchecked it might ruin the economy.  However, astute business leaders argued convincingly that its positive benefits outweighed any of its disadvantages. [3]

It took federal court action to silence opponents.  The U.S. Supreme Court in 1819, under Chief Justice John Marshall, ruled that corporations were legally recognized persons entitled to the same Constitutional rights as all other citizens.  This ruling meant that corporations now had the legal right to prosecute individuals and other businesses for wrongdoing.  When a business generated profit, then its stockholders made money, when it incurred debt, investors were only liable for the amount they had invested.  If a corporation declared bankruptcy then its creditors received the remaining business assets.  Once those assets ran out, that was it.  Creditors could not go after the investor’s personal property or additional assets.

The overwhelming success of corporations led to a resurgence in buying and selling company stocks and bonds.  The selling of company ownership rights through interest bearing stocks and bonds was not something new.  It had been around since antiquity.  What distinguished the early 19th century issuance of stocks and bonds from earlier activities was not the process; but rather, the clever ways in which enterprising business leaders used this additionally generated capital to promote expansion while also generating profits.

Furthermore, this issuance of stocks and bonds insured corporate owners that outside investors were committed for the duration.  Most of the funds accrued in this way went towards business innovation and company expansion.  The amount of stocks and bonds held by individual investors determined their percentage of ownership.  The actual value of their investment changed over time based on profits and losses.  Company officials paid out additional profits in the form of stock dividends.  Preferred stock and bondholders received dividends first followed by common stockholders.

The corporation provided fantastic economic opportunities for shrewd early 19th century investors.  In particular, it encouraged innovation in ways never dreamed of before.  In the textile industry it led to new mills in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states during the late 1820s and early 1830s.  With workforces totaling hundreds of people, these efficiently operated factories produced some of the finest broadloom ever made.

However, their success story did not end with producing quality broadloom.  Many mill owners, by the late 1830s, began to manufacture their-own ready-made clothes.  Clothes manufacturing represented the next logical step for ambitious businessmen who wanted new opportunities.  Affordable blouses, frocks, pants and shirts flooded the market.  These ready-made garments sold quickly.  The quandary facing mill owners was how best to market these items?

Two retail options existed at that time.  The first, involved selling items directly to consumers through company-owned stores.  That option required mill owners to finance every aspect of retailing through their-own controlled stores.  No jobbers involved.  Employing a commissioned agent represented a second option.  Under this arrangement, a company agent would be responsible for delivering manufactured goods to shopkeepers who, in turn, would sell them.  Individual shop owners then brokered the merchandise in question.  However, being selected to sell certain desirable items did not mean give them free rein when it came to selling.  Manufacturers held these shop owners accountable for everything they supplied.  Factory owners also demanded sizeable profits on every product sold.  The inability of many early 19th century shopkeepers to generate sufficient profits to meet rising costs necessitated such harsh terms.

The question facing manufacturers and merchants was which option best suited their needs?  The final decision was not the exclusive prerogative of one over the other.  Shoppers themselves played a key role in its outcome.  In this instance, customers let it be known that they wanted ready access to a wide assortment of reasonable priced items, and that they were willing to pay a pretty penny for this service.  Their demands posed an interesting challenge to manufacturers and shopkeepers alike.  After much experimentation, mid-19th century merchants determined that earlier retail models no longer worked.  A new form of retailing must be developed if they planned to profit handsomely from recent distribution and manufacturing breakthroughs.

Business historians often credit a Parisian retailer named Aristede Bouciaut (1810-1877) for developing the first department store. [4] Called Le Bon Marche, this establishment featured the latest fashions and accessories within a spectacular setting.  Although Le Bon Marche symbolized a major breakthrough in department store development, Bouciant was not alone in such activity.  Early 19th century U.S. retailers from Boston to Richmond and from New York to Chicago also devoted countless hours towards resolving this retail dilemma.  Innovation knows no bounds or boundaries.  It is a cause and effect process generated by real or perceived economic and social needs.

A New York City merchant named Henry Sands Brooks epitomized this early 19th century highly innovative retailer.  This shopkeeper, in 1818, opened H & DH Brooks Company. [5] The forerunner of today’s Brooks Brothers, this Manhattan-based haberdashery soon expanded its retail line to include ready-made men’s suits.  Others soon followed.  A number of fashionable retail shops in the late 1820s lined lower Manhattan’s Liberty Street and several nearby avenues.  These highly energetic merchants formed the nucleus of what became New York’s first downtown district.  Their phenomenal success prompted most of them in the 1840s to move to larger facilities.  Their new climes, on lower Broadway between Liberty and Houston streets, represented some of the finest retail establishments in the world.  They set the stage for larger department stores yet to come.

As important as these Broadway shops were to the expansion of early 19th century retailing, they were not the only economic forces at work here.  Many scholars believe that the general store set the stage for traditional department stores.  A friendly, informal setting with a wide range of items, the general store had been around for nearly two centuries.  It offered all sorts of merchandise from leather goods, clothes and household items to candy, medicines and food stuffs. [6]  Early 19th century dry goods stores simply improved upon it.  Instead of squeezing many items into cramped dirty quarters, these enlightened merchants sold their wares in no frills, large warehouses.  It was just a matter of time before these plain warehouses became fancy department stores.

Yet, this retail experience meant much more than changes in building archetypes.  Astute 19th century retailers also taught their customers how to become discerning shoppers.  These new department stores truly symbolized a revolutionary step in retailing whose time had come.  Some of its most thought provoking ideas included standardized packaging of items by weight; fixed pricing, universal clothing sizes and open shelf merchandise placement for easy access.  It paid retailers to standardize their merchandise choices and prices as a way of insuring fair pricing. [7]

Its unique setup further distinguished this retail experiences.  Owners created separate departments or units each operated by a trained sales manager.  Department store buyers and sales staff answered to their sales managers. [8] Managers monitored their employees and served as liaisons between their staff and store officials.  As unofficial human resource experts, store managers often settled disputes among staff members.

In order to generate additional capital, many rented space in their stores to independent shopkeepers.  Renting to others mollified competition to a certain extent by insuring the loyalty of merchants who rented that space.  This rental arrangement provided customers with a whole range of specialty items and services that would not otherwise be offered there.  At the same time, it afforded small shop owners the opportunity of expanding without assuming the high costs and debt inherent with independent shop expansion.

This kind of business efficiency represented the keystones to financial success for hundreds of shopkeepers during the Industrial Age.  The Gospel of Efficiency that resulted from the adoption of such business practices pressured department store owners to hire competent employees at all levels.  Nowhere was this more evident than in sales departments.  Professionally trained salespersons enhanced the customer’s shopping experience at every level.  This meant hiring the best people for each department.  These shrewd retailers also relied on the latest business principles when it came to purchasing merchandise.  At first, they purchased the bulk of their products from both jobbers and wholesalers.  Hoping to significantly lower costs, many beginning in the 1850s bought their wares from manufacturers and agent representatives.  This new buying practices eliminated the need for both jobbers and wholesalers.

The growing popularity of ready-made clothing during the Civil War not only lowered clothing manufacturing costs, but also, encouraged new distribution methods.  By the mid-1870s, most large department stores depended on manufacturers and distributors exclusively. [9] Jobbers and wholesalers redirected their efforts away from large stores towards smaller retail outlets.  Lacking the economic and financial clout necessary to compete in the big leagues, small retailers welcomed them into their fold.  Their expertise allowed small shopkeepers to focus on other pressing financial concerns.

As stated earlier, mid-19th century department store owners used modern business principles in a variety of new and innovative ways.   For example, they relied heavily on qualified staff members to settle customer complaints and employee problems.  These merchants previously handled all human resource and customer issues.  Relieved of this responsibility enabled shopkeepers to nurture new business methods intended to please their customer-base.  They wanted their shoppers to thoroughly enjoy their shopping experience each and every time.  If that meant providing credit to worthy customers, so be it.  New flexible credit plans appealed to penny-wise shoppers.  Layaway plans also gained favor with some customers as did store-issued credit cards.  From a management perspective it made perfect sense in that it provided them with an accurate daily record of shoppers’ expenses.

The highly profitable 19th century textile industry took full advantage of these stores.  They relied on them to sell thousands of items weekly.  In turn, store owners depended on these industries to stock them with quality items on a continual basis.  As stated earlier in this chapter, early 19th century merchants on Liberty Street risked a great deal when they moved to lower Broadway.  To the casual observer such actions may have seemed foolhardy.  They might say that locating next door to each other might cause confusion among customers, and most especially those who did not want to search the numerous shops for specific items.

Their reluctance to explore the area might result in them purchasing any-and-all available items from the shops at the beginning of the street, rather than browsing through the other stores further down the block.  Fortunately, New York shoppers were not confused by the many retail choices at their disposal.  They loved the opportunity of going from one store to another in search of the perfect item at the best possible price.  It represented a challenge, in their minds it was the ultimate shopping experience.

Close proximity proved advantageous for the store owners as well.  It enabled them to stay abreast of all the latest business breakthroughs, while encouraging greater cooperation.  If one place did not have a certain item, the shopkeeper would suggest that the customer look next door.  Perhaps that retailer might have the desired item.  It was certainly worth a try.  Reciprocity among neighboring stores led to long-lasting bonds among them.  They were fellow-entrepreneurs dedicated to serving their shoppers.  If one succeeded, then they all succeeded.

Their phenomenal success in the 1820s and 1830s was legendary and led to expansion quickly.  Expanding a business, any business, requires large amounts of capital.  Unfortunately, many early 19th century New York retailers lacked the kind of capital necessary to meet these growing challenges.  They also fully recognized that the local retail market was influx, and that the future of local retailing belonged to those who could successfully reinvent themselves using outside capital.  With those very thoughts in mind, successful shopkeepers sought out large investments from many of the world’s richest entrepreneurs.

Long-term investments by the rich led to the establishment of many successful Manhattan department stores during the mid to late-19th century.  Those investors readily lent both their business expertise and extensive financial resources.  The new sophisticated department stores represented the culmination of a long and perilous journey that had begun nearly two hundred years earlier with the general store.  Every large city in the U.S., by the 1850s, boasted of at least one department store with many having several.  Early leaders included Brooks Brothers (1818),  Lord & Taylor (1826),  Gilchrist  (1842),  A.T. Stewart’s (1846),  Jordan Marsh  (1851),  Carson Pirie Scott (1854),  R. H. Macy (1858), Hower & Higbee  (1860),  Bloomingdale (1861), Saks-5th Avenue (1867), Rich’s (1867), Taylor, Kilpatrick (1870), Wanamaker  (1876)  and  Marshall Field  (1881).

Much of their success originated with the uncanny knack of these talented retailers to provide quality goods and services within a friendly business environment. [10]  For example, elegant women’s fashions, special Christmas display windows and a free personal shopping service distinguished New York’s Lord & Taylor’s, while Boston’s Gilchrist’s became known for its fabulous shoes, jewelry, housewares and of course delicious almond macaroons.  Rich’s in Atlanta gained national recognition for its generous credit and exchange policies, while Philadelphia’s Wanamaker’s became one of the first to sell its-own ready-made clothes.  Marshall Fields of Chicago led the pack with its ever-popular Tea Room, European buying rooms and special bridal registry.

However, there were other crucial elements that played into their hand.  A respected 19th century Cleveland retailer named E.M. McGillin (1847-1919) summed it up best.  He suggested that large department store owners enjoyed a decided economic advantage over small shopkeepers in that they had access to great amounts of capital and large inventories, not readily available to smaller store owners.  He believed that a great majority of large retailers sustained their leads by selling many popular items at below-cost.  Selling in volume like that generated huge profits.  Those not having access to large inventories or vast amounts of capital often found it virtually impossible to sustain themselves on low profit margins.  In the end, these less affluent shopkeepers found themselves charging much higher prices for the same goods sold by big retailers at a fraction of the cost.

McGillin pointed out that the Panic of 1873 reinforced the business adage that prized merchandise must be sold at the lowest possible price. [11]  The Panic of 1873 led to the closing of over 18,000 businesses.  Many of these businesses were small to medium sized stores with limited capital reserves.  McGillin contended that easy credit following the Civil War led to the establishment of these fly-by-night firms.  He further argued that sound businesses never depend on easy credit.  Instead, they acquired gold and silver reserves as collateral.  Those without such reserves declared bankrupt when the economy soured.  According to McGillin, customers in the 1870s enjoyed an advantage of earlier generations in that they have the where-for-all to shop around for the best possible deal.  They turn, more often than not, to well-established department stores for their goods.

Large-scale department stores required carefully orchestrated business planning.  Once an enterprising business person understood the fundamental principles of retailing then it was up to that individual to stay informed of the latest business and fashion trends.  Certain staples within the industry such as advertising, customer services and salesmanship grew more sophistication over time.  Successful late 19th century retailers often used psychology to promote sales.  Everything from store décor and advertising to customer service and cost savings had a psychological edge.  Store owners wanted their customers to buy as many items and take advantage of as many services as possible.  The sky was the limit.  Also, every establishment developed its-own identity.  Most often, the owner’s perception of what the community needed and wanted shaped that identity.  Many focused on everyday shoppers, while others concentrated on the needs and wants of the growing middle and upper classes.

Whatever their customer-base, all retailers conveyed a similar message.  Some transported their shoppers to distant and exotic lands through high priced, imported merchandise.  These items included such things as expensive perfumes, fine wines, rare cheeses, luxurious furs and designer jewelry.  Strategically placed within highly decorative displays, these products represented a glamorous world far removed from their customer’s daily lives.

Others emphasized everyday items such as auto parts, appliances, work clothes, stationary and tools.  This kind of merchandise required little fanfare and practically sold itself.  The key to repeat business rested with the ability of these store owners to understand their patrons’ specific wants and needs, and then readjust their business strategies accordingly to fulfill changing demands year in and year out.

Showmanship represented half the battle, knowing what the shoppers really intended to buy was the other half.  Through it all, common sense prevailed.  Once customers believed in the integrity and sincerity of their local department stores, then it became the responsibility of those retailers to provide the desired goods and services at a fair price.  Store owners knew all too well that if they slacked in their chosen roles that other retailers were prepared to serve their every need.

This new approach to retailing whereby the customer was always right ran counter to the take-it-or-leave-it philosophies of general stores.  Known for supplying hardware and software products within a no-frills environment, general stores served a useful function for many years.  Their friendly, informal settings especially flourished in remote parts of the nation where survival itself depended upon settlers being able to secure durable, low-cost staples quickly.  With the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the elimination of the American frontier, all of that changed.

Insightful department store owners distinguished between hardware and software items with most focusing on one or the other.  Only a select few such as Montgomery Ward or Sears & Roebuck continued to promote both.  Competition among department stores, from the 1880s to the 1920s, intensified greatly.  Increasing public pressure for reasonably priced goods and high quality services led large retailers to offer a barrage of new and enticing incentives and luxuries.  Daily newspaper advertising played an ever important role in promoting individual department store merchandise and services.  The idea of advertising was not new.  Astute retailers in the U.S. as early as the 1830s recognized its potential value.  Not only did it foster increased consumer demand for merchandise generally, but also, proved highly effective in promoting certain items over the exclusion of others.  Its intensity, rather than its goals, changed over time.

Most early and mid-19th century advertising occurred in local newspapers.  These advertisements, often found on the front page of dailies, were often limited to a few lines.  They described the item or items for sale at a particular retailer along with its cost.  Advertisements might also include drawings of the merchandise for sale or possibly an artist’s rendering of the front façade of the shop where the item or items were being sold.  However, merchandise promotions through the local press expanded quickly.  Department stores, by the early 1880s, ran full page advertisements extolling the many virtues of the product or products for sale. [12]Many advertisements were patronizing, overly sentimental.  But, they got the job done.  Increasingly, retailers stressed the need for the middle class customers to emulate the wealthy.  Advertisements, throughout the 1920s, featured testimonies by celebrities and sports figures promoting merchandise.

The “Roaring Twenties” also introduced professional artistic renderings of attractive people who were either wearing or using the item or items in question. [13] Detailed advertisements prominently displaying the store’s logo also found their way into regional and national magazines.  The 1930s saw the introduction of Sunday newspaper pictorial sections.  Called rotogravures, they detailed community social events through photographs.  They were often accompanied by full-page advertisements showing the latest fashions found in a certain store.

Motion pictures also promoted department stores, but in a somewhat different way.  Not relying on store advertising to sell their productions, Hollywood producers took great care when it came to selecting department stores for their films.  Like other successful business leaders of their day, Hollywood promoters wanted the biggest bang for the buck.  Only the best and biggest department stores got their names on the marquee.  Miracle on 34th Street, the Big Store and Breakfast at Tiffany’s represented three popular films utilizing that formula.  Movie newsreels also featured department stores.  Topics ran the gamut from the latest fashions worn by a specific star at a prominent event to what constituted proper department store etiquette for children.  Some stores, in the 1950s and 1960s, went so far as to advertise between features at local drive-in theaters.

With the advent of radio and television, department stores relied on jingles to sell their merchandise.  Retailers also sponsored their-own radio spots.  Television, like films, devised very clever ways to weave popular department stores into their programming.  Major televised events sponsored by large department stores included such things as Easter Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day parades.  The big three television networks also, on occasion, utilized department stores as backdrops for situation comedies.  They included the CBS hit comedy Rhoda, in the mid-1970s, and ABC’s Drew Carey Show in the 1980s.  The importance of advertising notwithstanding there were other factors accounting for the phenomenal success of department stores during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The majority of retailers used any-and-all economic or geographical advantages they might possess to promote sales.  Their decision to concentrate within major downtowns was no accident.  Most major economic and social activities in 19th century communities occurred there.  In fact, most influential people lived and worked within walking distance of their city’s center.  It took the advent of horse-drawn buses followed by electric streetcars and automobiles before the elite removed themselves from the hustle and bustle of downtown to the more pristine suburbs.

Prestigious law firms, major hospitals, prominent insurance companies, popular business concerns, large service industries and virtually all government services chose downtown locations.  Recognizing the importance of prime location, major retailers quickly joined the bandwagon.  Beginning in the early 19th century with modest dry goods companies and large wholesale groceries, downtown retailing soon blossomed into full-service, top quality department stores.  The economic and social complexities readily identified with downtown may have evolved over time, but not its inherent importance.  Each new generation of downtown leaders built upon the achievements of their predecessors.

Downtown Cleveland continued to grow and prosper following the Second World War.  In fact, stores such as Halle’s and the May Company continued to post sizeable profits right into the 1960s in spite of the fact that the makeup of the central business district was changing very rapidly. Old traditions die hard.  With the advent of Urban Renewal in the 1950s and 1960s, business and political leaders in large cities, such as Cleveland, began to weigh their options.  They envisioned grand, new business opportunities within deteriorating areas bordering downtown.

The U.S. Congress agreed and approved funding for Urban Renewal beginning with the National Housing Act of 1949.  Over the next two decades, federal officials poured in millions of dollars for major Urban Renewal projects.  Many targeted towards older communities.  In the case of Cleveland, it culminated on November 22, 1960 when Mayor Anthony J. Celebreeze (1910-1998) unveiled plans for a massive redevelopment effort at the northeast corner of the city’s central business district.  Designed by the world renowned architect named I.M. Pei, this 64-acre tract called Erieview represented one of the largest renewal efforts ever undertaken.  This announcement came as no surprise to downtown department store owners.

A Cleveland Planning Commission study, published in 1958, claimed that the current surplus in downtown retail space would last for the next seventeen years.  No need for further expansion here.  Commissioners determined that what the downtown needed was additional high quality housing, first-rate office space and major hotels.  Local retailers did not question these findings.  This renewal effort led to the establishment of a new East 9th and East 13th street office/residential core that ran between Chester and Lakeside avenues.  That area eventually included the Chesterfield Apartment, 38-story Erieview Tower and a full service Holiday Inn.  In terms of downtown retailing, this shift in weekday pedestrian traffic from the Euclid-Prospect corridor to the East 9th and East 13th street district along with the growth of suburban stores soon marked the end of traditional downtown department stores.  This truth eluded some retailers in the 1960s who tried to remain optimistic.

Downtown Cleveland truly lost its luster by the mid-1970s.  Major traffic problems, an outmoded public transportation system, and growing incidents of one-on-one crime all but destroyed downtown shopping.  Community leaders remained divided over what steps to take next.   An interview in the January 1971 issue of Clevelander Magazine offered some possible remedies. [14]  The reporter interviewed four prominent leaders of the recently created downtown consortium.  They were Robert O. Clary of B.R. Baker Clothiers; James Carney of the Cleveland law firm of Carney, Carney & Broadbent, Walter M. Halle President of Halle Brothers Co., and Howard B. Klein Vice President of Higbee’s.  A part of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, this consortium dedicated itself to the revitalization of downtown Cleveland.  Howard B. Klein chaired it.

These leaders agreed that growing incidents of crime downtown prevented many Clevelanders from enjoying its many attractions including shopping.  They attacked the local media for not lessening the public’s anxiety regarding that area’s safety.  Hoping to improve this situation quickly, these leaders developed a number of priorities. They ran the gamut from developing a modern transportation system and creating more parking to encouraging new investment and presenting more accurate media portrayals of downtown.  All four believed these problems to be only temporary.

Unfortunately, other issues such as a shrinking population-base and preferences by customers for suburban shopping further undermined the future of downtown.  This downward economic spire continued into the remaining decades of the 20th century.  In a last ditched effort, many downtown stores launched extensive advertising campaigns.  Although some were briefly successful most campaigns failed miserably.  The day of the downtown department store was over.

Sadly, the latest generation of shoppers has no idea the important role these stores once played in the life of Clevelanders.  New stores have taken their place.  One can only hope that today’s retailers will learn from the successes and failures of the past.  If not, they might be forced to face similar dilemmas in the future.   Long-term success least they forget is based on ability, timing and the ability to learn from others.  A review of the past may offer some insight into the future.


  1. Robertson, Ross M. History of the American Economy. New York: Hartcourt Brace Janovich Inc., 1973, pp. 357.
  2. Ibid. pp. 358.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Tamilia, Robert D. The Wonderful World of the Department Store in Historical Perspective: A Comprehensive International Bibliography Partially Annotated. Faculty. quinnipiac.edu/charm/depart.store.pdf.
  5. Brooks Brothers. Centenary 1818-1918. New York: The Cheltenham Press, 1918, pp. 5-10.
  6. Yeager, Lyn Allison. “Chapin’s General Store.” Illinois Commentary, 1972, pp. 1-4.
  7. Robertson. History of the American Economy. pp. 358.
  8. Ibid. pp. 357.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid. pp. 358-359.
  11. McGillin, E. M. and Company. “History Repeating Itself.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 25, 1882.
  12. Robertson. History of the American Economy. pp. 361.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Gisser, Marv. “Downtown There is a Future.” Clevelander Magazine, January 1971.

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Modern Department Stores Origins by Richard Klein, Ph.D is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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