Memphis Department Stores

 

Memphis had 4 major Department Stores on Main street.  From the early days of these stores up to the 60's, when one went shopping, it meant getting dressed up and going downtown.  It was often an all day event where you might have lunch at one of the restaurants or Tea Rooms in the Department stores and then take in an afternoon movie.  And the stores would deliver your parcels free of charge.  As these stores began to open branches in the suburbs, and TV kept folks away from the movie theatres, Memphians made fewer trips downtown and the area began to decline.   Today, all the stores are gone, but three of the major buildings have been renovated for new use. 

 

 

Goldsmith's Department Store - 123 S. Main  Click on small photos to see enlargement.

 


Goldsmith's was a well-known Memphis department store which traces its origins to the antebellum period and German immigrant Louis Ottenheimer. After moving to Memphis from Arkansas, opened a store on Main Street with partner Moses Schwartz. In 1867 Ottenheimer brought his nephews, Isaac and Jacob Goldsmith, to the United States and employed them in his Memphis store. As soon as the Goldsmith brothers saved five hundred dollars, they opened their own store, grossing twenty-five dollars on the first day of business. The Goldsmiths soon expanded to larger quarters on Beale Street. Memphis experienced several outbreaks of yellow fever during the 1870s. During the epidemic of 1878, the Goldsmiths kept the store open at least three hours a day. 
By 1881 the brothers had bought ...
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       I. Goldsmith & Bros. on Beale

Goldsmith's Logo and store

The Goldsmith Building today.

     

Goldsmith's Restaurant

1909 Postcard

1910 Tri-State

Goldsmith's Santa

Goldsmith's 1925

 

Goldsmith Brothers -1953

Enchanted Forest

Santa

GoldThrift Accnt

Employee 5 yr Pin

     

Souvenir Plate - Red

Souvenir Plate - Back

Souvenir Plate - Blue

Souvenir Plate - Back

Golden G Pin

 

Goldsmith's - Half-Yardstick

 

Souvenir Plate

Plate Back

1969 Ad

Hatbox-Vintage

Matchbook

G.Pressley Charge Card

 
 

Goldsmith      

Sheet Music

Geo Hamilton 1963

Prints - Gift Shop

Prints - Gift Shop

Prints - Back

 

Window Display           Ribbon <----------------------   1920 Goldsmith's Fashion Brochure    ------------------->
 

<   1914 Goldsmith's Dinner at the Gayoso    >

Matchbook

  1920 Golden Jubilee Dinner at Scottish Rite Cathedral

 

1930 Catalog  1908 Ad 65th Anniversary

75th Anniversary

Vintage Postcard

Goldsmith Label

 
     

     1907 Envelope      

Guide c. 1940s

   
    

 

Lowenstein's Department Store - 64-68 N. Main . 89 N. Main  . 99 N. Main .  27 S. Main

 

Elias Lowenstein emigrated to Memphis in 1854. The firm which he headed, B. Lowenstein and Bros. Department Store, was Prominent in Memphis for 125 years.  Their store at 26 Main was a classic cast-iron building.  In 1924 Lowenstein's built a large building on the site of the old Main Street Peabody at 27 S. Main.  This building was renovated in 1987 and renamed Brinkley Plaza.  In 1956 Lowenstein's purchased Bry's at 99 N. Main.  In 1962-64 they demolished the Bry's building and built Lowenstein's Tower.   Today the Renaissance Apartments Tower occupies this site.   Lowenstein's closed and liquidated in 1981. 

When Lowenstein's vacated the "old Lowenstein" building in the 20s, the old building was taken over by Rhodes-Jennings Furniture Co.  They moved out in 1980 and the old building sat  vacant for almost three decades.   With terra cotta angels and a cast-iron facade, the store, built in 1886, was threatened with demolition in 1996. Three developers—John Basek, C. Yorke Lawson, and William Chandler, then president of Memphis Heritage—united in 2000 and eventually saved the National Register-listed building with a $20 million renovation. Now home to 28 apartments and retail space, the Lowenstein is part of a three-building project called Court Square Center.  On Mar. 18, 2009, 500 people in Memphis attended the grand opening of the newly renovated Lowenstein Building.  "It's the building that nobody said could be saved, and it's got new life again," says June West, executive director of Memphis Heritage, which owned the easement that protected the building's facade and has contributed $35,000 over the years to save the Lowenstein. "It's one of those projects that you wait for all your life. Now I get to say to people, 'Don't give up."

 

Old Lowenstein Building  

Decaying Lowenstein Building

Renovated Building 2009

Lowenstein-Brinkley Plaza

 

The Lowenstein Building        

1884 Invoice

Ad from 1865 Memphis Directory

   

Lowenstein Credit Card

1927 Letter

1930 Candy

Candy Label

Mr. Bingle

Santa - 1956

Souvenir Plate

Souvenir Plate - Back

Elias Lowensteins

       

B. Lowenstein

1907-Decorated

1930s Card

1878 check to Lowenstein's for $444 signed by Jefferson Davis

 

Lowenstein's interior

Lowenstein's interior

Brinkley Plaza - interior

Brinkley Plaza - interior

1903 Ad      

   

Elias Lowenstein was a leader in the Memphis Jewish community.  He served as president of Temple Isreal for 15 years. He contributed liberally to rebuilding the city after the disastrous 1870's yellow fever epidemics. In 1891 Elias Lowenstein built a mansion which was Memphis' most important Victorian Romanesque residence and one of the finest of its styles in the South. After his death in 1919, his family donated it to the Nineteenth Century Club for use as a residence for young working women who did not have family in the city and, therefore, under social customs of the day were expected to live in a protected environment. A porch with cupola was removed in 1929 for construction of an annex.

 

Elias Lowenstein House

 
 

 

Lowenstein's 1926  

1896 invoice

Hat Box

 

Matchbook

 
 

 

Bry's Department Store - 89 N. Main at Jefferson
 

In 1902, the store, founded by Nathan and Louis Bry, and I. D. "Ike" Block, opened at the SE corner of Main & Adams.  Ike Block took over management of the store at the outset since his partners were also operating Bry Brothers - a wholesale firm in St. Louis.  In 1905 they moved to a new store at Main and Jefferson, where they competed successfully for over fifty years with Lowenstein's, Gerber's, and Goldsmith's.  Bry's was noted for its annual "Daring Sale" in which it dropped prices and doubled the number of clerks.  In 1912, Bry's enterned the history books when it became the first store to sell sheet music written by W. C. Handy.  This was also the first store to use ladies as clerks.  Bry's anchored North Main and Goldsmith's anchored South Main.  In 1956 Bry's was sold to Lowenstein's and closed in 1964.

 

Bry's - 1918                   

Bry's Postcard

Bry's - building enlarged

Shoe Hook    

       

Bry's first store- Main and Adams

Bry's Employee Button

Bry's Ad 1924

1924 Ad

Bry's Ad

Bry's Spoon

Louis Bry Obit

I. D. "Ike" Block

I.D. Block c.1925

Nathan Bry

Louis Bry

Mellie-Louis Bry

Nathan Bry Obit

 

 

Bry's Ad - 1918

Bry's 1919

 

Bry's 1909

Bry's 1914


 


 
 

Gerber's Department Store - 25 North Main

 

John Gerber opened his first store in 1880 and expanded greatly over the years - eventually taking up most of the block.  s installed Memphis’ first escalators and they opened to great fanfare and free publicity in the two newspapers for the store.  The first escalators had been planned by Goldsmith’s but Gerber's quietly installed theirs about 6 months ahead of Goldsmiths.   Gerber's was particularly noted for its TEA ROOM - a popular meeting place downtown.  When retailers began to abandon Main Street in the 1960s, Gerber's struggled to stay.  But after going through two fires in 1968 and 1971, the store was doomed.  The store closed October 15, 1974 and the building was demolished in the mid 1980s.  A hotel stands on the site today. 

 

Gerber's

Gerber's - 1975

Gerbers Ad -1946        

 

Gerber's Christmas - 1937

Souvenir Plate

Plate - Back

Chas Gerber

Gerber's Interior 1880s

 

Gerber's Windows

Postcard 1950s

Charles Gerber

Obit

Gerber Tribute

 
   

Gerber's 1926

1930s Sales Receipt    

Patio Rest. 1956

 

Please help us?  We are looking for a photo of Gerber's Famous Tea Room.

 


 

Kress - 7 North Main  .  80 S. Main

 

The Kress building is easily recognizable by its colorful and decorative terra-cotta facade.  Kress opened the first, in what was to become a nationwide chain of five-and-dime stores, in Memphis in 1896 and moved to the Main Street location in 1927.   In 1980, the Kress Store became McCrory's and the store finally closed in 1994.  Conscious of the historical significance of the building, the new owners have restored the structure in accordance within historical guidelines and have adapted it and adjoining buildings for use as a hotel - Spring Hill Suites by Marriott. 

Samuel Henry Kress (1863 - 1955) was one of seven children of a Pennsylvania coal-mining supervisor. Originally a Pennsylvania schoolteacher, he opened a stationery and notions shop in Memphis in 1887.  This grew into the nationwide chain S. H. Kress & Company.  Kress would eventually own about 400 stores, including nine in Florida.  A businessman and philanthropist, he was an art lover and with his fortune, amassed one of the most significant collections of Italian Renaissance and European artwork assembled in the 20th century.  In 1929 he established the Kress Foundation to sponsor traveling exhibitions, scholarships in art history, and restorations of monuments in Italy.  He also donated a significant portion of his art collection to Brooks Memorial Art Gallery.

 

Kress  -1995  

Kress - Vintage  

Detail on the building

Kress -80 S. Main

Lunch Counter 1950s

 

 

     
Samuel Kress        
 

 


 

W. T. GRANT  - 113 S. Main at Gayoso 

   

W. T. Grant

Building being renovated

W. T. Grant

GGrant Ad

Grant Record Brand

 

W. T. Grant,  or Grants was a chain of United States-based mass-merchandise stores.  The stores were generally of the "dime store" format located in downtowns.   The Grant store in Memphis closed  in 1976.  The building has now been converted to luxury lofts.  At its peak there were 1200 Grant stores nationwide.

William Thomas Grant (1876-1972) was the founder of the W. T. Grant stores.  He began his career by selling flower seeds, and as a young man, developed his philosophy:  sell people what they need at prices they can afford, making only a modest profit.  Grant dedicated much of his life and fortune to philanthropic efforts, though after his death his stores folded in the biggest retail bankruptcy in history.  The W. T. Grant Foundation, due to diversification, survived and continues his philanthropy.

 
 
 

 

Black & White Store - Busy Bee - Shainberg's  -  122 S. Main

 

Black and White Store - 1948

2011

2011

 

When Daniel Lewis first opened this store in 1905, it was named the Black and White Store and it was next door to Brys.  Later the store moved to the building across from Goldsmiths and remodeled with the distinctive black and white tiles.  When Lewis's daughter married Sam Shainberg, he took over the store's management.  Around 1948-49 the store was renamed "The Busy Bee".  However, that name didn't last long and in the mid 1950's, the name was changed to Shainberg's to upgrade the image of the business and to recognize its new owner.  The old store on Main became Jolly Royal Furniture in 1978.  (In 2011, the black and white tiled building was still standing on S. Main, but it  looks rather sad.  Jolly Royal Furniture is still there).

       
 

 

Shainberg's

Jolly Royal
Matchbook

Shainberg's Logo

 

 

Greener's Department Store - Harris Department Store     308 - 12 Beale
 

Greener's 1954

Greener's

1937 - "Jug Bands"

Harris Depart. Store - c 1960s

       

Greener's Department Store opened here in 1928.  It was generally considered to be a mirror- image of Schwab's Department Store further down Beale.  It operated from this location for 30 years before it became the Harris Department Store in the early 1960s.  Today the building houses the Pat O'Brien night club.

 

 
 

CREDITS: The "Historic-Memphis" Team would like to acknowledge and thank the following organizations for their contributions which helped make this page possible:  Memphis Public Library, University of Memphis Libraries, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Greater Memphis Chamber, Memphis Flyer, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Memphis Heritage, Tom Leatherwood Shelby County Register, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Joe Spake,  and many other individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on individual photos.

 

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