The Goldsmith's Story...


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 their uncle's store, renaming it I. Goldsmith and Brother. The Goldsmiths prospered by adhering to a customer-friendly philosophy. Jacob Goldsmith became president of the store when his brother died. He initiated a Christmas parade, preceding Macy's famous event by more than a decade, and in 1960 the store opened the popular "Enchanted Forest" for children. (based on Disney’s original “Small World”)

Goldsmith's original store on Beale Street was relocated in 1895 to a larger facility at Main and Gayoso, which it occupied through most of the 20th century. In 1952 Goldsmiths expanded its downtown location, expanding into the adjoining former Gayoso Hotel. The department store began to build suburban locations in the 1960s, beginning with its Oak Court store at Poplar and Perkins.

Goldsmith's became a true department store, among the first in the South, when it arranged merchandise by departments in 1902. It was the first Memphis store to install air-conditioning, escalators
(Note:  Gerber's escalotors opened 6 months before Goldsmith's), a bargain basement, and a mechanical credit system called Charga-Plate.

When Jacob Goldsmith died in 1931, his sons Elias and Fred assumed management of Goldsmith's. In 1959 the store became an affiliate of Federated Department Stores. 
Today the Goldsmith's stores have been re-christened “Macy's“ by Federated.  The beautiful downtown Goldsmith's building was restored and is now the Center for Sothern Folklore.

The following is a contemporary account of the Goldsmith's written in 1888:

I. Goldsmith & Bros., dry goods merchants at 348 Main Street, Memphis, began business at 81 and 83 Beale Street in 1870, where they still have a branch store, which is the largest dry goods house on the street. When they began business in Memphis their capital was limited, but by judicious management and honest dealing they have secured and retained the confidence of their patrons and built up an extensive business. When the yellow fever raged in Memphis they opened a branch house in Helena, Ark., where they were very successful. In 1881 they commenced business at 348 Main Street, and are now enjoying an extensive trade upon a cash basis. Isaac Goldsmith, the senior member of the firm, died in June, 1885, and Elias and J. Goldsmith, the two remaining brothers, who constitute the firm, purchased his interest in the business and continued it under the old firm name. The brothers immigrated to America from Germany in 1867, and since then have been residents of Memphis. Elias Goldsmith was married. in 1880 to Miss Belle Stein, daughter of L. Stein, of St. Louis, Mo., and J. Goldsmith was married in 1875 to Miss Dora Ottenheim, daughter of L. Ottenheim, a merchant of Memphis. The brothers are members of several benevolent and relief societies of Memphis, and are among the city's most enterprising and liberal citizens.