The Late, Great Department Store

And now dear readers a story…

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, in an era long ago, there was the hometown department store. Now extinct, they were once found in every city. Larger cities had more than one, and they weren’t all called Macy’s.

Owned and run by descendants of the founders, who were leaders in their communities.  These retail titans built retail emporiums,  occupying whole downtown blocks, often architectural masterpieces.

The late great department store
Wilshire Bulloch's in Los Angeles

These department stores had a tearoom and a bargain basement and incredible Christmas windows that people would stand in line to see. These were stores that had a point of view and not the same merchandise as everyone else. Professional sales clerks worked there and were often with the same company their entire careers. They knew you, your size and taste, and called you when something came in they thought you would like. Floor managers, actually on the floor, often wearing carnations on their suit lapels, stood ready to help you. (Yes they were almost always men, but no story is perfect).

the tea room at the historic The Denver store
The Tea Room at The Denver

Free gift-wrap, home delivery and store charge accounts. A sale was really a sale, usually only two a year, so you knew you were really getting a deal. No were constant mark downs, but the goodies that awaited you in that famous bargain basement. Shopping was an event; some might even call fun. You got dressed up and spent the day, taking a much-needed respite at noon in the tearoom for their signature chicken salad with grapes.

There was the Broadway and Goldwater’s in Phoenix, Joseph Magnin and the White House in San Francisco. The Denver and Neusteter’s in where else, Denver. Rich’s and Davison in Atlanta and my beloved Marshall Fields in Chicago. New Orleans had Maison Blanche and in Philly, the legendary Wanamaker’s with their magnificent pipe organ.

My mom and I shopped at Hartzfeld’s and The Jones Store in Kansas City; Stix, Baer & Fuller in St. Louis, and at Innes and Bucks in my home town of Wichita. And then of course there was: _____________ (fill in your hometown store here). 

It is possible, however, revisit those golden days through an amazing website called The Department Store Museum (DSM).

dsm logo

This site is a treasure trove of historic photos and in-depth descriptions the stores, even down to the merchandise on each floor.  There are sample shopping bags and even photos of store credit cards and security badges. Stores are organized by the state in which they were located and you can spend hours going through role of honor.

Created by Bruce Allen Kopytek, an architect in Massachusetts, hs love of department store shines through. Bruce has written three books, Toledo’s Three Ls: Lamson’s, Lion Store and LaSalle’sJacobson’s: I Miss It So, a history of the famous Michigan chain; and his latest Eaton’s: The Trans-Canada Store.   I reached out to find out how he got interested in this subject.

“I loved the “department store idea” ever since I was young and visited downtown Detroit when it was an altogether different place. Later, we visited big stores wherever we traveled With access to out-of-town newspapers in libraries, I traced department store logos, wrote down department locations, etc. It seemed like a foolish waste of time to a young man that was pretty studious. However it is actually paying off now.”

Bruce and his Department Store Museum remind us that there was a time, not so long ago when the customer was king and shopping was an event.  His site asks this provocative question: “Why are we not good enough for such a gamut of retail options today?”

Why indeed.

Love & Hats Madge

Photos copyright © 2023  MadgesHatbox Vintage.  We are a proud member of Got VintageCheck out their website.

Comment Below


  1. I used to go to sleep at night with a vivid fantasy, no not the Bealtes in love with me. It was to be locked up overnight at the Marshall Field store at Water Tower Place. In my most naughty moments I would hide in a dressing room until the store closed, then be able to have free rein in all the departments with pretty things. I believe I tried on all the new shoes, etc.

    Thank you for adding the picture of the Marshall Field Tiffany ceiling, still a thrill to see today. Perhaps on one of your return trips w should go see it together, even tho it is now called Macy’s.

    My second job as a teenager was working in Klaus Depsrtment Store, in my neighborhood, on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago.. It was not Marshall Field, but a step above Goldblats, so it was just a hundred times better. At $1.13 per hour, upgraded to$1.25, too little of that paycheck ever made it out of the store.

  2. One of the ancillary benefits of collecting vintage hats is learning (Googling names on the labels) about all of those department stores in different cities. It’s amazing how many wonderful stores there were and now they’re virtually all gone.
    Of course, I grew up taking Marshall Field’s for granted, not to mention Carson Pirie Scott a block away and Charles A Stevens in between.
    Those were the days…

  3. I loved Wanamakers in Philadelphia. Me and my mom went there to their tea room, it was huge, and their Christmas displays….I could go on and on about the experience. It makes me so sad knowing all of that culture is gone.

  4. A great article, Madge! I’m sure it brought a smile to many. It certainly did to me!

  5. Oh, Madge…what memories. You’ve opened a floodgate of fond one. Rosheks and Stampers in Dubuque Iowa. And..I was lucky enough to move to San Francisco before “The City of Paris” met it’s demise.

    What grand memories of sitting on the mezzanine with my aunties watching all the shoppers below. The animated Christmas windows were the Disneyland of my youth.

    Great job Madge..and yes..see you tomorrow.

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