Road Trips

The last department store?

I was looking through my photographs from my 2008 tour of the Michigan Road when I came upon photos of Minear’s Department Store on the square in Greensburg. I was surprised to find an old-style department store still operating anywhere, let alone in small-town Indiana. It had been in business since 1865.

My favorite detail was the store name painted inside the plate-glass windows.

Greensburg square

I would have loved to see their neon lit at dusk.

Greensburg square

The store sat across the street to the west from the Decatur County Courthouse, which is best known for the tree growing out of the clock tower.

Decatur County Courthouse

I poked around the Internet a little to see if Minear’s is still in business; sadly, it closed in 2012. Was it the last old-style department store? Do you know of any others still operating? What was the department store in your hometown when you were young? (In my hometown of South Bend, it was Robertson’s.)

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22 thoughts on “The last department store?

  1. Oh, I always thought Robertson’s was Canadian; I didn’t know you had them in the States. Mind you, I haven’t seen one since the mid-80s. Did you do any looking around in Minear’s while you were there?

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  2. Big, out of town superstores have obliterated the old family department stores here in the UK. The one near me was knocked down and they built luxury flats on the site. I remember being dragged around many a department store as a kid!

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    • Here in the US, the department store has largely been edged out by big-box superstores, too. The remaining department stores have consolidated. Sears and J. C. Penney still exist but they were national chains in the first place. Most of the local stores and small chains went through a series of mergers that led to almost all of them being Macy’s now.

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  3. bodegabayf2 says:

    In my town, it was Fowler’s. Three floors with a big Wurlitzer organ at the top of the main stair case. I remember listening to a woman playing Christmas tunes on it when my grandmother would take me there during the holidays. The toy department was in the basement. I loved the basement.

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  4. Giddings on Tejon Street in Colorado Springs. As a boy I was fascinated by the little cable cars that carried the transaction from the clerk’s station to the office on the balcony. Clerk jerks the chain and zip! away she goes. I think the system was later replaced by a pneumatic tube set up.

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  5. There is still one of the old-style department store open in Champaign IL. Kuhn’s started in 1874. When I was a kid it was still a thriving department store. Today it mostly sells clothes for men. I think the main reason that it has stayed open is that the current owner is big on historic preservation and has the money to carry the store. I can remember when there were several thriving department stores in downtown Champaign. Most left in the 70’s when a mall opened north of town. One called Roberson’s survived until the 90’s. Like some downtowns the one in Champaign has made a comeback, however I don’t think we will ever see the big locally owned department stores again.

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  6. Nancy ( Roe ) Stewart says:

    In Rochester it was Wiles and they had the little cars that carried the money upstairs where the ladies made the change and sent it back down. Blumenthals was another very nice store, too. My mother would take me to Olsens in Logansport to shop for school clothes. They had a revolving door which was pretty neat to a young kid. These stores all went out of the way to give very good service.

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  7. Steve Miller says:

    In Bloomington (IN) we had two locally-owned department stores on the town square, Breeden’s and Wicks Company (née Wick’s Bee Hive). By they time I arrived, Breeden’s had long been bought out by Aldens, a small chain and cataloger. (For a cursory history of the catalog operation, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamble-Skogmo). To the delight of us kids, Aldens added a seasonal toy department, predictably, just before Christmas each year. I think the store tried to compete with Penney’s (also on the square) but what I remember of Aldens is sort of a beige-y and asphalt tile blur…

    Wicks was more impressive to a kid, because it exuded a sense of history: hardwood floors, wonderful dark wood display cases, and elevator — with some polished brass details and a stern lady operator! — and the pièce de résistance: a system of wire baskets to transport your payment to the cash office (and return your change).

    But Bloomington’s most interesting family-owned department store, Schmalz’s, was just around the corner, a half-block north of the square. If you were a scout, you bought your uniform apparel there, while outfitting the rest of the family with whatever they might need. But the biggest attraction for most of us kids was the stuffed, standing Grizzly bear, shot by one of the store’s owners. At least that part of Bloomington’s — and Schmalz’s — history survives. The Grizzly is now on display at the Monroe County History Museum housed in the old Carnegie library building, less than two blocks from its former home.

    Bloomington had at least one other family-owned variety or department store, but I wasn’t familiar with it. Located on West 11th opposite the neighborhood colorfully referred to as “Pigeon Hill,” one Facebooker notes, “When I was a kid a lot of our Christmas came from Burches Store.” Friends, that’s sort of warm memory, the shared history, that will never be repeated about Walmart.

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    • Wow, B’ton was rich in local department/variety stores. I didn’t know. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

      Great point: nobody is going to have wistful memories about big-box stores.

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  8. Pingback: Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon Nikkormat EL | Down the Road

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