May Company

Description

The new May Company department store opened on Public Square in 1915. Containing over 800,000 square feet of floor space, it was said to be the third largest store in the nation. Built by world-famous architect and city planner Daniel Burnham (who also designed Cleveland's Group Plan and Mall, as well as the White City at Chicago's 1893 World's Fair), it reflects the architectural values of the City Beautiful movement popularized by Burnham. Its gleaming white terra cotta facade, clean lines, and symmetrical detailing gives the building a dignified and elegant look. Unlike many of the classically-influenced City Beautiful type buildings, however, its durable steel and concrete frame allowed for the generous inclusion of wide "Chicago style" (tripartite) windows facing Public Square. But what really excited the public about the new May Company were the luxurious shopping areas that could be found behind its front doors.

Shoppers could expect to find everything they needed at May Company. Clothing, housewares, furniture: it was all there, spread across dozens of departments. In addition, the building contained the city's largest soda fountain, an auditorium for cooking and fashion demonstrations, a hair salon (including a "children's barber shop"), a "children's playground" staffed by a storytelling governess where mothers could drop off their children while shopping, and 23 passenger elevators. Over 2500 employees worked at the store, including a trained nurse at the baby department who advised "mothers as to the proper dressing and care for infants," as well as "nine young women, conversant with ten languages" who made up the "foreign department," where foreign speaking patrons could find help.

The May Company, founded in Denver in 1888, first opened in Cleveland in 1899 after purchasing the E.R. Hull & Dutton Company's store on Ontario Street near Public Square. Burnham's 1915 building underwent expansion in 1931 that saw the addition of two floors, increasing the sales area to over 1 million square feet. In the 1950s, May Company began an expansion into the suburbs, following the population's movement away from the city. By 1979, it had nine branches throughout Northern Ohio. Shifting population and spending patterns eventually forced May Company and the other Cleveland department stores to curtail their downtown businesses, leading to their closures in the 1980s and 1990s. May Company's downtown store ultimately closed in January 1993, and its remaining stores became a part of the Kaufmann's chain.

Photos Show

May Company, 1924

The May Company Building a little under ten years after its construction. Two additional floors were added to the structure in 1931 but the basic design remained the same. In the foreground is the southeast corner of Public Square.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Old May Co., 1899

The original Cleveland May Company was located in the old E.R. Hull & Dutton Company dry goods store on Ontario Street near Public Square. Indicative of the company's success, the building was expanded several times before the new May Company Building opened in 1915.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Delivery Wagon, ca. 1900s

Early May Company deliveries were made by a fleet of horse-drawn wagons.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Old May Co. Interior

The sales floor of the old, pre-1915 May Company store is shown here. How does it differ from the look of the new store,

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Shoe Dept., 1931

The luxuriousness of the women's shoe department can be seen in this photograph from 1931.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Dollhouse Display, 1935

Silent movie star Colleen Moore toured the country showing this "fairy castle" she helped create to raise money for children's charities. In Cleveland, the piece was on display in the May Company. Its elaborately designed interior featured diamond-encrusted chandeliers, bear skin rugs, and murals painted by Walt Disney.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Millinery Department, 1931

The ladies millinery (hat) department at the May Company was extensive. Special features of the department included a private room where women in mourning could be fitted and a "French room" where hats for gala events were displayed.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

May's on the Heights, 1957

The May Company in University Heights, located at the intersection of Warrensville and Cedar Roads, opened in 1956 and signaled the company's shift towards suburban areas. Several more May Company branches opened in Cleveland's suburbs in the following two decades. This complex was demolished in the 1990s to make way for a new shopping center.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Cite this Page

“May Company,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 1, 2014, http:/​/​clevelandhistorical.​org/​items/​show/​241.​
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