Filed Under Entrepreneurs

Downtown Department Stores

At their peak, Cleveland's downtown department stores anchored a lower Euclid Avenue that ranked among the largest retail districts in the United States and was compared to New York's stylish Fifth Avenue. Massive, multi-level stores (consisting of various "departments") were built on lower Euclid Avenue around the turn of the twentieth-century.

Heralded for their fanciful window displays and traditions like Halle's "Mr. Jingeling" and Sterling-Linder-Davis's magnificent 50-foot high Christmas tree, the stores drew thousands of shoppers downtown. A trip on the streetcar down to Halle's, Higbee's, May Company and Euclid Avenue's restaurants and ice cream parlors was for many Clevelanders an occasion that called for dressing up. The development of Playhouse Square in the 1920s added to the crowds and excitement along that stretch of Euclid Avenue.

After World War II, the growth of suburbs and shopping malls started to draw business away from downtown and Euclid Avenue. The department stores tried to compete, opening up suburban branches, but by the turn of the 21st century most of these local companies had been bought out by national chains, with their flagship downtown locations converted to other uses. The last of the giants, Higbee's, was purchased in 1992 by Arkansas-based Dillard's and closed its Terminal Tower store in 2002.

Gone but not forgotten, Higbee's became enshrined as a scene in the holiday film "A Christmas Story." Also, if you look closely, you can still glimpse reminders of Cleveland's grand department stores in the soaring terra cotta facade of the Halle Building or the bronze deco Higbee's plaques that adorn its old home on Public Square. Better yet, ask almost any Clevelander past a certain age about shopping on Euclid Avenue, and listen closely while they fondly recall childhood trips downtown.

Video

Shopping in Downtown Cleveland, Pt. 1: Birthdays on Euclid Avenue Creator: Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Shopping In Downtown Cleveland, Pt. 2: A Department For Every Need Creator: Center for Public History + Digital Humanities

Audio

Childhood Trips Downtown Clevelanders fondly recall Euclid Avenue's downtown department stores Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Christmas Window Displays Paul O'Neil comments on the fabulous window displays that drew Clevelanders downtown each year Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Higbees - Just Like A Christmas Story Joanne Blazek recalls her holiday experiences in downtown Cleveland Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
The Sterling-Lindner Christmas Tree Clevelanders recall the world-famous Christmas tree displayed at Sterling-Lindner-Davis Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Halle's Window Display, 1971 Holiday window display at Halle's department store, 1971 Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Higbee's Holiday Display, 1980 Holiday window display at Higbee's department store, 1980 Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Mr. Jingeling, 1966 Mr. Jingeling, the "Keeper of the Keys" to Santa's workshop, first appeared at Halle's in 1956, moving over to Higbee's in 1982 after Halle's closed. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
May Company, 1937 The May Company of Cleveland was founded in 1898 and built its premier Downtown store in 1914. In 1993, Kaufmann's department store chain absorbed May Company, leading to the closure of the downtown landmark, which was located at the corner of Euclid Avenue and Ontario Street. This postcard was given as a souvenir to visitors at the Great Lakes Exhibition of 1936-37. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Higbee's Holiday Ad, 1950 Image courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society
Higbee's Window Display, 1934 Elaborate holiday window displays were popular attractions for many Clevelanders, even during the Great Depression when spending money was scarce. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Sterling Lindner Davis Christmas Tree, 1960 The Sterling Lindner Davis department store was well-known for having the largest live Christmas tree display in the world. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
May Company Delivery, ca. 1920 In this humorous image, two young boys and a donkey are substituted for the men that typically drove horse-drawn wagons on home deliveries for the May Company. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections

Location

Metadata

“Downtown Department Stores,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 16, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/23.