Bygone Louisville Department Stores
Area vintage shops prize clothing from local department stores – which happens to be the subject of Et Cetera.
J. Bacon and Sons is considered by some to be the first true department store, rising up in the River City in 1845. Eventually the store grew to include in 63 departments.
Bacon’s had several branches around town and established the first large suburban department store in the area, a free-standing store on Shelbyville Road, in 1951.
Kaufman-Straus Dry Goods Store was founded in 1879 by Louisville retailer Henry Kaufman, with partner Benjamin Straus joining in 1883. As part of a New York City buying group, the store offered an extensive selection of merchandise.
The height of Kaufman’s was in the 1950s and it was considered one of the finest department stores in the city.
Kaufman’s downtown location operated for 92 years, closing its doors in 1971.
Although not the first department store in Louisville, Stewart’s became the standard against which all others in the area were measured.
Started in 1846 as Durkett and Heath’s New York Store, it was eventually helmed by Louisvillian Louis Stewart, under whom the department store flourished. The flagship store went up at Fourth and Walnut, now Muhammad Ali Boulevard, in 1907.
A hat and gloves were standard attire for a day of shopping Stewart’s, and the outing often included lunch at is elegant Orchid Tea Room. Stewart’s was also known for its sale promotions, designer windows, Christmas parades, and fashion shows.
The 1960s and 70s signaled the end of the department store era in Louisville, as residents spread out to the suburbs and malls went up.
According to Past Perfect Vintage, many of Louisville’s original department store buildings still exist downtown, under new use.
Our special thanks to the University of Louisville Archives and Photographic Archives for the use of their historical images.Etc.:
- According to "The Encyclopedia of Louisville", the first dry goods store opened in Louisville in 1783. It was basically a double-sized log cabin with glass pane windows, featuring merchandise from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The store was located on the north side of Main St. between Fifth and Sixth Streets and was owned by Daniel Brodhead. This mercantile outlet was the precursor to department stores.
- The first hub of retail trade in Louisville lined-up along the Ohio River, but later Fourth Street became a more popular destination, due to its corridor of restaurants, theaters and hotels.
- "The Encyclopedia of Louisville" states that, “A 1907 pamphlet published by the Retail Merchants Association listed three department stores in Louisville: J. Bacon Y Sons, Stewart’s and Kaufman-Straus.”
- Bacon’s was bought by Dillard’s in 1998.
- The Louisville Free Public Library used to occupy space within the Fourth Street location of Kaufman’s from 1887 (initially as the Polytechnic Society of Kentucky) until 1908, according to "The Encyclopedia of Louisville".
- Kaufman’s Fourth Street building is now part of the Fourth Street Live! complex.
- Louis Stewart was president of Stewart’s Dry Goods Company from 1893 to 1900. His success eventually carried him away from Louisville to New York City.
- The Stewart’s building at 501 S. 4th Ave. is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Louisville, Kentucky.
- Wikipedia states that, “The front of the downtown (Stewart’s) Louisville store is featured in one of the very first scenes from the 1981 movie Stripes in which two teens dash out of a cab driven by actor Bill Murray without paying the fare and a passenger played by actress Fran Ryan is picked up.”
- According to Past Perfect Vintage, Stewart’s “was one of the largest department stores in the south”.
- Stewart’s operated at Fourth Street from 1907 until it was absorbed by L.S. Ayres in 1985.
- Frequented and locally-owned men’s and women’s specialty stores such as Levy Brothers, Bon Ton, and H.P. Selman and Co. helped round out the downtown shopping experience.
- In additions, popular Louisville department stores of the past include Ben Snyder and Rodes-Rapier, among others.
- Learn much more about Louisville’s bygone department stores at Past Perfect Vintage.
- Program 509
- With Valentine's Day around the corner, "Louisville Life" has covered all the bases - from local sweets to well-loved items of yesteryear. Visit Dundee Candy Shop, Nitty Gritty vintage ... and get advice from a marriage and family therapist about how to keep love alive. (#509)