Department Store Artwork served as the foundation of newspaper retail advertising for over a century.
Department store artwork vs. photography
Ads from D. H. Holmes and Maison Blanche Department Stores in the Times-Picayune, 4-March-1976. The Holmes ad presents ladies sportswear illustrations. The Maison Blanche ad features photographs of models wearing London Fog coats.
Department Store art departments
The artists that worked for Holmes, MB, Godchaux’s, and Krauss provided the ad copy to the newspapers. While some manufacturers offered “camera ready” artwork of their products, the store artists usually fashioned their own interpretations. They transformed illustrations and photos of anything from clothing to washing machines into ads. Even when provided with artwork, the ad creators still had to size and shape it into the newspaper-ready form.
D. H. Holmes
“Summer Separates by Koret of California” – this ad (top) entices ladies to the “Pontchartrain Sportswear” section of the chain’s stores. Additionally, note the mail order form in the bottom left. Holmes regularly presented ads in one section of Da Paper, with MB doing the same in another.
D. H. Holmes operated their iconic 819 Canal Street store, as well as locations at Lake Forest, Lakeside, Oakwood, and Southland Mall in Houma. Notice the ad, in the New Orleans newspaper, doesn’t list the mall’s name in Houma. Most folks in the metro area wouldn’t make the connection. The Lakeside and Houma locations listed here continue as Dillard’s stores.
MB departs from the regular format on this day. While the ad features quality ladies fashion items, there’s a lot of text here. Three models present London Fog coats for women. The chain invited shoppers to meet Lou Ferrari, a representative of London Fog.
Additionally, Maison Blanche announced several events in this ad. In partnership with the Humanities Committee of Greater New Orleans, they presented a forum in the Canal Street store’s auditorium. Models made informal presentations at lunchtime at the Caribbean Room of the Pontchartrain Hotel, and the store sought instructors and staff for a new in-house program. MB operated their store at 901 Canal Street, as well as at Airline Village, Clearview, Lake Forest, and Westside.
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Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
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A sample of women’s fashion 1914 via ads in the paper.
Women’s fashion 1914
Three snippets from The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, on 4-February-1914. The paper did a daily feature then, “The Picayune’s Daily Fashion Hint.” This day, the hint was on the Fichu. The fichu, a small triangular shawl, was a popular fashion accessory. Two of the big department stores in town, Maison Blanche and D. H. Holmes, placed ads on the same page as the fashion hint. The paper was smaller at the time (16-20 pages). So, it was logical for the stores to advertise near the “hint.”
The text of the “fashion hint” for this day explained the shawl:
THE FICHU STILL HIGH IN FAVOR
That there is no diminution in the popularity of the charmingly feminine fichu is proven by this house frock, included among the fetching wearables brought back from Paris by Mrs. Ogden Goellet. The fichu, of sheer white mull, is attached to a square collar of hand-embroidered handkerchif (sic) linen and the squared lower corners of the fichu are embroidered to match. A soft frill of lace finishes the edge. This dainty fichu is draped over a simple gown of bluet sicilliennc.
The “hint” does not state that the image of the model is the aforementioned Mrs. Odgen Goellet.
The ad for Maison Blanche on the page with the fichu feature is a disconnect. It promotes the store’s Optical Department. “We Test Your Eyes FREE OF CHARGE” is a legit way to get folks into a store, to this day. The Optical Section was on the main floor of Maison Blanche’s Canal Street location. The rule of thumb in department store retail is, if you want to attract men to a department, keep it on the ground floor. Women were much more likely to take the elevator up.
Women’s Evening Slippers
“In the Most Fashionable Models Are Here” – D.H. Holmes presented an ad more in tune with the “fashion hint” on this day. “Tango Slippers” and “Satin Slippers,” along with silver, gold, and beaded slippers. Holmes, in the 800 block of Canal Street, sold these shoes for $2.50 – $8.50. “Never has our assortment been more beautiful than this year.”
Big changes in Canal Street Retail 1897 shook up shopping.
The Mercier Buildings, combined as Maison Blanche, 1898.
Canal Street Retail 1897
Front-page ad for S. J. Shwartz & Co, 3-January-1897
When 1897 opened, changes to the landscape of Canal Street retail were already shaping up. The year-end clearance ads published on January 3rd looked as one would expect. The ads in the first three pages of that day’s edition of The Daily Picayune tell a fascinating tale.
Simon J. Shwartz, youngest son of Abraham Shwartz, set plans in motion that brought the first true department store to town. Shwartz’s store, S.J. Shwartz & Sons, operated from the Mercier Buildings. Simon had the section of the building on the corner of Canal and Dauphine. In 1892, his family’s store, A. Shwartz and Sons, burned, along with most of the businesses in the Touro Buildings. This was the 701 block of Canal Street. The Shwartz family believed the fire was what brought on the heart attack that took Abraham, the patriarch.
Ad for D. Mercier’s Sons, 3-January-1897
While the Jewish families dominated Canal Street, the Merciers operated two blocks down Dauphine Street. “D Mercier’s Sons – The Renowned Clothiers and Hatters” purchased the property in the 901 block of Canal in 1884. They won it at auction, when the chapter of Christ Episcopal decided to move uptown. The church sold off their magnificent church in that year. The Merciers demolished it, constructing a four-story retail building.
701 to 901 to 701
Ad for A. Shwartz & Sons, Canal and Bourbon Streets, 3-January-1897
After the fire, Simon moved quickly, re-opening A. Shwartz and Sons at 901 Canal. He disagreed with his brothers on the direction of the business. So, the family moved back to the Touro Buildings. They secured the four-story building on the corner of Canal and Bourbon. This offered A. Shwartz and Sons a better location. So, back to the 701 block they went. Simon remained at 901 Canal. He gave the 901 store his name.
The Fellman Brothers
Ad for L. Fellman & Co., 3-January-1897
Bernard and Leon Fellman operated Fellman Brothers from a storefront in the Touro Buildings. When the Merciers opened their building at 901, Leon wanted to move down the street. Bernard disagreed. The Fellmans split. Leon moved, opening L. Fellman & Company. His store stood on the lake side of the Mercier Building, next to the Grand Opera House (now the S. H. Kress Building). The store in the 701 block became B. Fellman’s.
By February of 1897, S. J. Shwartz secured purchase of the entire Mercier Building. He served Leon Fellman with a notice of eviction. Fellman had to hustle to re-locate his store. Leon convinced the owners of the Pickwick Hotel (named so because the Pickwick Club met there) to close. He leased that building, across the street, at 800 Canal (corner Carondelet). Fellman converted the hotel into a dry goods store, Leon Fellman’s. So, 1897 saw major expansion, where both Shwartz and Fellman greatly expanded their stores. Meanwhile, the others kept on going in the 701 block.
Shwartz renovated the Mercier Buildings in 1897. He converted the property into a single store floor plan. S. J. Shwartz and Company became Maison Blanche in October of that year.
Ad for D. H. Holmes, 3-January-1897
Between Shwartz and Fellman stores stood D. H. Holmes, in the 801 block. Daniel Henry Holmes opened his store on Canal Street in 1842. He died in 1898. The store continued on until 1989, when Dillard’s acquired the chain. Holmes advertised a wide range of reductions on 3-January-1897. Silks to Brocaded Satin, to Opera Glasses, all on sale.
Ad for Kaufman and Isaacs on Dryades Street, 3-January-1897
Merchants on Dryades Street (now Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.) presented the biggest competition to the Canal Street stores. Kaufman & Isaacs announced “Sacrifice week” on January 3rd:
The coming week will be specially devoted to clearing up old lines of merchandise which were overlooked in the Christmas crush. Every price is special–every value is noteworthy. This is, indeed, the store of the people–the store of economy.
Marks Isaacs split with the Kaufmans in 1905. At the same time, the members of the Newman family who opened Maison Blanche with S. J. Shwartz left the company. Isaacs joined Maison Blanche. He later left MB, opening his own store in the 701 block.
While the players remained, the landscape shifted significantly in 1897.
More on Canal Street
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
To learn more about Canal Street Retail 1897, check out my books, Maison Blanche Department Stores and Krauss: The New Orleans Value Store.
Patreon Note: Usually a blog post such as this would be behind the Patreon wall. I couldn’t figure out how to publish a suitable 100-word introduction to the tale, though. I’ll make it up to my Patrons. We really appreciate you and your support.
Zoom Talk 2020-03-19
I’ve presented this talk to several groups in the last year or so. With everyone holed up because of Covid-19, I did the talk yesterday (19-March) via Zoom. It’s a bit long, because I was sorting out the use of Zoom, so you’ll need to fast-forward through the first 20 minutes of the talk to get to its actual beginning.
Also, TIL: it’s too long for YouTube. I’ll edit out that first portion and get it up there over the weekend. If you’d like to view it now, the link will let you download the MP4 version.
Cash Boys moved the money before cash registers
D.H. Holmes used Cash Boys up to the 1920s. Here’s a group of them in 1910.
Cash Boys were employees of large dry goods and department stores. Before cash registers, these stores puzzled over how to control money on the sales floor. Cash drawers meant money spread out everywhere. Managers trusted their employees, but they didn’t trust customers. Shoplifting required security. Cash required even more security.
Stores centralized cash, usually at a “cashier” station. In some stores, a clerk sat in a booth like that of a bank teller. Sales people worked hard to please customers. Sending the shopper to a cash cage cut into customer satisfaction.
Enter the Cash Boy. The sales clerk wrote up the transaction. The customer paid. The Cash Boy ran the money from the sales counter to the cash desk. The cash clerk made change, stamped the receipt as paid. The Cash Boy ran those back to the customer.
Stores, from Fellman’s to MB, to Holmes, trusted Cash Boys. They were usually children of store employees. They knew that stealing would cost the parent their job. Besides, being a Cash Boy had interesting perks. At Krauss, a couple of cash boys grabbed a quick nap. They slept longer than planned, though. When they woke up, the store closed for the evening. To survive the night, they made their way to the candy counter and sugared up! They didn’t suffer dire consequences, though, since everyone was glad they were all right.
Mechanization of the transaction
Multiple cash drawers required multiple locks and keys. It’s easy to pop open a simple cash drawer. As recently as the 1980s, Radio Shack stores used simple cash drawers. The drawers unlocked by pulling two or three levers under the drawer with your fingers. Simple enough, but a strong pull on the drawer forced it open. When the chain added computers to the sales counter (ironic, given they sold computers for years), a more-secure drawer became part of the system.
Canal Street stores stuck with Cash Boys until well into the 20th Century. Concerns over child labor motivated changes. Some stores converted to cash registers. Krauss Department Store favored a centralized system. They installed a pneumatic tube system in the store at 1201 Canal. They ran tubes from sales counters throughout the store to the office. A five-foot-by-five-foot box fan provided the airflow in the tubes. When a clerk sold something, they wrote up the transaction and put the cash and sales slip into a pod. That pod went in the tube and flew up to the office. The cash clerk processed the sale and returned the slip and change via the tube. Cash boys went back to school.