Chronology: Baltimore’s Downtown Department Stores Part 1

Posted on April 29, 2019 by

Compiled by K. Meghan Gross, former JMM curatorial assistant. Originally published in Generations – Winter 2001.

The department store is a relatively new institution. In 1840 there were no department stores, in Baltimore or anywhere else. Small general stores were characteristic of country towns and rural areas, whole larger specialty stores were typical of cities. In some large cities in Europe and America, markets or bazaars hosted clusters of small dealers and traders, offering a large variety of goods and services in a single venue. But no one store provided both great variety and great scale under a single roof. Dry goods stores sold fabrics and “fancy goods” such as gloves, hosiery, ribbons, and lace. The same stores might also sell small wares like threads, buttons, and needles and limited lines of ready-to-wear clothing. Provisions, books, household items, and personal services were sold in other kinds of specialty shops.

Gradually, in the 1850s and 1860s, the modern department store emerged in Paris, London, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The new “cathedrals of commerce” or “museums of merchandise” combined unprecedented diversity with great size. Mass production of goods and services made it possible for large stores to stock a wide range of items. The stores were organized into “departments” which sold items ranging from imported china to children’s toys. The emerging department stores employed new marketing strategies that emphasized modest cost and high volume. They fixed and marked their prices and encourage shoppers to browse freely without making a purchase. By the 1880s, the concept of the department store are as a kind of “universal provider” was well-established in Europe and America.

Baltimore’s first great department store was opened in September 1886, by German Jewish immigrant Joel Gutman. Gutman’s opening was hailed as evidence of Baltimore’s coming-of-age as an urban metropolis. Two years later, Gutman’s was joined by the new Hutzler’s “Palace” building. This was followed by Hochschild Kohn’s and Hecht’s Hub (1897), Posner’s (1900; sold shortly after to The Associated Merchants Company), and Bernheimer’s (1908). Smaller downtown department stores included Brager’s, Eisenberg’s, Julius Gutman’s, and Rosenstein Bros. This timeline traces the story of Baltimore’s leading Jewish-owned department stores from their roots in the 1830s and 1840s to their disappearance in recent decades.

1830: Beginning in the 1830s, substantial numbers of Jewish immigrants from German-speaking areas of Europe settle in Baltimore.

Many of the newcomers brought with them experience in buying, selling, trade and barter. For them, peddling and small-store ownership, which requited initiative and hard work but little capital, were natural ways to make a living. Some of these enterprising newcomers found business partners and financing, acquired new property, built larger quarters, hired more employees, and pioneered new ways to sell, service, entertain, and advertise. By 1900 families such as the Hutzlers, Hechts, Hochschilds, Kohns and others, had created some of Baltimore’s grandest enterprises – the great downtown department stores.

1857: Samuel Hecht, Jr. opens his first store on Aliceanna Street in Fells Point.

Like many “German” Jewish immigrants, Samuel Hecht, Jr. worked as a peddler when he first came to Maryland. In 1857 he opened his first store on Aliceanna Street, moving to 412 South Broadway in 1870. Twelve years later, he opened a store on Lexington Street in West Baltimore where he sold imported carpets, oilcloths, linoleum, and other goods. The building was known for its early showrooms and sales department. Samuel Hecht’s sons – Emanuel, Albert, Alexander, and Moses – became active in the family business as it grew.

1858: Abram Hutzler opens his first store.

In 1858 Moses Hutzler lent his name and credit so his son Abram could open M. Hutzler & Son, a small store at the corner of Howard and Clay Streets in West Baltimore, the former site of Elkan Bamburger’s store. Avram Hutzler ran the Howard Street retails tore while hist brothers David and Charles managed the family’s wholesale business, which they operated through the late 1880s. In 1868, the Howard Street store was renamed Hutzler Brothers. The family gradually acquired the two buildings to the south as the business expanded.

1868: Abram Hutzler establishes a one-price policy.

When M. Hutzler & Son established its one-price policy, it was among the first of the Baltimore retailers to adopt such a policy. One-price shopping eliminated bargaining and haggling between seller and buyer, making it more pleasant to shop and work in the fancy dry goods establishments.

1870: B. Kohn and Brother is established by Bernhard Kohn.

Bernhard Kohn opened his family’s first retail store on Baltimore Street. Bernhard Kohn’s sons, Louis B. and Benno Kohn, worked in their father’s store and gained enough experience to open their own, separate department store in 1897 with another experienced dry goods merchant, Max Hochschild.

1874: Hutzler’s begins the first delivery service in Baltimore.

Expanding services to customers was one key to retailing success as competition intensified among the leading stores.

1878: Max Hochschild opens a retail shop on Gay Street.

Max Hochschild arrived in Baltimore in 1870. He found work at Moses Bamberger’s store at the northwest corner of Howard and Lexington Streets, and for several years peddled ribbons. By 1876 Hochschild was able to rent his own small storefront at 261 North Gay Street. He moved into a larger Gay Street building at no. 257 in 1879. By this time, Hochschild’s “One Price Store” employed 25 people and carried a full line of dry and fancy goods.

1886: Joel Gutman & Co.’s four-story, 30,000 square foot department store opens on Eutaw Street.

Joel Gutman’s was Baltimore’s first grand department store, and its opening was the “artistic event of the season,” attracting thousands of people who waiting in line for three blocks to enter the impressive building. The opening of the city’s first grand department store was a momentous occasion that signaled Baltimore’s arrival in the ranks of major American cities. Mindful of his religious obligations, Joel Gutman closed the store on September 30th for Rosh Hashana, in the middle of his grand opening celebration.

Continue to Part 2, publishing on May 6, 2019.

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