Friday, October 26, 2012

Memories of Schuster's and Gimbels on Tuesday, October 30, 7 pm.

You all of course know how much I love old departments stores. So when Paul Geenen told me he was writing a book on Schuster's and Gimbels (note that one has an apostrophe and the other does not, which is a common dichotomy among stores of this variety), I immediately thought of the wonderful display ideas.

1. A window.
2. A display for our curio case.

The only problem? We scheduled the event too close to the book's release date, and thus, there are no copies of Schuster's and Gimbels: Milwaukee's Beloved Department Stores to include in the display. But we had to do the window, as our friend Penny loaned us one of the plaques that was part of the Wisconsin Avenue store. It's very heavy. We also got one of the going out of business banners, but since it doesn't say Gimbels on it, I worried that people would interpret the banner the wrong way.

For the curio cabinet, Paul brought in an assortment of goodies--tee shirts, in-house newsletters, display photos. I included my prize Gimbels cheese tin.

For those who don't know, Schuster's was a family-owned store that, instead of locating downtown, had three locations in the city of Milwaukee, on 3rd Street (now Martin Luther King Drive), Vliet Street (the building is now the Coggs Center) and Mitchell Street.

And Gimbels had many branches too, but their main store was on Wisconsin and Plankinton downtown, much more like a traditional department store. Milwaukee was their first big-city location after starting in Vincennes, Indiana. They then moved east to Philadelphia and then New York. The only location they didn't start from scratch was their big Pittsburgh operation.

Folks like me who grew up in New York generally thought of Gimbels as an also-ran store, so it was a surprise to move to Milwaukee and see them so dominant in the market. I've been assured by numerous sources that Milwaukee was generally their most profitable division, especially as they consolidated their position by merging with Schuster's. The stores were called Gimbels-Schuster's for a number of years, until the closing of the Third Street store.

A lot of folks know about Billie the Brownie, but don't realize that he was a Schuster's Christmas tradition. I asked Paul (who worked for the operation for a number of years) what was the equivalent Gimbel's Christmas mascot. It turned out to be two elephants, Gimbie and Ellie. All were featured on radio shows.

Now all we need is our copies of Schuster's and Gimbels. Our rep Bob has assured us that our copies of Schuster's and Gimbels will arrive by Tuesday!

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