Appreciating Iconic Shopping in Dayton History
By Brian P. Sharp
To answer that…we must first know if there ever was? When I was a child, shopping meant going downtown. I remember fondly getting on the bus with my Grandmother and heading downtown. I learned the fine art of shopping from my Grandma Betty and Aunt Sis (at least my Dad called her Sis- so she became Aunt Sis to me). We were dressed up and excited about all of the options for style and fashion in downtown Dayton…and there were plenty of options!
Let’s for a minute just head south down Main Street from First Street, there was on your right Baynahm shoes and Walker’s men’s store (and later a women’s store too). On your left beside the Victory (now Victoria) theatre was The Metropolitan (The Met) –a department store that specialized in better men’s and ladies clothing. Then as you approach Second Street on your right was Rike’s (later Shillito-Rike’s/Lazarus and now the Schuster Center). Rike’s was a department store like no other! One million square feet of selling space –a city block long, 9 places to eat in the store, furs, fashions for the entire family, furniture, antiquities, housewares, domestics, toys, lawn and garden and even pets. This department store had its own television studio, art gallery, auditorium and infirmary. Remember…we are just in the first block of downtown Dayton! There wasn’t a lot of fashion between Second and Third Streets on Main…but once you crossed Third Street it all started again. Elder-Beerman (which was previously Elder-Johnston) department store sat on the corner of Third and Main and anchored this main intersection with another full line department store on Main Street offering fashion and style for the entire family and home. Then beside “Elder’s,” as many of my friends and family referred to it, was Thal’s a high fashion ladies store owned by Eugene Thal. In later years there was also a Tall Fashions store beside Thal’s and across the street was Donenfeld’s – owned by Ralph and Stanley Donenfeld. Donenfeld’s was another high fashion retailer for women – offering everything from sportswear to furs…and I even remember there was an elevator that had an elevator operator announcing floors. There was also the McCrory (five and dime) while it wasn’t much about fashion and style – it did have a handy lunch counter. Then in earlier years there was the Home Store at Fourth Street. You see, you didn’t have to venture far off Main Street to see style and fashion everywhere downtown.
Let’s not forget the specialty stores…or stores that were not located on Main Street. There was DH Peer on Monument where the Jack and Audrey Margolis could make you look like a million bucks in some of the finest men’s wear offered. Then there was Gidding-Jenny on First Street offering some of the most amazing women’s wear, including bridal, in this part of the country. Across the street from Gidding’s was Lenore Zapolean…and just down the street from Zapolean was Billy Lewis. It was always said if you wanted a new ladies coat – go to Billy Lewis at the corner of First and Ludlow in the Talbot Tower. Then on down Ludlow Street at Second later became the home to the “new” Elder-Beerman store. Then there was Bourne’s for ladies and Dunhill’s at Fourth and Ludlow for men and for many years (and still operating) was Price Stores at Fourth and Jefferson – now specializing in men’s wear, formal wear and bridal.
Shopping was so different then…no one expected or cared about coupons or weekly sales. We appreciated the value, quality and most importantly the service from a selling professional. I remember Rike’s had very few sales – Anniversary Sale in the spring, Fall Festival close to the Holidays, two Downtown Dayton Day’s – and then at the end of every month White Flag Days where white flags actually hung along the outside of the building announcing the month end clearance event. If you had a return you could even pull your car up on Ludlow Street and they would come to your car to get anything you needed to return – never a hassle – never a problem – and handle it for you. And if you didn’t want to carry your packages home on the bus…no worries – Rike’s delivered!
Not only was the shopping different, the shopper was different. People dressed up, downtown Dayton was full of beautifully dressed professionals…and the “ladies who lunch.” I can remember Rike’s auditorium being filled with ladies on lunch hours watching a box lunch fashion show…or running in to the annual auditorium shoe sale.
So, is style gone from downtown Dayton? Well, the customer has shifted – malls opened in the ‘70s and pulled the customer out into the suburbs. Our lives have become fast paced and “one stop” minded. The malls became like baby-sitters. Mom could head to the mall and the kids could roam around while Mom shopped. Mom could hit all of the options for her, her family and her home. So at first many of the downtown stores (Rike’s, The Metropolitan, Donenfeld’s, Walker’s, Baynahm’s and even Thal’s) tried being in the malls…but the customer was different. She cared less about style – less about service – and more about price and convenience. So, did we replace style with convenience? That, my friends, is a whole other article! Downtown is experiencing revitalization and I am proud to live downtown and be a part. I am excited to see Premier Health Partners working hard and fast on the building that once housed Citizens Federal Bank Headquarters. That is going to bring professionals into downtown. That begs the question…where will they eat…where will they shop? It opens the doors of possibility for further retail and yes, style possibilities for downtown.
I do think downtown Dayton has style…and it’s been on the back burner for a while just simmering. The time is approaching, in my humble opinion, to see some of that start to turn around. Just recently a new fashion (skateboarder/urban style) retailer opened on Jefferson Street. It may not be high fashion…but it’s a start! As businesses start to realize the value of being in downtown it will bring the demand for other options. As the real estate market continues to grow in downtown with loft living and new townhomes going up every day…it also brings the demand for other types of retail too.
It’s very stylish to live downtown…it’s very stylish to attend the events downtown. Why don’t you become part of the style of downtown Dayton? What does the future hold? I think we are on the threshold of great things.
Reach DCP freelance writer Brian P. Sharp at Theatre@DaytonCityPaper.com.