Photographs by Josh Scott
Not so long ago, it was de rigueur for smartly dressed men and women to don a hat. As the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear, we showcase these vintage hatboxes as a springboard to jump back in time and remember some long-vanished retailers that kept Detroiters looking their best.
High-end, avant-garde retailers carried Elsa Schiaparelli’s women’s and men’s clothes. The Italian designer was often regarded as Coco Chanel’s most serious rival, and many of Schiaparelli’s chic but whimsical designs kept Chanel on her toes. Schiaparelli was so fashion-forward that she even collaborated with surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. Schiaparelli’s favorite color was shocking pink, as is reflected in this hatbox. She even dubbed her trademark perfume “Shocking!” and her autobiography was titled Shocking Life.
Although its main stock in trade was quality women’s fashions, Healy’s also for a time sold fine art, a nod to founder Daniel Joseph Healy’s interest in collecting paintings. An ad in the 1940 Detroit City Directory touted the store’s “Fashions and Fine Arts.” Another ad crowed “The Home of Fashion and Quality in Detroit for Over 58 years.” In addition to the flagship downtown store on Woodward, there were several other city and suburban locations. Healy’s closed in the early 1960s.
B. Siegel Co.
Benjamin Siegel founded his company (known widely as Siegel’s) in 1881. The six-story flagship store downtown on Woodward originally dealt exclusively in women’s clothing, but children’s duds were later added. There was also a busy branch store at Seven Mile and Livernois on Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion. Before long, suburban locations sprang up. For years, Siegel’s ad tag was “Where Fashion Reigns.” To the dismay of many women, the company filed for bankruptcy in 1981, a century after its founding. The vacant Woodward location was destroyed by fire.
Yet another retailer aimed at fashionable women, Irving was at 47 E. Adams St. in the Tudor-style building now occupied by Cheli’s Chili Bar, owned by former Detroit Red Wing Chris Chelios. At the top left of this hatbox is a sketch of the building with the words “Facing Grand Circus Park …” underneath. Eventually, Irving also opened a Grosse Pointe location.
Along with Hudson’s and Crowley’s, Kern’s completed the triumvirate of downtown department stores. Kern’s stood at Woodward and Gratiot avenues, although there were was a previous location on Randolph. Kern’s trademark was its clock, and it was common for shoppers to say, “I’ll meet you under the Kern’s clock.” The store closed in 1959 and was demolished in 1966. Compuware restored the clock and it’s now at Woodward and Gratiot.
Founded by Wolf Himelhoch in downtown Detroit in 1907, the chic emporium catered to fashionable women, although eventually it added men’s and children’s clothing. The elegant store had entrances on Woodward Avenue and Washington Boulevard. They branched out with locations in Birmingham, Grosse Pointe, and Dearborn, as well as in selected malls. By late 1978, all stores had closed. The original downtown store still stands and is home to senior apartment housing.
A gift encased in one of Julie’s trademark pink boxes always harbored a tony accessory or raiment for a stylish lady. Located inside the Fisher Building in Detroit’s New Center, Julie was long a magnet for well-appointed women. An ad from the 1965 Meadow Brook Music Festival program succinctly summed up its au courant wares: “Julie in the Fisher Building, Detroit: Divine, Exciting Clothes.”
With its signature logo of clusters of violets on boxes and bags, Bonwit Teller was instantly recognizable. The posh store, headquartered in New York City, opened in the 1890s. “Bonwit’s” opened a Detroit-area store in the late ’60s at Somerset Mall (now Somerset Collection). The location was adorned with marble, a plant-filled atrium, and a mural by Richard Lowell Neas. But the grande dame underwent bankruptcy proceedings, and locations closed by 1990. The Somerset store was razed to make way for Neiman Marcus in 1992.
Capper & Capper
Many well-tailored gentlemen flocked to the downtown store in the swanky David Whitney Building for suits, hats, and other accessories, and it was the exclusive Detroit retailer for Hickey Freeman suits. Capper & Capper also had a Chicago location; in later years a suburban store opened at Somerset. This oval-shaped hatbox boasts “Detroit Outfitters to Gentlemen,” a clear case of truth in advertising. The store shuttered in the late ’80s.
Catering to the career woman’s wardrobe, Winkelman’s had locations all over town. It was typical for a retailer to house its flagship store downtown and then branch out. But Winkelman’s store on Woodward in the central business district didn’t open until 1956, filling in the location that had been home to Russek’s. Brothers Isadore and Leon Winkelman opened their first store in 1928, and they spread throughout the Midwest, but by the late 1990s, the company went bankrupt and closed its doors.
Peck & Peck
If a retailer years ago could boast a tony Washington Boulevard address, it was undoubtedly a luxury emporium. That’s what Peck & Peck was, which carried its own labeled quality women’s wear. It was established in New York as a hosiery outlet by siblings George and Edgar Wallace Peck in 1888. In addition to the downtown store, there was another Peck & Peck on Kercheval Avenue in Grosse Pointe. There were close to 80 stores nationwide when the retailer sold off its properties in the 1970s.
Best & Co.
Best & Co. was a luxury store on New York’s Fifth Avenue, but saw opportunity in other upscale markets. The company chose a location on Kercheval in Grosse Pointe to showcase its merchandise here. Founded by Albert Best in 1879, Best & Co. also had a section devoted to children, which it dubbed the Lilliputian Bazaar. The retailer closed in 1971, but was briefly revived on a small scale in the late 1990s, only to shutter again.
Synonymous with excellent customer service, top-drawer merchandise, and tasty cuisine, Jacobson’s was a beloved Michigan retailer, although there were also other stores in the Midwest and in Florida. It first opened in Reed City, Mich., in 1868. The end came in 2002 with its bankruptcy. Even during liquidation, proud employees were persnickety about keeping the store tidy, according to Bruce Allen Kopytek’s book Jacobson’s: I Miss It So!
The venerable J.L. Hudson Co. was the granddaddy of all Detroit retailers. Its downtown location was the world’s tallest department store. Women shoppers at Hudson’s could find clothing at several price points, but the most exclusive threads, advertised on this hatbox, were at The Woodward Shops, which, according to Michael Hauser and Marianne Weldon’s book 20th-Century Retailing in Downtown Detroit, opened in 1948 on Hudson’s seventh floor. Sadly, the downtown store closed in 1983, but more heartbreaking still was when the hulking structure was imploded in October 1998.