While cleaning out my parent’s basement, I discovered a bunch of old newspaper clips from the Apollo 11 moon landing, dated July 21, 22, 23, and 24, 1969. The clips themselves are intriguing, although essentially worthless from a monetary standpoint. I actually found myself more fascinated by the ads. I have highlighted a few of the business of yesteryear that once upon a time graced the Windy City. Although I have blogged about other defunct Chi-Town shops, this article only features retail stores for which I found ads – a subsequent article will cover a few cultural venues unearthed in these clips.
Benson-Rixon men’s store had multiple locations, including the flagship location at 230 South State Street – now home to a McDonalds on the ground level. This is not a store that my dad frequented – he was a Brooks Brothers guy through and through! This store has a fascinating history – in the ad it is called Benson-Rixon, but other references refer to the store as Benson & Rixon. Hans A. Rixon, born in 1864, the son of a German manufacturer of woolen goods, immigrated to Chicago with his family. In 1886, he started clerking for Charles Rixon at 701 Milwaukee Avenue and served as the store’s general manager. In 1890, he opened his own gent’s clothing shop at 851 North Avenue, continuing this business until 1895. He then combined his business with Mr. Rixon’s business, moving to 1730 Milwaukee Avenue. In 1896, Mr. Rixon became a partner and vice president of the Benson-Rixon store, originally established by Paul J. Benson and Albert Rixon in 1889. According to an excerpt from the History of Cook County, Illinois, by 1909, the gentlemen owned three stores.
I also found a reference to George Rixon Benson, who died at the age of 64 in 1946, from an apparent heart attack in his sleep. It says that he was president of the Benson and Rixon Company at the time of his death. He must have done very well because he was a resident of the very affluent North Shore suburb Kenilworth. At age 16, Mr. Benson joined the firm founded by his father Paul, and when his father died just two years later, he assumed the presidency. At that time there was only one store at 1301 Milwaukee Avenue. By 1946, there were four stores throughout Chicagoland (according to the obituary). The Milwaukee Avenue address differs from the one noted in the 1909 article – either they moved or one of the articles is inaccurate. In any case, by 1969, there were 11 locations, but none listed on Milwaukee Avenue.
Bond’s and Foyers
I cannot find much about Bond’s online, other than a passing reference about the ill-fated Pedestrian Mall on State Street. I did notice in the ad that there was a Bond’s at Lawrencewood in Niles – we went to that mall once or twice in my youth. The huge Korean grocery store Super H Mart anchors the space that was once Lawrencewood. Bond’s, like Benson-Rixon, had multiple locations – seven are listed in the ad from 1969. Likewise, not much about Foyers, a chain of women`s retail clothing stores, except that A. Sigmund Firestone founded the company and served as president until 1984. He died in 1989 at the age of 79.
When Morrie Mages was just 12, he began working with his father Henry, in a small sporting goods store on Maxwell Street along with his brothers Irv, Sam and Ben. The family business grew and by the early 1950s, a chain of five Mages sporting goods stores were operating throughout the city and suburbs. Mages Sporting Goods, a seven-story building at LaSalle and Ontario Streets, was like no other retail store I had ever set foot in. It was billed as the world`s largest sporting goods store, and I loved the odd things you could find there. I don’t think I ever went into the store on Wells Street, mentioned in the above ad.
In high school, I made the track & field team by competing in the rather esoteric event of shot put. At just 5 feet tall and not particularly big, I sucked at this, but because it was a somewhat obscure event, I made the team. I bought awesome royal blue and yellow suede Puma Clyde III shoes at Mages and several shot puts! I had the Puma shoes all the way through my RISD years, until they got too smelly and I had to toss them – but I still have the box! I bought a really weird pair of 1940s leather track shoes at Mages – a pencil drawing of these shoes was one of the pieces that helped get me into RISD. I also remember buying really fantastic pale blue leather ski gloves there. My dad would take me there after he was done with patients – I met him at his Michigan Avenue office and he always let me browse to my heart’s content. They had wonderful bins of close-out items – harkening back to their days on Maxwell Street, I’m guessing.
In 1987, Mages sold his three Chicago stores to MC Sporting Goods, which still operates throughout the Midwest, including Illinois, but no longer in metropolitan Chicago. Sports Authority has a flagship store at what was Mages Sporting Goods – I think it was briefly a Sportsmart before that chain was absorbed by Gart Brothers in 1998, which in 2003 merged with Sports Authority.
Lytton’s (Henry C. Lytton & Company)
I never set foot in any of Lytton’s locations except for Old Orchard Mall, and that was because a girl I knew in high school worked there. The clothing seemed very matronly and decidedly not hip at a time when bell bottoms and printed polyester shirts were considered de rigueur, mind you. The retailer cut back from 12 stores to three in October 1984 as part of its reorganization to pay off some $15.8 million in liabilities. Nicknamed the Hub, the flagship store on the corner of Jackson and State Streets in the Otis Building (335 South State Street) opened in 1887. Just shy of celebrating its 100th birthday, the retailer closed its doors for good in 1986.
In 1929, Abraham Meltzer founded Evans Furs, opening a small store at 162 North State Street. Although affected by the Great Depression, Meltzer’s fur store weathered the financial storm and prospered during the 1930s. In 1936, he moved the store to 36 South State Street, where the headquarters remained until Evans went out of business in 1999. In the decades between, the furrier expanded, enjoying great success in the 1940s-50s. During the 1950s, Meltzer began to supply furs and handle fur sales for large department stores on the East Coast. This side of the business spread to retailers across the U.S. who had Evans fur salons in their stores. By the end of that decade, Evans, Inc. was widely regarded as one of the most elegant and successful furriers in the country.
The beginning of the end actually started in the 1960s. David Meltzer took over the business from his father in 1964. There was already an animal-rights movement brewing with anti-fur activism that focused on convincing consumers that wearing any kind of fur was cruel and malicious to the fur-bearing animals. This led to the anti-fur rallies the Friday after Thanksgiving (still going strong) down the Magnificent Mile. Evans’ second store on Michigan Avenue would hire a billboard truck to park in front of its sign to obscure it from marchers. Fueled by a dramatic change in fashion in which younger women regarded furs as matronly, sales for the entire industry plummeted from $335 million in 1967 to just over $250 million by the mid-1970s.
Despite this reality, in the early 1980s, David Meltzer decided to aggressively expand Evans, establishing new stores in metropolitan Chicago, and other select cities across the U.S., and selling Evans furs in salons located in major department stores. Evans, Inc. had fur salons in Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Las Vegas, Dallas, and Oklahoma City. It was during this time that my ex-husband landed his first job in the U.S. after immigrating from the Netherlands. The job at the Michigan Avenue Evans was advertised as a shipping/tariff clerk, but all he did was push racks of coats through a warehouse – needless to say, he lasted just one day on the job!
The expansion, which was a financial disaster, coupled with internal strife at the top, including a shuffling of CEO duties within the family – inevitably led to the company’s demise. From 1996 to 1999, the company lost money, and the stock had fallen to just above one dollar per share. In the summer of 1999, the management team at Evans decided to sell the remaining company stores in the Chicago area and concentrate on the department store salons. Evans fur coats are plentiful at resale stores and on eBay and are still associated with high quality luxury.
Thanks to Chuckman’s Collection for select photos.