Saturday, August 14, 2021

The Complete History of the Mandel Brothers Department Store, Chicago.

This retail enterprise was founded in 1855 by Bavarian immigrants Solomon Mandel and his uncle Simon Klein. Their first store, "Klein and Mandel," was located on Clark and Monroe Streets (razed by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871). In 1865, after Solomon's brothers Leon and Emanuel joined the firm, its name became Mandel Brothers.

The firm occupied several different locations during the early 1870s. The great fire of 1871 consumed the original store at Clark and Van Buren Streets. In the aftermath of the fire, they erected a new store at State and Harrison Streets, only to see it burn to the ground as well in the south side fire of 1874. After the second fire, the firm established new quarters at 121-123 State Street, reportedly at the urging of Marshall Field, who envisioned State Street as the future retailing center of the city.

The State Street location proved a prosperous one for Mandel Brothers. Purchasing in New York and Paris and selling in Chicago, the enterprise grew. As business picked up during the 1880s and 1890s, the Mandels gradually expanded their store by purchasing or leasing several adjacent properties. In 1884, they purchased the building at 117-119 State Street, followed by the building at 111-115 North Wabash Avenue in 1893. 
1890s Illustration of the Mandel Brothers Department Store, State, and Madison, Chicago. (Postcard c.1900)

Five years later, they added the five-story building at the northeast corner of State and Madison Streets and undertook a massive rebuilding project that joined all three State Street stores into one, increased their height to a uniform eight stories, and replaced their brick and stone fronts with a cast-iron facade designed to resemble those of the most fashionable Paris department stores of the era. The rebuilt structure, with its new elevators, eighth-floor cafeteria, ladies’ waiting rooms, and a series of street-level, plate-glass display windows, set a new standard for the city’s department stores.
Mandel Brothers Department Store at State and Madison, Chicago. (c.1890)

Beginning in 1898, the second generation of Mandels, led by Frederick Leon Mandel, son of Leon Mandel, assumed greater control over the firm’s operations. Under their management, Mandel Brothers moved forward with additional store expansion projects. In 1900, the firm secured the leasehold on the former site of the A.C. McClurg dry goods store at the northeast corner of Madison Street and Wabash Avenue. On this property, the firm erected a massive new, twelve-story building designed by Holabird & Roche, which was completed in 1901 and gave the firm a continuous frontage along Madison Street between State Street and Wabash Avenue. Then, in 1912, Mandel Brothers replaced its aging State Street buildings with a single, modern 16-story structure, likewise designed by Holabird & Roche.

Mandel Brothers continued to grow during the 1920s. In 1928, annual sales revenue surpassed $25 million for the first time in store history, yielding a profit of over $250,000 ($515,000 today). Business slumped badly during the Great Depression of the early 1930s, with annual sales dropping to below $15 million. The store lost nearly $900,000 ($16.20 million today) in 1931. By the late 1930s, however, the situation improved. In 1937, the store turned a $408,000 profit, the largest since 1927.

Sales and profits at Mandel Brothers surged to new highs during the Second World War, as the wartime economy all but eliminated local unemployment and boosted Chicagoans’ wages. Store profits climbed to $1.2 million in 1944 and annual sales revenue reached an all-time high of $36.3 million in 1948. Like other Loop department stores, Mandel Brothers made several noteworthy contributions to the national war effort. In 1942, for example, the store donated its 300 air-conditioning compressor units to the War Production Board for use in the production of synthetic rubber, high octane gasoline, and other war products. New units were not installed until after the war’s end in 1945. Store executives and employees actively supported the local war bond drives. And Leon Mandel, Frederick Leon Mandel’s son, temporarily left the business to serve in the Army Air Force. Mandel Brothers were also the site of Chicago’s Air WAC Corner, where members of the Women’s Army Corps discussed the domestic war effort with store customers.

Immediately after the war, Mandel Brothers spent more than $2.2 million on store renovations and other upgrades that had been deferred due to wartime restrictions. The firm installed an employee service center, a new employee cafeteria, a new air-conditioning system, and new escalators above the fourth floor. Several floors were completely redecorated. The store’s communications system and steam and electric generating plants also received major overhauls. All renovations were completed by early 1948.
Mandel Brothers Gift Box Wrapping Tissue Seal.
Thanks to Jay Bielic.
Despite the improvements, business at the store declined between 1948 and 1949, and continued to do so during the 1950s as more and more Chicagoans moved to the suburbs and shopped in the Loop less often. Between 1948 and 1958, annual sales revenue dropped 19.4 percent from $36.3 million to $29.2 million. In an attempt to capture some of the expanding suburban retail trade, Mandel Brothers opened a branch store in the Lincoln Village shopping plaza at Lincoln and McCormick Avenues in November 1952, but the one-story store was too small and sales volume too meager to save the struggling firm financially. Between 1952 and 1960, Mandel Brothers posted an annual profit only twice and lost $3.27 million.
Mandel Brothers Department Store at State and Madison celebrate their 100th anniversary in 1955.

With losses mounting, store executives, several of whom were Mandel family members and over sixty years of age, began to look for ways to liquidate the business. A 1955 plan to sell the store to a group of eastern investors for a reported $9.3 million, though at first quite promising, never materialized. Then, in April 1960, merger talks began between Mandel Brothers and Chicago’s Wieboldt Stores, Inc. After lengthy discussions and the requisite approvals by shareholders of both companies, Wieboldt’s agreed to purchase Mandel Brothers for $2.75 million and stock transfers. The deal was finalized in August 1960. With the deal, the Mandel Brothers nameplate disappeared from Chicago’s retail landscape and Wieboldt’s, one of the city’s oldest department stores, gained a presence on State Street for the first time.

Wieboldt’s occupied the former Mandel Brothers flagship store until 1987. After Wieboldt’s closed, the former Mandel Brothers buildings were partially refurbished and subdivided into offices and several individual retail stores.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

1 comment:

The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™ is RATED PG-13. Please comment accordingly. Advertisements, spammers and scammers will be removed.