Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Hub, Henry C. Lytton & Sons Company (Lytton Department Stores), Chicago's Premier Clothing Retailer. (1887-1986)

Henry Charles Lytton & Sons Company, popularly known as “The Hub,” was one of Chicago’s premier clothing stores during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The store was originally located on the northwest corner of State and Jackson Streets in Chicago’s Loop. In 1912, the store moved into the newly built Lytton Building at 235-243 South State Street. Though specializing in men’s clothing, The Hub also had retail sales departments devoted to women’s clothing, children’s wear, shoes, and other accessories.

The Hub was founded by Henry Charles Lytton, the son of a New York shirt manufacturer. Born on July 13, 1846, Lytton entered the merchandising trade as an errand boy in 1861. During the late 1860s, he helped manage an unsuccessful clothing store with his brother in the small Michigan town of Ionia. After the Ionia store failed, Lytton managed stores in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Indianapolis, Indiana. These stores proved more successful than his first venture and, by 1886, Lytton had amassed personal savings in excess of $12,000 ($350,000 today).

Quitting the Indianapolis store, Lytton relocated to Chicago and opened a clothing store of his own. Spending his entire savings and taking out additional loans, he leased a five-story building on the northwest corner of State and Jackson Streets and began to make inventory purchases. 

In early 1887, Lytton opened his new store for business. He named it “The Hub” to call attention to its central location and adopted the slogan of the “World’s Greatest Clothing Store.

The Hub Chicago Tribune Pre-Opening Ads: Sunday, April 17, 1887; Tuesday, April 19, 1887; Saturday, April 23, 1887, and Sunday, April 24, 1887,
The Hub Pre-Opening Chicago Tribune, Sunday, April 24, 1887.



 
The Day After the Grand Opening of "The Hub" Clothing House. 
Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, April 28, 1887

An event of considerable importance took place yesterday morning, Monday, April 27, 1887, when the new men's general outfit store called "The Hub" opened its doors at 9 o'clock. The proprietor, Mr. Henry C. Lytton, is noted for his push and enterprise, and has over twenty years' experience in his line of business. Four years ago he opened the largest store of the kind in the State of Indiana at Indianapolis. Mr. Lytton has also done business in St. Louis, New York City, and Rochester, Indiana. Two reasons induced him to open his store at the corner of State and Jackson streets in Chicago. He happened to get the store on a reasonably long lease and was enabled to purchase his goods at an enormously reduced price. This spring manufacturers are overstocked with goods and "The Hub," celebrating its spring opening so late in the season, has been able to buy up a large stock 25 to 30 per cent below regular prices. This reduction, of course, enables it to sell goods this season at prices that other stores have to pay when purchaasing the goods.

The store at the corner of Jackson and State streets will be remembered as formerly having been occupied by a dry-goods store; and a dingy, dirty place it was. Such a marvelous change has been wrought by the decorator's art, however, that visitors yesterday were amazed at the magnificence and splendor displayed. Floral decorations were numerous and huge bouquets filled the air with perfume. The thirty clerks, with boutonnieres in their coats, were kept busy, and, altogether, the store appeared to be what its name indicates — "The Hub." The store contains an immerse variety of men's and boys' clothing, furnishing goods, hats and caps. One of the features will be a children's department containing the best class of goods in kilt and knee-pants,suits from the finest houses in Rochester, Boston, and New York. Mr. Lytton, a stanch believer in advertising, said he would do business on the one-price plan and refund the money in all cases where purchases are not satisfactory. The firm received over fifty congratulatory telegrams in the course of the day, and numerous friends personally extended their felicitations to the managers.

To attract customers, Lytton employed a variety of attention-grabbing promotions and publicity stunts. On one occasion, he tossed free overcoats from the roof of his store to the crowds gathered below. Like other Chicago retailers, Lytton also relied heavily on newspaper advertising. Store ads not only announced the arrival of new merchandise and upcoming sales but also touted the store’s amenities and attempted to build up its reputation. Newspaper advertising proved particularly important during the holiday shopping season, when the store, primarily known for its menswear, strove to make women gift-givers feel welcome as customers. As one 1924 advertisement promised, “The ease, the convenience, the courtesy, and the economy that women enjoy at The Hub during the holiday season make choosing acceptable Christmas gifts for men a most delightful occupation.”

Strong business growth enabled The Hub to expand operations during the 1910s and 1920s. In 1913, the store moved across the street into a new building at 14 East Jackson Boulevard on the northeast corner of State Street. 
The Hub's New Building with two entrances; one at 235 South State Street, the other at 14 East Jackson Boulevard, Chicago.
The new Lytton Building was eighteen stories tall and cost an estimated $2.25 million to build. It was designed by the architectural firm of Marshall & Fox, whose other works included the Blackstone Hotel, the Drake Hotel, and the South Shore Country Club. The Hub store occupied the lower eight floors and two basements of the Lytton Building, while the upper floors were used for offices.

Henry Charles Lytton
Lytton retired in 1917, four years after the new store opened, and turned the business over to his son, George Lytton. However, when George died in 1933, the elder Lytton returned to serve as president of the business and remained in that position until his death.

Lytton’s was one of the first major downtown retailers to open satellite stores targeting Chicago’s growing suburban markets.

The Hub opened its first satellite store in downtown Evanston in March 1926. The two-story shop was located in the Orrington Hotel at Orrington Avenue and Church Street. By 1940, the Evanston store had expanded to occupy the entire two-story Beake Building at the northeast corner of Sherman and Church and the adjacent Tudor Shops Building at 701-713 Church Street. In 1950, Lytton’s erected a new store on the Beake and Tudor Shops Buildings site and vacated the Orrington Hotel site. The new building featured air conditioning throughout the store, escalators connecting the first and second floors, and had windowless exterior walls that prevented sunlight from interfering with interior lighting effects designed to highlight the store’s merchandise. The Evanston satellite store closed in 1984.

The second Hub store opened in March 1927 at the northwest corner of Broadway and Fifth Avenue in Gary, Indiana. The store was destroyed by a fire in 1966.

The Hub's third store opened in October 1927 at 1035 West Lake Street in Oak Park. In 1957, the store moved into a new $1.4 million building at the northwest corner of Forest Avenue and Lake Street. The new store contained 34,000 square feet of floor space, more than twice as big as the original Oak Park store. The Lytton’s Oak Park store closed in early 1986, being liquidated in bankruptcy.

More Lytton satellite stores were opened in Joliet (1947), Evergreen Park shopping center in Evergreen Park (1952), Golf Mill shopping center in Niles (1960), Park Forest Plaza, Park Forest (1964), Old Orchard shopping center in Skokie (1965), River Oaks shopping center in Calumet City (1965), Orland Square in Orland Park (1977), as well as Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Hawthorn shopping center in Vernon Hills, Fox Valley shopping center in Aurora, and the Tri-City shopping center in Gary, Indiana.
1933/34 Chicago Century of Progress World's Fair.


In 1946, in honor of Mr. Lytton’s 100th birthday, the store's name was officially changed from “The Hub, Henry C. Lytton & Sons Company” to “Lytton’s.” The name change also reflected a concern of the store’s executives over the widespread use of “The Hub” moniker by other retailers. Lytton died on March 31, 1949, at 102 years old and is buried at Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum in Chicago.
The Hub's New Building at 14 East Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, 1951 Postcard.


In 1961, a New York-based men’s clothing manufacturer, Cluett, Peabody & Co., gained control of Lytton’s through the acquisition of a majority of the company’s stock. Under the ownership of Cluett, Peabody & Co., sales at first remained relatively strong, and new stores were opened in several suburban Chicago shopping malls. 

During the 1970s, however, the changing economics of the American garment industry and increased competition from discount retailers hurt Lytton’s sales. Several stores in the chain began to lose money. 

In 1983 a St. Louis, Missouri investment group headed by Thomas Raffery, former chairman of May Department Store Company's Venture discount stores, and Matthew Kallman, former president of Stix, Baer & Fuller department stores in St. Louis.

The new owners could not stop Lytton’s rapid decline. Pursued by creditors and behind on lease payments, the firm filed for bankruptcy protection in March 1984. Nine of its stores were dissolved to raise money to maintain the flagship store on State Street. 

By the spring of 1985, only the downtown store and the Oak Park and Evergreen Plaza shopping mall stores continue to operate. In a last-ditch attempt to reduce operating costs and raise funds to pay off creditors, the firm’s owners sold their lease on the flagship State Street store to a West German businessman and the building’s owner for $1.3 million. 

But the store’s major creditors, led by Maurice L. Rothschild & Co., a Skokie, Illinois apparel manufacturer and wholesaler, refused to extend any additional credit. Without the additional credit, Lytton’s could not purchase new merchandise to sell in its stores. In September 1985, a bankruptcy judge authorized the store’s creditors to take possession of the business and liquidate its remaining assets. 

All of the remaining Lytton stores closed in early 1986.

Wieboldt's, another Chicago department store chain bought the Lytton's name as well as their remaining inventory.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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