OHIO DEPARTMENT STORES – F & R LAZARUS – COLUMBUS, OHIO
Lazarus, as this department store chain was known, was founded in 1851 by Mr. Simon Lazarus. He had come to Columbus to become a rabbi and ended up opening a small store (one room) on Town Street. At the time, the store only offered menswear.
In 1877, after the death of Simon Lazarus his two sons, Fred and Ralph, took control of the store and started using showmanship to attract customers. For example, in 1890 they contracted with Niagara Soda Fountain to open a shop within the store selling ice cream, ice cream floats and sarsaparilla. After the two brothers took charge, the name was changed to F& R Lazarus.
The store continued to grow so that in 1909 an amazing six story store was built at High and Rich Streets. At 115,000 square feet, it was much larger than needed at the time. However, by 1921 the store was totally occupied and the company was ready for another expansion as it added additional merchandise categories. The company acquired the Columbus theatre to allow for more selling space, making the store the powerhouse retailer in downtown Columbus. At its peak, the store operated buildings covering an entire city block with the main entrance at High and Front Streets.
F & R Lazarus became known for many innovations in the retail industry:
– One Low Price (no bargaining necessary)
-First escalators in a department store
-First air conditioned department store
-Early adopter of a generous return policy (no questions asked)
The company was known for its social awareness:
-Became a major employer of women.
-Became a major employer of physically challenged.
The downtown store was famous for its Christmas activities. It sponsored a major Christmas Parade for the Friday after Thanksgiving Day to compete with the Macy’s Parade in New York City. Elaborate window displays drew major crowds. A small platform was erected in front of the windows to give children a better view. On the sixth floor, next to the toy department, the auditorium was converted to Christmas scenes and place to meet with Santa.
In 1928, F & R Lazarus acquired the John Shillito Company based in Cincinnati and operated it as a separate business. In 1929, the company worked with Bloomingdale’s (NY), Filene & Sons Co (Boston), and Abraham & Straus (Brooklyn) to form Federated Department Stores.
Lazarus was late to the game in expanding suburban stores, but then it became a powerhouse in the Midwest.
- The first suburban store was opened in 1962 on West Broad Street in Columbus. At first this store was a failure but became successful as it became a part of Westland Mall.
- The second suburban store was opened in 1964 in Northland Mall. This store was an immediate success.
- In 1973, Lazarus expanded outside Ohio with a store in Indianapolis.
- In 1981, they opened a store in Huntington, West Virginia.
- In 1986, Lazarus merged with the Shillito’s and Rike’s divisions of Federated Department Stores giving them locations in the Dayton and Cincinnati markets.
- In 1987, Federated acquired the William H. Block Company in Indianapolis and the Herpolsheimer’s in Grand Rapids from Allied Stores and converted those stores to Lazarus.
- In 1994, Federated acquired the Joseph Horne Company in Pittsburgh and converted those stores to Lazarus.
- In 2003, Lazarus stores were combined into Macy’s and co-branded Lazarus Macy’s. That same year, the downtown store in Columbus closed.
- In 2005, the Lazarus name was erased and all stores became Macy’s.
The decline of Lazarus was a result of many reasons:
- Lazarus had weak leadership in the end. Leadership turnover was high and no one was able to fend off the competition from specialty retailers nor the consumer’s desire to avoid the malls.
- Lazarus’s expenses were high and kept eroding profitability.
- The department store segment was consolidating to reduce the expenses of operating separate division headquarters.
- Department stores were no longer the place for manufactures to showcase their goods. There were too many other retailers available who could offer the manufacturers better business growth with locations more convenient to the consumer and often at prices more advantageous to the consumer.
I know that there are so many of you who have shopped at or worked at F & R Lazarus. I hope you will share your memories with others as you look through these old postcards depicting Lazarus.