ANDERSON, Ind. — For more than 100 years, Anderson’s downtown was the place to shop.
Spreading out from Courthouse Square in all directions, Anderson’s downtown was once filled with stores and shops which offered all types of services. Of these, the largest and most ornate were Anderson’s department stores. Originally called dry goods stores, they offered clothes, furniture and a large variety of other goods all under one roof.
Weslow’s White House
Weslow’s White House stood at the northwest corner of Ninth and Meridian Streets, a historic location which had seen several businesses come and go by the time Abraham Weslow of Columbus, Ind. located his business there in 1893.
Weslow enlarged a previous dry goods business located on the ground floor to a four-floor, full-service department store. There were 27 departments.
In the basement were groceries, house furnishings in general and domestics. The main floor was devoted to silks (probably both the fabric and silk thread), dress goods, linens, fancy goods, notions and the like. On the second floor was millinery (hats) and everything in ready-to-wear for grandma down to baby. On the third floor were carpets, rugs, curtains and wallpaper.
Weslow’s survived a 1900 fire (in which the company lost $25,000 worth of stock) and the 1925 death of founder Abraham Weslow, but closed in the mid-1930s. A Hills Department Store occupied the building until the early 1960s, when it was torn down.
Competitors owned by the same firm
Among Weslow’s early competitors was the Banner Store, which also opened in the 1890s in a location that might have been considered jinxed. Located on the west side of Meridian Street between what would later be Frisch’s Downtown Restaurant and the Anderson Bank Building, the Banner Store location had been the site of the Doxey Opera House (destroyed by fire in 1884) and the Doxey Music Hall (destroyed by fire in 1893.)
The store initially had bad luck (a third fire, in 1896), but re-built and became one of the most profitable businesses in downtown Anderson. The Banner Store (“Where you can always buy for less”) grew from a one-floor operation to a large, three-floor, 28-department operation in the 1940s.
The Banner Store’s chief competitor was probably The Fair Store, which opened in downtown Anderson in the Union Building on the southeast corner of 11th and Meridian, replacing the Lion Department Store.
The Fair Store (“Where most people shop”) survived its own disastrous fire in 1934. What may not have been known by many Andersonians was that The Fair Store and the Banner Store were owned by the same company from the 1920s on.
The Weiler family of Portland, Ind., which operated department stores in Portland and Hartford City, were the owners of the Fair Store and acquired the Banner Store at some time in the ‘20s. Both managed to survive the Depression and the fate of the Hartford City Weiler’s, which was closed by KKK opposition to its Jewish owners.
For three decades, they competed at offering department store services to the residents of Anderson. In 1965, the two stores were merged and renamed Weiler’s Banner-Fair Store. For awhile, the two buildings were kept. The Banner Store building became the girl’s and women’s store, with a remodel that created shops, salons and boutique settings. The boy’s and men’s departments and the home store were kept in the Union Building. By 1970, the ladies’ store had moved to the Union Building and the Banner Store building was sold to Anderson Bank in 1979. Weiler’s opened a store at Mounds Mall in the late ‘70s (in the building that currently houses Carson’s) and closed the Union Building Store in 1980.
The keynote of the department store was service. A department store offered a wide variety of goods under one roof, but the thing that kept the customer coming back, along with competitive prices, was the something extra that was offered.
You could get a dress or a suit altered by salespeople who knew how to fit and seamstresses (usually female) who knew how to sew. You could get an item monogrammed if you wished. (In the 1980s, I bought a monogrammed purse at Hoyt Wright’s uptown. The person who had ordered it forgot to pick it up and they sold it at a discount.) For a lady who owned furs, there was a cold storage locker that kept them cool and safe from moths in the days before most people had home air conditioning.
The last downtown department store in Anderson was Hoyt Wright, although they were more properly a clothing store. Started in 1922 by Frankton native Hoyt Wright and his partners P. H. Doyle, George McMahan, Sr. and Herbert McMahan, Hoyt Wright began as a mens’ and boys’ wear store.
In 1941, ladies’ clothes were added and in 1953, an extensive renovation added shoes and children’s wear. Hoyt Wright’s original location was in the Durbin-McCullough Block on West 9th Street. A building fronting on Meridian was added in the 1950s and for several years the store operated profitably out of the two store fronts, with Frisch’s Restaurant between them. The company also had stores in the Mounds and Muncie Malls.
After good business years in the late 70’s, Hoyt Wright experienced the difficulties common to all Anderson retailers in the early ‘80s which weren’t improved by building problems.
On May 26, 1983, when staff were coming to work, the roof of the old Durbin-McCullough building (owned, ironically, by competitor Ray Weiler) collapsed under the weight of standing water. Although no one was injured and Hoyt Wright merchandise was not badly hurt, the falling brick crushed some cars and put pressure on the east wall of the building. The building was not salvageable and was demolished. Hoyt Wright moved merchandise and staff to other stores and rebuilt an annex attached to the existing Meridian Street store.
Hoyt Wright’s main local competitor, Weiler’s, went out of business that year. Although business had been “fair to middling” that year, Ray Weiler wanted to retire and neither of his children wanted to run the business after him. The collapse of the downtown building destroyed some company items and convinced Weiler to end the Mounds Mall store on July 31, 1983.
Hoyt Wright’s downtown store remained in business until May 1988. (The stores at the Mounds and Muncie Mall were closed the next year.) The Meridian Street store front is now a law office and the built-on extension is now occupied by Talecris Plasma Services.
Beth Oljace works in the Indiana Room at the Anderson Public Library. She can be reached at email@example.com.