The foundation for Cleveland’s golden age of retail was laid during the late 19th century as dry-goods stores expanded their wares, spawning the development of the department store. Leading retailers of the time subsequently built opulent emporiums to showcase their offerings.
The first of the city’s most enduring retail mainstays to establish such a location was actually the St. Louis-based May Co. The Halle Bros. Co. built a six-story location at Huron Road and Prospect Avenue in 1927. The Higbee Co. moved into the Terminal Tower complex on Public Square in 1931 after the store’s sale to developers Oris P. and Mantis J. Van Sweringen.
By 1931, the May Co. became Ohio’s largest department store. That same year, Higbee’s opened the restaurant Silver Grille. In 1956, Halle’s debuted the beloved Mr. Jingeling, a spokesman dressed as an elf who kept the keys to Santa’s workshop. Together with other establishments, such as the former Sterling-Linder Co. at 1215 Euclid Ave., they continued to attract legions of loyal patrons for decades. Higbee’s even became a tourist attraction after it served as a set for three scenes in the 1983 holiday classic “A Christmas Story.”
But, the stores followed their customers as they moved to the suburbs, opening locations in local shopping centers and malls. In 1982, Halle’s then-owner, Associated Investors Corp., closed or sold all of its 15 stores. Eleven years later, May Co.’s parent company shuttered its downtown location and renamed its remaining Ohio outposts Kaufmann’s after its Kaufmann department store division. Higbee’s was rechristened Dillard’s in 1992 after the Little Rock, Arizona-based department store chain that acquired it in 1987. It closed its downtown doors in 2002.
Efforts to lure shoppers downtown with the openings of the Galleria in 1987 and Tower City Center in 1990 have been met with limited success. However, over the past several years, independent, local retailers have been revitalizing Downtown Cleveland’s shopping scene.