The Tepper's Inc. building at 107 W. Front St. in Plainfield, N.J., has been turned into housing and shops. Tepper's was one of three large department stores in Plainfield, which was both a small regional city and an upscale North Jersey suburb. Rosenbaum Bros. eventually became part of the R.J. Goerke operations referred to in many of these past department-store posts. Later, Bamberger's also opened a downtown store there. Plainfield was the largest downtown in North Jersey west of Newark. Racial rioting in the 1960s led white middle-class shoppers to shrink away in fear. Even the Plainfield Courier-News famously moved to Bridgewater Township and tried for years to have as little identification with Plainfield or Union County as it could.
In many department store families it is clear that there was one member of the family who either wanted to strike out on his own, or was encouraged to do so. Perhaps he wanted to be the leading partner and the other relatives did not agree; perhaps the other relatives simply thought he was a doofus. A family feud of this sort split the Kaufmann family that owned Pittsburgh's largest store, and renegade Kaufmanns started their own store, Kaufmann
Looby and Baer Co., which later became Gimbel Bros.' Pittsburgh outpost. Edgar Kaufmann, who emerged in control of the original Kaufmann's, was the one who engaged Frank Lloyd Wright to build Fallingwater.
I have no idea what happened within the Tepper family except that while Max and Adolph Tepper established and ran what was then called Tepper Bros. in Plainfield -- Joe stayed in New York City -- Jacob Tepper removed to Fort Wayne, Ind., in the 1910s. Fort Wayne was a city that attracted migrants from the East; it was the last big city before Chicago on the direct train line from New York, so quick connections with Manhattan were available. (The Latzes, who for decades owned Wolf & Dessauer in Fort Wayne, were also migrants from New York City.) Jacob Tepper tried to make a go of it with a department store in Fort Wayne, but it did not work out. The Tepper family also briefly had a store in New Brunswick. Eventually Jake Tepper returned to New Jersey and started the Tepper Bros. store in Asbury Park in the 1930s. But that was not part of the main Tepper operation in Plainfield.
Tepper's had a furniture and home furnishings store on Route 22 as well. Ben Tepper, son of Adolph, led the store into the 1970s.
Downtown Plainfield was in a curious location. You can see a small creek right behind the Tepper building. The buildings on the other side of that creek, which appear to be an extension of downtown, are actually in the separate community of North Plainfield, in Somerset County. So the center of downtown Plainfield was one city block away from not being in Plainfield. There are lots of adjacent twin cities -- Lewiston-Auburn, Benton Harb0r-St. Joseph, Fargo-Moorhead -- but usually the line between them is more than a creek one could jump over. Even in Champaign-Urbana, where the line is simply a line on a map, the downtowns are a mile apart. This is about as close as you can cut it.