Monday, December 1, 2008

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol. 21


Allentown's third major department store -- and the first one to open a suburban branch -- was the Zollinger-Harned Co. at 605 W. Hamilton St. This was originally the early dry goods firm of W.R. Lawfer & Co. Between 1905 and 1910 Lawfer's was replaced by Zollinger-Harned. The Harneds and Vollmers, who ran it locally, all lived in Allentown, but Zollinger was a mystery to me until earlier this year.

Those who grew up in Canton, Ohio, may remember Stern & Mann's as the city's legendary department store, but earlier there had been the firm of W.R. Zollinger & Co. It did not leave the same mark -- except that there are many prominent Zollingers in Canton even today -- but William Zollinger was a department store investor elsewhere in that period. The Wilmington, Del., firm of William H. Smith & Co. became the Smith-Zollinger Co. at the same time, and in researching department stores of Wilmington I found the key to the Zollinger name.

We think of chain stores as being a modern style of retailing, but many department stores had branches even before the turn of the 20th century. One, for example, was the Globe Store in Scranton, formally known as the Cleland-Simpson Co. Originating as the Globe Warehouse, the store had branches in Trenton, Allentown and elsewhere. In the days before corporate ownership, however, these firms tended to devolve, with time and distance; the smaller branches were pruned off and the larger ones became their own independent family owned stores. John Taylor, one of the original partners in the Globe, took control of the Allentown branch, which then became John Taylor & Co. (Eastern Pennsylvania was a particular center for early chain stores; the Boston Store in Wilkes-Barre, Pomeroy's in Reading, Bush & Bull in Easton and the Bon-Ton in York all had multiple locations, some as far west as Indiana.)

William Henry Belk in Charlotte was probably the first to devise a structure to keep all his stores under the same umbrella, and then James C. Penney created the successful modern chain store, soon copied by the catalog retailers Sears and Ward's and, rather unsuccessfully, Bellas Hess.

There were also what I call department store "boomers," who invested in startup or existing stores. E.S. Knox in Detroit and Harry Armstrong in Schenectady were among them. Zollinger seems to fit into this type, although most of them were simply investors and did not have a "home" store. At any rate, the Zollinger half of Zollinger-Harned had no connection with Allentown. Zollinger-Harned opened the Whitehall Mall store (which Leh's moved into when Zollinger's closed) and also in the late 1960s bought the Charles H. Bear store in York. The Vollmers were the other family connected with the store; there was also a Vollmer involved in Trask's in Erie. That may be just coincidence, or Trask's may have been another Zollinger-related store, one that then came back under local ownership unconnected to the Zollinger management. Can't say for sure.

2 comments:

Samantha said...

We had an auction last evening for my grandparents' home and belongings, and I purchased a wedding dress with a Zollinger-Harned garment bag. The dress is simple but beaufitul - made from silk with lace adornments. Could you tell me any more about this company?

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Allentown, in the 60's, and my mother and I frequently shopped at Zollingers, Lehs and Hess's. I always thought of Zollingers as similar to Hess's, but it was smaller. They had a toy dept that was pretty well stocked,and I believe a restaurant on one floor. Their quality of clothing, lingerie, shoes was of good quality. Really miss those stores - not the same shopping at a mall.