Do you think “Black Friday” shopping fervor is a recent invention?

Think Again!

While the earliest known use of “Black Friday” (specifically referring to shopping on the day after Thanksgiving) dates to 1961, the term has been used going back to the 19th century — and the dawn of the department store.

And, though stores-with-multiple-departments have been around since the 1700s, the birth of the department store, as we have come to know it, was in the earliest days of the 1900s. The best known of these stores, Selfridges, (thanks to the PBS television series of the same name) was established on Oxford Street in London by American-born Harry Gordon Selfridge. Selfridge was renown for launching extravagant and innovative marketing strategies based on the radical new notion of “shopping for pleasure.” His store was structured so that goods could be made more accessible to customers. In addition, Selfridge “manufactured” a number of flamboyant strategies to attract the buying public to the store, and he kept them there with a combination of merchandising artistry, sales moxie, and entertainment. These events were extensively promoted through paid advertising.

Even in the days before instant global information sharing, H. G. Selfridge’s grand ideas spread like wildfire. By the late 19-aughts, half a world away. Indianapolis’s own highly-competitive stores were duking it out for the attention of the holiday shopper, in a Selfridge-similar style (as evidenced in the advertising of the Indianapolis Star newspaper).

TC Steele Furniture

In the evening newspaper on Thanksgiving 1909, the Sander and Recker Furniture Store offered customers a free exhibit of well-known Hoosier Group artist, T.C. Steele’s landscape paintings — which must have been quite a treat for local culture-hungry patrons. Incidentally, respected architect and furniture designer, Gustav Stickley (also featured in the advertisement) is still highly admired today. His furniture is worth hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars. Only one known Stickley-designed home still exists in the state of Indiana: 59 North Hawthorne Lane, in Irvington.

The Sander and Recker Furniture store was first organized in 1878 at 103-107 East Washington Street. Founder Theodore Sander was born in Germany in 1844. He immigrated to the United States in 1864, and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. There he served in the 165th Ohio Infantry Regiment, Company D. Sander later moved to Indianapolis. Co-founder Gottried Recker (born in 1834) was also a German immigrant, who came to the United States in 1854. He settled in Indianapolis, and was a cabinet-maker. The store operated until 1935.

Rockester painting when

That same week, in near-direct competition to the Sander and Recker approach, the The When Store offered a lavish window display of oil paintings featuring a line of the upscale men’s clothing that the store had on offer.
The When Store, constructed in 1874 at 36 North Pennsylvania Street, got its name in 1875 after owner John T. Brush temporarily closed the New York City Wholesale House during remodeling. After twice changing the reopening date, Brush finally hung a sign that simply read, “WHEN?” For weeks after, the advertisements in the Indianapolis News also carried the tantalizing one-word question. The luxuriously-appointed “When Store,” as it was thereafter called, became one of the largest clothing stores in Indianapolis. In a moment of Selfridge-like inspiration, Brush erected a band shell on the second floor and it grew to become a very popular attraction in its own right, as did the large natural gas torch that burned in front of the building — quite a novelty for the time.
Earlier that week, The New York Store offered a full-page advertisement heralding the Christmas giving season:
Any one who steps into the store Monday will be forcibly reminded of the near approach of Christmas. Weeks of preparation — of buying, unpacking and arranging — have culminated in these splendid holiday displays that are seen in every part of the store. We have never looked forward to a better holiday season nor provided for it more bountifully. Everything points to an increased appreciation of the benefits of early shopping. The advantages to all concerned are well understood and we are pleased to note already a decided increase in the number of Christmas shoppers. Join them tomorrow at Indiana’s Christmas headquarters.”
The store also offered competing lavish window displays with a “procession of all kinds of wheeled toys that will interest the children immensely.”
The New York Store opened in 1853 in a single room in the Bates House hotel, but later moved to a grand building at 25-33 East Washington Street with a four-story central light shaft that rivaled the Statehouse atrium in terms of elegance. More about the store’s history is featured in a previous Historic Indianapolis article.
In stark contrast to the other stores’ ads, Charles Mayer & Company offered a smaller and rather sedate advertisement in the same newspaper, featuring lighting fixtures (though to be fair, electric lighting was considered a pretty snazzy new technology in those days).
Established in 1840, Charles Mayer & Co. was one of the largest (five stories high) and finest stores in Indianapolis. Charles and Ferdinand L. Mayer located their store at 29-31 West Washington Street. The company imported merchandise from Europe and also retailed in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.
In retrospect, CM&C must have been doing something right, as that store is the only one to have survived to today.
What were YOUR favorite holiday shopping places in Indianapolis? Tell us in the comment section below.
Sources: vintage Indianapolis Star, The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, PBS 

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