Columbus’ Lazarus department store pioneered retail

Good memories of Downtown Lazarus Department Store often include holiday traditions – bustling shoppers, bustling windows, a talking tree, lights on the roof, and seeing Santa Claus. And while the store was a dazzling destination for generations of families every December, it was also special the rest of the year.

German immigrant Simon Lazarus opened a one-room men’s clothing store in Columbus in 1851. He moved into a magnificent six-story building in 1909 and added 20 departments, including women’s clothing. Lazarus will operate Downtown for 153 years. Times had changed and sales there had declined as shoppers moved to new malls in the area. The flagship store closed in 2004.

The store pioneered several national commercial firsts. Among them:

  • Lazarus was one of the first stores to sell merchandise at one price, without haggling.
  • It was the first department store in the United States to use a moving escalator.
  • He pioneered the retail concept of a basement to bargain with closeouts.
  • During the flu pandemic in 1918, the business billed itself as “The Good-Health Store of Columbus,” with plenty of fresh air thanks to a ventilation system that changed the air “every four minutes”.
  • In 1929, Lazarus joined with Abraham & Straus of Brooklyn, Bloomingdale’s of New York, and Filene’s of Boston to form the Federated Department Stores. Federated later was the first to offer “no down payment” credit.
  • It was one of the first department stores in the country to be air-conditioned (a very cool addition from 1934).
  • In 1939, Fred Lazarus Jr., grandson of Simon Lazarus, launched a campaign to move the national celebration of Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November, rather than the last Thursday. This would lengthen and maximize the holiday shopping season. Congress eventually passed legislation making it permanent.

Contributor Linda Deitch was the Dispatch’s librarian for 25 years.