Myers Brothers Department Store

Myers Brothers Department Store, downtown Springfield (Sangamon Valley Collection)

Myers Brothers Department Store, downtown Springfield (Sangamon Valley Collection)

“The Store That Quality Built” began with Morris Myers, an immigrant from Germany who opened a general store in Athens in 1858. Myers moved his store to Springfield in 1865.

Morris Myers died in 1873, leaving sons Albert, Louis and Julius to continue the family’s mercantile tradition. In 1886, the brothers bought Samuel Rosenwald’s men’s and boys’ wear outlet on the north side of the square and renamed the store Myers Brothers.

By 1900, the brothers were able to finance a five-story building on the southwest corner of Fifth and Washington streets. That enterprise also proved successful, but a fire that destroyed the building in March 1924 was what cemented the Myers Brothers legend.

The fire was still burning when the Myers brothers bought the building and contents of the B.A. Lange store a block away. That store opened under the Myers Brothers name the next morning. Myers Brothers operated from the makeshift space for almost 18 months, while a bigger (10 stories instead of five) and better building replaced the old one at Fifth and Washington.

“They closed this (the Lange space) store on Saturday night, Sept. 5, 1925 and were open for business in their new building on the site of the one destroyed by fire on Tuesday, Sept. 8, the day following Labor Day,” according to a  1950 Illinois State Journal-Register profile of Myers Brothers. “… Only one day was lost in operation of business in spite of the fire disaster.”

The last of the founding Myers brothers died in 1941, and two new sets of brothers took over the business — Albert Jr. and Stanley Myers, the sons of the original Albert, and Morris and Alan, the sons of Louis.

Myers Brothers Department Store (which over the years added outlets throughout central Illinois) regularly won national merchandising and advertising awards.  The store also was the first department store to have home delivery in Springfield, the first to create a non-contributory pension plan for its employees, the first local store to have automatic elevators, and the first Springfield business to be the subject of a page-one story in the Wall Street Journal. In another ground-breaking step, Myers Brothers installed air-conditioning in all 10 floors of its flagship building in 1949.

The Myers brothers also were civic-minded.

“The firm has always been active in every civic undertaking of importance, every community drive for any worthy cause, and in every effort to promote the welfare and progress of the city,” the Journal-Register said in the same July 9, 1950 profile. “In doing so, the firm feels that they are building for a greater future upon the foundation of a successful past.” Albert Myers Jr. was named Springfield’s First Citizen in 1973.

In 1968, when Myers Brothers was bought by clothing firm Phillips-Van Heusen, the store had 70 selling departments and 275 employees. Despite the sale, the Myers family continued to run the operation, and the Myers Brothers name remained on the stores. At the time, Alan Myers (1904-90) was president, Morris (1899-1984) was chairman, Albert (1917-2005) was vice president of the Springfield store, and Stanley (1908-99) was general manager.

Phillips-Van Heusen sold Myers Brothers to the Bergner department store chain in March 1978. At the time, Bergner’s said there was no plan to change names and vowed that the downtown store would remain the Myers flagship, although Myers opened an outlet in White Oaks Mall that same year.

SCHS photo

SCHS photo

Neither of those promises were kept. The Myers Brothers stores were renamed Bergners in 1983, and the downtown store closed in 1989. The name disappeared — except that, as of 2014, it remained painted atop the former Myers building downtown.

Albert Myers Jr. summed up the family’s philosophy in an interview in the 1970s.

Men  like Albert, Louis and Julius Myers built foundations. They didn’t build it for a buck for today, making a fast buck, getting in and out; their business and the importance of business in the community and growing with the community was paramount to these men, much more important than just making a dollar for today.

Sources: Lincoln Library Sangamon Valley Collection files. Also, Five members of the Myers family, including Alan, Albert and Morris Myers, were interviewed in the early 1970s as part of the Sangamon State University (now the University of Illinois Springfield) oral history program. Their interviews are catalogued as the Myers Brothers Department Store Project. For a look at some of Myers Brothers’ marketing, see entry on Myers Brothers’ monkey.

More information: See the Myers Brothers entry in The Department Store Museum.

schs logo (2)

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.

This entry was posted in Business, Department stores, Prominent figures and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to Myers Brothers Department Store

  1. scott myers says:

    thank you for sharing an important part of Springfield’s history created by my family. The Myers’ Family has always been committed to building the community and helping others. It continues today with my parents Louis and June, mister Julie, my brother Steve and their families. Sincerely,

    Scott D. Myers

    • editor says:

      Mr. Myers: Thanks, and thanks for reading.

    • Mark Wise says:

      I have a 14″x11″ Photograph Dated July 1886 of the Myers Bro’s and others in front of the store. There is stationary on the back with Stanly C. Myers on the bottom dated 1986.
      It has 9 names on it of people in the Piture.
      I would like to get it back to the family of some Historical Society

      • editor says:

        Mr. Wise: I’ll answer you by email too. But my recommendation regarding historically valuable material like this is almost always to recommend you donate it (or at least a copy) to the Sangamon Valley Collection, the local history section of Springfield’s Lincoln Library. You can start by contacting librarian Curtis Mann at (217) 753-4900. Thanks for the offer, and thanks very much for reading SangamonLink.

    • Peter Murrill says:

      Scott, my name is Pete Murrill. I worked with you Dad from 1971-1979. Your Mom and Dad were very close to my Family. In the early 80’s they came to Charlotte NC. to watch either you or your brother play baseball while in college. Your Dad and I went to dinner. I hope they are in good health. Please tell them hello for me.
      Pete Murrill

  2. suzanne myers gieszer says:

    I am the daughter of Alan and Pauline Shaver Myers. The picture of the first floor is just wonderful. It holds many memories for me. At 16 or 17 I worked behind the counter on the right in men’s furnishings. I can still see my Grandmother, Mrs. Louis M. Myers, sitting in one of the chairs on the left asking customers if they needed help. She was in her 80’s and loved being with people. Thank you for revisiting a special time for me and Myers Brothers history in Springfield. Suzanne Myers Gieszer

  3. James E. Myers Jr. says:

    I am a grand son of Albert Myers and a son of James who was not mentioned in the article presumably because he only worked intermittently in the store: before 1939 when he enlisted and between 1952 when he quit farming and 1968 when the business was sold and he left to write. My first job was in the “budget basement” , but. I am currently working on the fifth floor as a Clinical Psychologist!
    James E. (Jamie) Myers, Psy.D.

    • editor says:

      Mr. Myers: Glad to know at least one Myers is still connected to the Myers Building. I used to talk to your dad off and on when I oversaw the SJR’s local book coverage. He was always fun. Thanks for reading.

  4. Jen says:

    I happened upon this post doing some research on Jews in Illinois in the 19th century and not only is it a great post, but the comments by Myers descendants really made me smile.

  5. Mary Roach says:

    My grandmother, Mrs. Mary Nebuloni worked as an evening custodian, cleaning the 10th floor of the Myers Building. I have very fond memories of occasionally going to work with my grandmother. I enjoyed “helping” her with her work, and eating my lunch of a hamburger we picked up from the Woolworth’s lunch counter. When my grandmother retired, I believe in the early 70’s, she was so surprised and honored when she was given an engraved momento from Mr. Myers. It remained on her living room wall for the rest of her life.

    May I add, as a third generation Springfieldian, I have fond memories of all the fun my family and friends had shopping at Myers Brothers throughout the years. Thank you!

  6. Richard says:

    My favorite spot at the downtown store was the Golden Key Shop and it’s affable manager Mike Velton. I spent a lot of money in there throughout my junior and senior years of high school. Do you remember when Mr. Stanley launched the “Caboose Shops” that were fashioned from a real railroad caboose connected to a vintage small town train station?

    • editor says:

      Richard: I don’t remember the Caboose Shops, but that’s a great detail. I’ll have to see what I can find out about them. Thanks for the idea, and thanks for readying.

  7. Gregg Schneider says:

    We lived in Taylorville and would do our Christmas shopping at the store in the
    50’s I still remember the the big stuffed bear by the elevator in sporting goods
    what a great store.

  8. Mary C. Hawkins says:

    My mother shopped at two downtown Springfield Dept stores; the John Bressmer Co., and Myers Brothers. Please tell me I’m not crazy. I remember when my mother used to go up to the office at Myers Brothers on one of the upper floors to check on her (my dad’s) available credit (women could not have credit in their name in the 1950’s), there was a monkey in a cage up there. I used to beg my mother to take me upstairs to see the monkey. I always thought the monkey was a resident, but perhaps it was only up there for a short time for a promotion or something. It seems to me that I remember wrought iron bars, so maybe the monkey was a permanent fixture for a while. Any thoughts? Does anyone remember this.

    • editor says:

      Ms. Hawkins: Your memory is not wrong. Myers Brothers indeed did have a resident monkey for some years in the 1950s. The monkey was displayed in the boys’ shop from about 1952 to 1954 and may have been moved after that. The store even had a naming contest when the monkey first arrived — the winning boy received a Schwinn bicycle.

      There are still a lot of gaps in what I can find out about the monkey, but I’m going to try to get more information. If I can, I’ll do a separate entry on Myers’ monkey. Thanks a lot for the tip.

  9. LEE MILLER says:

    I about 1966 0r 1967 I was Christmas shopping for my wife. I was at Myers ladies department looking at dresses. The young lady waiting on me was about the same size as my wife. She had glasses on and her hair was in a bun and looked kinda plain. She offered to model that dress for me.

    When she returned with the dress on…I said wrap it up!!! She had that black dress on and had taken her hair down and removed her glasses…what a beauty…how could one say no…

  10. Charlene Runkles says:

    I worked at Myers Brothers from 1968-1975. I was in the Sales Audit Department on the second floor next to the Furniture Department. I remember Mr. Morris having me send out sympathy cards from the Obits in the newspaper. Mr. Alan would bring us gals candy, but the box was already opened as he was eating some on his way to us. When I told Mr. Albert I was leaving, all he could say was “What..no nore of your homemade candy”?!! Some years later I found a small silver color shallow bowl ( possibly a ashtray) at a Antique store. It has a picture of the Myers Building and I treasure it, as I still treasure all the momories of working for such nice folks. The funniest memory, is Mr. Lou borrowing the over/under sheet I kept on the clerks. We discovered sticky fingered employees using this list. He drove off with the folder on top of his car, and when his wife ask what is flying off the car top…his answer was “Charlene is going to kill me”!! It still make me smile. I loved shopping at Myers and working there even more. Thanks for the memories!!!!

  11. Amy Griffith says:

    I worked – lay-away, wrapped clothing in the women’s, and worked in fragrances and the jewelry department -at Myers Brother in the early 1970’s – during the summers and spring breaks and Christmas while I was in college. The Myers family was kind and very respectful of their employees.
    I also remember in the late 60’s early 70’s when one of the younger Myers opened an independent record store on the square- it was “the” place to shop for new music and was very hip- ….can not remember the name…anyone remember?

  12. Marie Carnes says:

    Amy, that would be Sangamon County Dry Goods at 526 East Adams. They did sell some records, but also clothing and a few other things.

    • editor says:

      Marie: I struck out when I tried to find the record store, but I never would have guessed Sangamon County Dry Goods. Thanks for the help.

  13. William Michael says:

    I remember the themes the store would have. There was one that focused on Italy in the mid 70’s. One of the guest reps only spoke Italian. He had a selection of wallets and other leather goods. He would hold up fingers to tell you the price of something.
    Saturdays in the store were very busy. You might see a politician walking through.
    In the mid-60’s I was in Cub Scouts and Myers sold the uniforms and many of the items that went along with scouting.
    My father was a businessman/salesman and most of his suits came from Myers or Roberts Brothers.

  14. I was hired by Mr. Louis Myers in 1968 under a community program called Operation Native Son. I was an art major so he put me to work in the Display Department to work with Fred & Frank. They inspired me to make it my lifelong profession.
    I retired 2 years ago after 37 years as the Visual Director at Macy’s.
    Because of the freedom of creativity – Myers Brothers was my favorite job! Doing their windows was an amazing experience!

  15. Tami McDaniel says:

    My great uncle, Floyd Sidney “Pete” Beard, worked for Myers Brothers many years. Uncle Pete was in the Men’s Dept, I believe on the main floor. He loved his job and the Myers family. I have many fond memories of the downtown store and visiting my sweet Uncle Pete! (I wonder if any of the Myers relatives remember Uncle Pete?) Thank you for all this wonderful history and these postings! I, too, am glad to hear one of the Myers’ family descendants is still occupying The Myers Bros Building. I’m sure your founding family would be proud! ?

  16. Bill Bretscher says:

    Tami, I remember your great uncle Pete Beard. He hired me as a 16 year old in 1967. He had a desk somewhere in the bowels of the first floor and I remember it being cramped and cluttered. I can still see his face as he sat behind his desk, asked me a few questions and said you’re hired. I worked in men’s furnishings two summers and after school. Worked with Franklin and Ruby and can’t remember the lovely woman that managed the department. Everyone couldn’t have been nicer to me. Springfield was lucky to have the Myers family and that store.

  17. Mike Christensen says:

    I have just acquired a 1970s G.E. Christmas tree set w/Classic Bavarian ornaments, Clear “Merry Midget” decorative lights, Musical rotating stand – PLAYS Silent Night and Ol Come all Ye Faithful. MODEL CT-2. Bought from Myers Brothers, Springfield Illinois, Fifth and Washington. In all original boxes and in original shipping box. shipping tag still on box. can you tell me more about the Set and what it was sold for when it was purchased?

    • editor says:

      Mike: I don’t have any way to do that unless it was featured in a newspaper ad. That’s unlikely, but I’ll check when I get a chance. Maybe another reader will have an idea. Thanks for reading.

  18. David R Tatro DVM says:

    I grew up in Springfield. Born 1959. I am pretty sure it was Myers that gave me and my sister a turtle with a number painted on it, when we got new shoes. (Circa-1963?) The small little type of turtle that are now outlawed cause they fit in your hand. (salmonella risk) Anyway there was to be a turtle race on the Springfield downtown square.

    The day of the race my sister had chicken pox, so I took the turtles to the race. Several concentric circles was the race track, several heats were had due to large number of turtles. Eventually my sister’s turtle won!!!

    Prize = a PONY!!!!

    We lived on Linden Ave. and at that time a corn field was behind our house. Pony spent time in our back yard. Then the trailer court bought the ground, and we knew we would probably not be able to keep pony with the new trailer court moving in… BUT my mother was not going to get rid of the pony.

    We bought property off Covered Bridge Road — built a house, moved, we rode horses, horse shows, rodeo….I became a veterinarian. Pony lived with us till he passed at age 25.

    Thank you for the amazing story of my youth, experiences, and my ultimate profession.

    • editor says:

      Dr. Tatro: Confirmed; it was 1963. I found a Myers Brothers ad that promised a free turtle to any kid who bought a pair of U.S. Keds. The turtle derby was June 1, and the prize indeed was a pony. Congratulations (belatedly) to you, your sister and Pony. And thanks very much for adding to our history of Myers Brothers.

  19. Thank you for this wonderful story. What a magnificent store Myers Brothers was. It seemed to be the essence of downtown. It is terribly sad to learn that this business is no more.

  20. Scott says:

    Interesting article, but I think Morris was older than 5 years old when chairman!! (The article states: “Alan Myers (1904-90) was president, Morris (1899-1904) was chairman…”)

    • editor says:

      Scott: Careful readers have caught lots of my errors. I’m sure Morris was precocious, but he died in 1984. The entry has been corrected, and thanks very much for pointing out my mistake.

  21. Dan Durham says:

    There was a small shop on the south side of the square that was run by a Myers. It was in the early 1970s. It was kind of a hippie store with black light posters, record albums, etc. I can’t remember his first name. He was a really nice guy. He would have been close to 70 years old now. I think he became some type of minister. I think he moved to Georgia where he passed away a few years ago.

  22. Stacey Vernick says:

    My father, Marvin Vernick, worked there for many years during the 60s and 70s. I remember Pete Beard! My dad would put my brother and I in the kids’ fashion shows and TV commercials for the store. I remember the themes (they actually had a live giraffe in the children’s section) and gorgeous window displays. I remember getting my ears pierced there and so many other fond memories of visiting Dad at work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *