Firm founded 1881, closed 1964
Main store: 1611-1621 Orrington Avenue, Evanston
Built 1930, demolished 1966
Lord’s in downtown Evanston was one of the North Shore’s most fashionable retail stores during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Catering to the needs and desires of the area’s increasingly wealthy residents, the store’s growth mirrored that of Evanston and the surrounding villages.
Lord’s was the successor to an older dry goods store known as “The Enterprise.” Founded in 1881, The Enterprise Store was located on the southwest corner of Davis Street and Sherman Avenue. It was originally owned by Mary F. and Edwin Haskin, but they sold it in 1893 to the store’s upstart manager, William Sinclair Lord. Two years after acquiring the store, Lord relocated it to the first floor of the newly completed Rood Building, which stood in the high-profile angle between Sherman and Orrington Avenues on the north side of Fountain Square. Here Lord introduced Evanston’s first motorized delivery truck and, beginning in 1901, published a monthly women’s fashion and homemaking magazine known as Queen of the West. During this period, the store was known as “Lord’s Enterprise” and later as “Evanston’s Famous Shop” and “Lord’s Fashion Store.”
During the early 1900s, continued business growth once again created a need for larger quarters. In 1906, Lord moved his store into a two-story building on the east side of Orrington Avenue between the State Bank of Evanston and the old YMCA Building. To give the store a frontage on Davis Street, he leased the rear-adjacent jewelry store of Albert H. Ullrich. In its new location, Lord was able to greatly expanded his merchandise lines to meet the demands of North Shore shoppers and the store prospered like never before. By 1913, the store’s profits were said to be $20,000 per year, or roughly $380,000 in 2005 dollars.
Despite his business successes, Lord’s personal life had become stormy. During the early 1910s, Lord began to make secretive trips to California. Rumors swirled about an affair between the merchant and a female store employee. In May 1913, Lord’s wife, Nellie, sued him for divorce, claiming her husband had deserted her and committed adultery on several occasions.
Two years later, perhaps in part due to these personal difficulties, Lord decided to sell his store and move to California. On 1 January 1916, Albert Ullrich became the new owner of Lord’s department store. As such, Ullrich embarked upon a major overhaul and expansion of the store. In 1924, he purchased the Central YMCA Building at 1611 Orrington Avenue, just north of the store. Upon completion of the sale, Lord’s occupied the first floor of the building, while the YMCA continued to operate out of the upper floors while its new quarters at Grove Street and Maple Avenue were completed. Six years later, following demolition of the old YMCA Building and the construction of a massive, new, three-story, neo-classical department store in its place, Lord’s vacated its previous Orrington Avenue location. As before, however, the store maintained a alternate entrance at 621-625 Davis Street. Ullrich remained president of the store until his death in 1951.
Lord’s opened its first branch store in October 1961. The opening of the 50,000-square-foot store at the south end of the new Golf Mill shopping center in Niles, Illinois, coincided with the store’s 80th anniversary. The opening of the new store boosted Lord’s annual sales to about $3 million, making it one of the North Shore’s oldest and biggest independent department stores.
Although Lord’s remained a favorite among many North Shore shoppers, it was too small to compete effectively against the larger department store chains and discount retailers that anchored the area’s growing number of suburban shopping malls.
In August 1963, three former executives of The Fair gained a controlling interest in the Lord’s. Thirteen months later, the store declared bankruptcy. The Lord’s store in downtown Evanston was demolished in 1966 to make way for the expansion of the State National Bank.
Photograph: William S. Lord Dry Goods Store in the Rood Building, Evanston, Illinois, 1902 [Library of Congress]
Photograph: Fountain Square, Evanston, with Lord’s visible in background, 1923 [Library of Congress]
Sources: Barbara J. Buchbinder-Green, Evanston: A Pictorial History (Saint Louis, Mo.: Bradley Publishing, 1989), 124-125;Evanston Review, 4 Jul 1963, 44-45, 138; Chicago Tribune, 28 Jul 1901, 38; 29 Mar 1924, 21; 27 Apr 1951, C6; 7 Oct 1956, N9; 12 Oct 1961, N11; 9 Aug 1963, C7; 6 Oct 1964, C6.