Loren Miller


Firm founded ca. 1900, bought out 1931

4722-4726 North Broadway
Built 1915
Architect: William L. Klewer

During the 1920s, the leading department store in Uptown was the Loren Miller and Company store, located on the west side of Broadway just south of Lawrence Avenue.

The retail firm was founded around the turn of the century by Loren Miller, one of Uptown’s most prominent businessmen and biggest boosters. Much of the store’s early success relied upon Miller’s willingness to replace traditional retailing practices with more innovative ones, such as widespread use of newspaper advertising, bargain pricing, superior customer service, and liberal credit policies.

But the quick growth of the Loren Miller was also the result of rapid residential growth all across Chicago’s North Side. When the firm was founded, Uptown’s greatest real estate had just begun. Between 1910 and 1930, developers, swept up in a wave of speculative land deals and soaring property values, constructed dozens of new high-rise apartment and office buildings to generate the necessary revenues to cover debts incurred during the rush to acquire potentially lucrative Uptown properties. Due to the glut of new apartments, rents fell to well below market value, resulting in an influx of young, single residents with few financial burdens and lots of disposable income. Soon, the streets of Uptown teemed with young Chicagoans looking for fun times and enticing new ways to spend their relatively easily earned income. Transportation enhancements and new single-family residential development along streetcar and elevated lines that fed into the Uptown business district also helped the store thrive by drawing in large numbers of middle-class housewives who sought to avoid the congestion and higher prices at State Street department stores.

Loren Miller and Company benefitted enormously from the changing character of the neighborhood by selling attractive products to those who demanded and could now more than ever before afford the latest styles in apparel and home furnishings. However, by the end of the 1920s, the department store was but one of many similar commercial enterprises so engaged. These included, most notably, the Riviera and Uptown movie theaters, the Aragon and Arcadia ballrooms, and several smaller Uptown department stores and variety stores.

In 1915, following several years of steady business growth, Loren Miller and Company expanded its retail operations by opening a new five-story emporium near Lawrence and Broadway. Eleven years later, the store was enlarged yet again, when the Sheridan Trust and Savings Bank building, to the north of the store, was acquired. The neo-classical structure was an important addition to the store, not so much for the extra floor space that it offered, but rather for the high visibility it gave the business. For one, it more than doubled the store’s show window space and thus enhanced its capacity to entice passers-by with the latest fashions or unbeatable bargains. At the same time, the acquisition of the bank building gave Loren Miller and Company ownership of one of the Uptown district’s most distinctive and easily recognizable building sites, a triangular strip of land that narrowed to a point not far from the increasingly congested intersection of Broadway and Lawrence Avenue. When Loren Miller transformed the old bank lobby into a grand entrance to their expanded department store, he shortened the apparent distance between the store and the district’s other major daytime attractions, the Riviera and Uptown Theaters.

Though always concerned about promoting his own retail operations, of equal concern to Loren Miller was the overall success and popularity of the entire Uptown area as a retail and entertainment destination. During his years as head of the store, Miller was a leading booster of the district and worked hard to inflate its reputation throughout Chicago and the North Shore. Miller, for one, has often been credited as having coined the name “Uptown” as a way to jazz up the neighborhood’s image. Previously, the area had been known only by the less romantic “Wilson Avenue District.” During the 1920s, in the hopes of making the intersection of Lawrence and Broadway into another Times Square, Miller pushed the name “Uptown Square.” Beyond his adventures in nomenclature, Miller also led cooperative efforts among Uptown businessmen to fund advertising campaigns and underwrite neighborhood booster newspapers to help increase the appeal of the district. The culmination of Miller’s booster efforts came in the late 1920s, when he led the effort to hold the 1933 World’s Fair along the Uptown lakefront. Ultimately, in a decision that underscored how far Miller’s Uptown had to go before it would rival the Loop as a retail and entertainment district, city leaders deferred to powerful Loop businessmen and opted to hold the fair in Burnham Park, closer to downtown.

In August of 1931, the Loren Miller department store was acquired by Goldblatt Brothers, a rapidly expanding chain of Chicago department stores headed by brothers Maurice and Nathan Goldblatt. The first Goldblatt’s store was established in 1914 near Chicago and Milwaukee Avenues and attracted shoppers by offering a variety of mass-produced goods at substantially discounted prices. During the 1920s and 1930s, the firm expanded quickly, often through the acquisition of existing department stores such as Loren Miller and Company. The former Loren Miller store became the sixth Goldblatt’s store.

Goldblatt’s was an important pioneer in chain retailing in the Chicago area. Chain retailing was successful for several reasons, the most important of which was the ability of the chain retailer, because of the need to stock several stores instead of one, to purchase goods from the manufacturer in greater quantities. The greater the quantities of goods purchased from the manufacturer were, the lower the per-item price became. Lower prices, in turn, won customers, particularly during the hard times of the Depression. By the 1970s, Goldblatt’s had expanded its chain of stores to more than forty throughout the Chicago region.

Increased competition from national discount retailers and poor managerial decisions undermined Goldblatt’s financial position during the 1970s. In 1981, the chain was forced to declare bankruptcy, restructure its finances, and close all but six of its most profitable stores. The Uptown store was not among those to close during the company’s restructuring. It continued in operation until December 1998 when, for undisclosed reasons, the Uptown store was closed.


 

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