The Hub

Firm founded 1887, closed 1986

Loop store: 235-243 South State Street
Built 1911-1912
Architects: Marshall and Fox

Henry C. Lytton and Sons Company, popularly known as “The Hub,” was one of the city’s premier clothing stores during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The main store was originally located on the northwest corner of State and Jackson Streets in Chicago’s Loop. In 1912, the store moved into the newly built Lytton Building at 235-243 South State Street. Though specializing in men’s clothing, The Hub also had retail sales departments devoted to women’s clothing, children’s wear, shoes, and other accessories.

The Hub was founded by Henry C. Lytton, the son of a New York shirt manufacturer. Born in 1846, Lytton entered the merchandising trade as an errand boy in 1861. During the late 1860s, he helped manage an unsuccessful clothing store with his brother in the small Michigan town of Ionia. After the Ionia store failed, Lytton went on to manage stores in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Indianapolis, Indiana. These stores proved more successful than his first venture and, by 1886, Lytton had amassed a personal savings in excess of $12,000.

Quitting the Indianapolis store, Lytton relocated to Chicago and set about opening a clothing store of his own. Spending his entire savings and taking out additional loans, he leased a five-story building on the northwest corner of State and Jackson Streets and began to make inventory purchases. In early 1887, Lytton opened his new store for business. He named it “The Hub” to call attention to its central location and adopted the slogan of the “World’s Greatest Clothing Store.”

To attract customers, Lytton employed a variety of attention-grabbing promotions and publicity stunts. On one occasion, he tossed free overcoats from the roof of his store to the crowds gathered below. Like other Chicago retailers, Lytton also relied heavily on newspaper advertising. Store ads not only announced the arrival of new merchandise and upcoming sales, but also touted the store’s amenities and attempted to build up its reputation. Newspaper advertising proved particularly important during the holiday shopping season, when the store, primarily known for its menswear, strove to make women gift-givers feel welcome as customers. As one 1924 advertisement promised, “The ease, the convenience, the courtesy, and the economy that women enjoy at The Hub during the holiday season make choosing acceptable Christmas gifts for men a most delightful occupation.”

Strong business growth enabled The Hub to expand operations during the 1910s and 1920s. In 1913, the store moved across the street into a new building on the northeast corner of State and Jackson Street. The new Lytton Building was eighteen stories tall and cost an estimated $2.25 million to build. It was designed by the architectural firm of Marshall & Fox, whose other works included the Blackstone Hotel, the Drake Hotel, and the South Shore Country Club. The Hub store occupied the lower eight floors and two basements of the Lytton Building, while the upper floors were used for offices.

Four years after the new store opened, Henry Lytton retired and turned the business over to his son, George Lytton. However, when George died in 1933, the elder Lytton returned to serve as president of the business and remained in that position until his death in 1949 at the age of 103. In 1946, in honor of Mr. Lytton’s 100th birthday, the name of the store was officially changed from “The Hub, Henry C. Lytton and Sons Company,” to “Lytton’s.” The name change also reflected a concern on the part of the store’s executives over the widespread use of “The Hub” moniker by other retailers.

In 1961, a New York-based men’s clothing manufacturer, Cluett, Peabody & Co., gained control of Lytton’s through the acquisition of a majority of the company’s stock. Under the ownership of Cluett, Peabody, sales at first remained relatively strong and new stores were opened in several suburban Chicago shopping malls. During the 1970s, however, the changing economics of the American garment industry and increased competition from discount retailers hurt Lytton’s sales. Several stores in the chain began to lose money. In 1983, Cluett, Peabody, determined to exit the retail trade, sold Lytton’s to a Saint Louis-based investment group headed by two former department store presidents.

The new owners could not stop Lytton’s rapid decline. Pursued by creditors and behind on lease payments, the firm filed for bankruptcy protection in March 1984 and began closing stores. By the spring of 1985, only the Loop store and two other Lytton’s outlets remained open. In a last-ditch attempt to reduce operating costs and raise funds to pay off creditors, the firm’s owners sold their lease on the flagship State Street store to a West German businessman and the building’s owner for $1.3 million. But the store’s major creditors, led by Maurice L. Rothschild & Co., a Skokie, Illinois, apparel manufacturer and wholesaler, refused to extend any additional credit. Without the additional credit, Lytton’s could not purchase new merchandise to sell in its stores. In September 1985, a bankruptcy judge authorized the store’s creditors to take possession of the business and liquidate its remaining assets. All of the remaining Lytton’s stores closed in early 1986.

Branch Stores

Lytton’s was one of the first major Loop retail establishments to target Chicago’s growing suburban markets by opening branch stores. The firm opened branch store in Evanston and Gary, Indiana, in 1926, Oak Park in 1927, and Joliet in 1947.

Evanston Branch Store

The Hub opened its first branch location in downtown Evanston in March 1926. The two-story shop was located in the Orrington Hotel at Orrington Avenue and Church Street. By 1940, the Evanston store had expanded to occupy all of the two-story Beake Building at the northeast corner of Sherman and Church, and the adjacent Tudor Shops Building at 701-713 Church Street. In 1950, Lytton’s erected a new store on the site of the Beake and Tudor Shops Buildings and vacated the Orrington Hotel site. The new building featured air conditioning throughout the store and escalators connecting the first and second floors, as well as windowless exterior walls that prevented sunlight from interfering with interior lighting effects designed to highlight the store’s merchandise. The Evanston branch store closed in 1984.

Gary Branch Store

The second Hub branch store opened in March 1927 at the northwest corner of Broadway and Fifth Avenue in Gary, Indiana. The store was destroyed by a fire in 1966.

Oak Park Branch Store

The Hub opened its third branch store in October 1927 at 1035 West Lake Street in Oak Park. In 1957, the store moved into a new $1.4 million building at the northwest corner of Forest Avenue and Lake Street. The new store contained 34,000 square feet of floor space, more than twice as big as the original Oak Park store. The Lytton’s Oak Park store closed in early 1986.

Other Branch Stores

Additional branches of Lytton’s existed in Joliet (opened in 1947), Evergreen Park shopping center (1952), Golf Mill shopping center (1960), Park Forest (1964), Old Orchard shopping center (1965), River Oaks shopping center (1965), and Orland Square (1977), as well as Woodfield Mall, Hawthorn shopping center, Fox Valley shopping center, and the Tri-City shopping center near Gary, Indiana.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, 21 Dec 1924, 7; 26 Aug 1926, 22; 7 Nov 1926, B1; 16 Oct 1927, 27; 8 Dec 1928, 32; 5 Oct 1930, A13; 11 Dec 1933, 1; 17 Dec. 1933, 10; 18 Mar 1946, 29; 1 Apr 1949, 3; 17 Feb 1950, B7; 27 Apr 1956, C9; 5 Mar 1957, A9; 9 Oct 1960, 9; 28 Apr 1961, C7; 18 May 1961, G6; 25 Sep 1961, C7; 26 July 1964, D1; 21 Aug 1965, C5; 11 Feb 1966, 1; 28 Sep 1966, C5; 20 Mar 1977, A11; 7 Feb 1983, D11; 10 May 1984, A1; 7 March 1985, B4; 7 Sep 1985, A8.