This week’s column will focus on a Russian immigrant Max Goodman. We will track Goodman from his birth until his death.
He was born in 1849 in Russia and lived on the shores of the Baltic Sea near the Prussian border until 1869, when he made the decision, at age 20, to come to America.
Let’s put this into perspective. Goodman did not know the English language and was clueless on the customs and beliefs in America. Undaunted by it, Goodman was determined to be successful.
He spent a few years in Detroit where he married Miss Sarah Marx. Apparently Mr. Goodman was in business with Mr. Jacob Litman and his brother, Louis Litman. The firm name back in the 1870s was Litman Brothers & Goodman, where the group owned a large department store in Lagrange, Ind., which is a little east of Shipshewana.
This little tidbit was probably never known locally as it was prior to Mr. Goodman coming to Monticello. He journeyed to Monticello in 1878, where he opened a dry goods store in an old deserted factory building on North Main Street.
Goodman reflected on his first building and noted, “The factory had grass growing all around it that was several feet tall.” Goodman would stay at this location for two years. While the old factory building is long gone, it was the embryo of a huge, successful, long-term business.
In 1879, Goodman moved to a room in the Bank Building where he continued in business for three years, after which he packed up and moved to Chariton, Iowa. After an absence of four years, he returned to Monticello and began building his business.
The room for his business was 22 feet by 71 feet, had 14-foot ceilings and was located in the same space occupied by Roth Jewelry today.
In the 1880s, there was but one exclusive clothing store for men in White County. It was Goodman’s “Gent Store.” The decision was made to locate in a high-traffic location on Main Cross Street, now known as Broadway, and was in close to the courthouse, which was brilliant.
The store was really high end, something one might expect in larger towns like Logansport or Lafayette. The store had a large plate glass front and was custom designed for his business.
The upper story was used for rental office rooms which were always occupied. The store drew people from adjoining counties, bringing shoppers from far distances.
In 1902, another location with more square footage became available with the construction of the IOOF building at the southeast corner of Washington and North Main streets. Goodman combined forces with William J. Jost, a longtime grocer whose grocery was catty-corner from the IOOF building.
The Goodman, Jost & Goodman Company was organized in 1902 at the IOOF building. Originally, Jost had a grocery department in the new Goodman store. Jost died in 1903, ending the grocery store at Goodman’s.
As the business grew, even the new IOOF building was inadequate. Goodman decided to build a new store in 1904. This was located where Alex’s Apparel is today.
Goodman came up with a new moniker for the new store: “The Big Store.” In the early part of the 20th century, everyone knew where “The Big Store” was located. The building was designed especially for “The Big Store” and nothing was omitted. The store promoted the comfort and convenience of patrons to facilitate the handling of the large trade that this store enjoyed.
As the hands of time moved forward, “The Big Store” became the largest business in all of White County. The move created 20,000 feet of floor space, and every inch of it was occupied.
On the first floor were dry goods, clothing and the shoe department. On the balcony at the rear was the cashier’s desk. Wires extended from the cashier desk to every part of the lower floor. The wires were for customers to pay their bill. This was accomplished by little money baskets that traveled constantly to and fro to the cashier desk and back.
The Lamson Company dominated the market with this payment system. It was known at various times as the Lamson Cash Carrier Company. The Lamson system was the “cat’s meow” and was pretty much an exclusive system used in the big cities.
The second floor of the Big Store was devoted to carpets, rugs, furniture and pianos, together with a ladies’ ready-to-wear department, leaving a third floor for storage. A strange little configuration was incorporated on the second floor.
Just north of “The Big Store” was Harlacher’s Bakery building which housed the bakery on the first floor. Goodman leased the bakery’s second floor in 1905 and knocked out a large passageway in the wall to tie the two spaces together.
Goodman filled this new space with furniture. The general manager of the furniture business was Max’s son, Bernard, who had lived in Monticello since he was a young boy. Bernard’s knowledge came from growing up in the business. Bernard was quite successful with this end of the business.
The Dry Goods, Notions and Ladies’ Furnishings department was under the supervision of Mr. Phineas Bennett, whose wide acquaintance and lifelong experience made him pre-eminently qualified for the store.
The clothing department was managed by Max Goodman, the senior member of the Goodman Company. The clothing department handled the exclusive line of Hart, Shaffner & Marx. The company also had an exclusive on Munsing underwear.
Munsing underwear is still in business and now known as Munsingwear. Hart, Shaffner & Marx also is one of today’s premium lines of suits.
In addition, the men’s department store carried a large selection of shoes. Harry Bennett managed this department. The store had an exclusive in the area for the celebrated Krippendorf shoe for ladies and the Bostonian shoe for men.
Miss Lily Bailey had charge of the Ladies’ Ready-to-Wear department which carried exclusive lines like Wooltex and Sunshine garments.
In corsets and hosiery, “The Big Store” was also the leader. This department was the responsibility of Miss Blanche Boigegrain. The best sellers were Kabo and Redfern corsets, which were in high demand. Mrs. Harry Bennett was the leading lady in the dress goods and silks department. In these lines, “The Big Store” bought direct from the mill.
One of the big attractions at “The Big Store” is what was termed the “emporium of home furnishings.” This second floor department was the responsibility of Harry Doran and had large selections of rugs, carpets, furniture and window shades. It also had a large display of pianos along with accruements for those interested in music.
Miss Julia McCuaig was the bookkeeper for business and Miss Regina Cochran was the cashier. Emory Schofield was the full-time custodian and in charge of maintenance.
“The Big Store” represented an investment of more than $65,000 and, as you can see from the employee roster, had a large payroll. The Goodman family made a commitment to provide Monticello with the finest store in the town. Their bet paid off in spades.
Their selection and pricing structure of merchandise, along with deploying experts in each department, gave the business a large patronage and it grew throughout the years.
One of the interesting comments about “The Big Store” revolved around their trading stamp system. Many of us remember the S&H Green Stamps. This would have been somewhat like it, only the stamps would be redeemed at the store for another purchase.
“The Big Store” was also known for their blow-out sales. The local Monticello Herald made the analogy that these sales brought out the general public as though it was a county fair.
In 1911, another addition was made to “The Big Store.” This one was the furniture annex that was in the back of the alley behind the store. Access from the original store was made possible by an enclosed second floor overhead passage through the second story of the Harlacher building to this annex. This two-story structure was packed with every conceivable piece of furniture.
Needless to say, Goodman made good on his goal of being successful. The store would continue to prosper with his son, Bernard, after Max’s death and would eventually be sold to the Miller family.
Those who have been around a while definitely remember Miller’s Department Store. Goodman would die at age 69 in October 1918 after a one-week fight with influenza.
Goodman and his wife, Sarah, are buried in Jewish Cemetery of Greater Lafayette.