Nov 19, 2023 - Things to Do

Lost department stores on display at Elmhurst History Museum

A display of boxes from Chicago department stores. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

An exhibit at the Elmhurst History Museum looks back at the rise — and fall — of department stores in the Chicago area.

Why it matters: Finally, a place to feed your nostalgia about our iconic department stores! Plus, you can learn about how Chicago's State Street became a shopping destination.

Driving the news: "Lost Chicagoland Department Stores" is open at the west suburban museum through Jan. 28.

Mirrors and hats on stands on shelves.
Hats from that would have been sold in the millinery at department stores. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

What's happening: The exhibit explores the history of big names like Carson Pirie Scott, and of course, Marshall Field's — featuring archival photos from the early 20th century and articles of clothing that would be sold there.

  • It also digs into Sears and Montgomery Ward, which built their businesses off mail-order sales, reaching shoppers in more rural areas who couldn't make the trip to the big city.

Plus: It's fun to see photos of the neighborhood Goldblatt's and Wieboldt's, and figure out what's in those buildings now (like the Gap Outlet in Logan Square!)

Open catalog with photos of Barbie and other toys.
The Sears catalog ballooned to a thousand pages at one point, exhibit curator Sarah Cox says. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

The intrigue: Naturally the Elmhurst History Museum wouldn't leave out the suburbs so there's an area dedicated to places like Ruby's, Langworthy's and Colson's, which had multiple sections like a department store but were usually confined to one level.

What they're saying: "Now we're in this mix between shopping online [and] something Elmhurst is doing is shop local, shop small," curator Sarah Cox tells Axios. "But there are still those stores out there, the Targets, the Kohl's, the Von Maurs, that people still go to."


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