Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The History of Herpolsheimer's / Herp's

I nearly fell out of my seat during the movie The Polar Express, when the train passed a large dowtown department store called Herpolsheimer’s. Later in the movie we learn that one of the characters lives in Grand Rapids, MI. Having grown up there I knew that Herpolsheimer’s was a real store in Grand Rapids. How could the movie speak so personally to my childhood? It turned out that the author, Chris Van Ellsberg, grew up in Grand Rapids as well, so he wrote in references to his hometown and his memories.

I have looked around on the web but have found virtually no information on Herpolsheimer’s. For those who are interested, I present this brief history, based almost entirely on my own recollections. If you can add more information or details, please add them to this blog or contact me at pedirob @ gmail.com.

The downtown Herpolsheimer’s store was a fixture in Grand Rapids for decades. From the architecture, I would guess the building dates to around 1940-1950. When it opened, the store was touted as one of the most lavish and technologically advanced stores of its time. It featured a multi-story display window which usually showcased a huge American flag. Local lore held that it was the largest display window in the world, but I cannot tell if that was a fact or just a reflection of perhaps exaggerated civic pride. The store even had its own parking garage in the basement, a rather innovative concept at the time. The building included an elaborate conveyor belt system which carried packages to the parking garage. The idea was that shoppers could make purchases in various parts of the store and then pick them all up at once as they went back to their cars. The basement contained mostly clearance and discount items, but it also had a truly unique attraction for the kids -- a working, child-size monorail train suspended from the ceiling. I rode this as a teenager, and although I could barely fit in the cars, I’m glad I did it when I had the chance. (A similar elevated train operated at Meier and Frank in Portland, OR through 2005, when the store was shrunk and converted to Macy's. In 2006 the Santa's Wonderland was relocated to the basement of the the store, and the train was put on a non-operating display, because the ceiling was too low to operate it there.)
At some point the company shortened the name to Herp’s.

Visiting the store for the first time in the 1980s, I could sense I was witnessing an anachronism, a fragile moment frozen in time but about to vanish. Everything had a nostalgic appearance: yellowed light fixtures, brown rotary dial phones, old-style elevators and clerks ringing up purchases on massive, noisy mechanical cash registers. A sign suspended over the sidewalk read “Shop tonite ‘til ____,” recalling the once novel idea of staying open into the evenings. The store was well maintained but clearly dated and a little worn around the edges. I was never there during its heyday, but I can imagine that Herpolsheimer’s was quite an experience during the Christmas holidays in its early years. I can imagine the fancy store windows, the animated displays, the cash registers clanking, mountains of packages going down the conveyors, and kids squealing as the train ran around. It must have been quite an experience.

Former President Gerald Ford, a Grand Rapids native, met his wife Betty while she was working as a fashion coordinator at Herpolsheimer's. (Thanks to Amy Buttery for contributing this fact.)
By the 1980s, however, suburban malls had decimated downtown retail stores. In an effort to stimulate downtown shopping, the city closed off several blocks of Monroe Avenue, the main retail “strip” downtown, to create an outdoor pedestrian mall and park area, known as Monroe Mall. Herp’s stood right at the end of the outdoor mall. The city added benches, landscaping, art and fountains where the street used to be. Concerts, ice skating in the winter and other events attempted to lure people back to the heart of the city.

Around 1985 Herp’s and a development group unveiled a plan to use their downtown store as the anchor of a new, indoor downtown mall. A smaller, leaner Herp’s would occupy part of the building; the rest of the building, along with the adjacent Gantos building, would be converted into mall space. City planners hoped the mall would draw shoppers away from the suburbs and revitalize downtown shopping.

The plan sparked outcry from historic preservationists, as the historic Gantos building would be gutted inside and out to become an atrium and retail space, obliterating all historic elements of its architecture. In addition, a new two-story skywalk would connect the mall with a parking garage across the street, blocking a classic scenic vista as drivers approached downtown.

The plans proceeded over these objections. Herp’s temporarily consolidated the entire store into the basement while the renovation took place above. The Gantos building was destroyed; and the ugly skywalk went up. The exposed girders of the skywalk formed an “M” design which happened to be the architect’s first initial. Was this a coincidence or a subtle monument to himself? The Herpolsheimer building fared better; the exterior retained most of its original appearance. Herp’s also elected to return to the full Herpolsheimer’s name, in the belief that the longer name sounded more upscale.

Around 1986 the new mall, named City Center, opened amid great fanfare. Styled in the aqua and pink of the “Miami Vice” look which was all the rage at the time, the mall looked shiny and new but lacked any real character. Herpolsheimer’s returned to the upper floors of its building, and the basement became a food court. The overhead train remained in place and continued to operate. Most of the stores along the outdoor Monroe “Mall” relocated to City Center, leaving the Monroe Avenue pedestrian mall a barren wasteland of vacant storefronts.

In the 1990s Herpolsheimer’s was acquired by the Lazarus department store chain and adopted the Lazarus name. This company later became part of Macy’s operated as Lazarus-Macy’s until 2006, when Macy's converted all of its stores to the Macy's name.

City Center never really took off and never gave the suburban malls any serious competition. Why this concept failed in Grand Rapids when it worked so well in other cities is a matter of speculation. What is certain is that around 1992 City Center closed its doors, and the city essentially gave up on downtown retail. The Monroe Avenue pedestrian mall was torn out and the street reopened to cars.

In a rather unusual retrofit, the Grand Rapids Police Department took over the City Center building and made it into a new police headquarters. The police dropped the now-outdated Miami Vice look and remodeled it to resemble a generic office building. The eyesore skywalk came down. Today the Herpolsheimer’s building still stands but carries few traces of its original appearance. One can still see evidence of the large display window.

The producers of The Polar Express researched period photographs to create a movie version of Herpolshiemer’s reasonably similar to the original. Today, Herpolsheimer’s, Monroe Mall, and City Center are all gone with only the slightest traces remaining. But thanks to The Polar Express, memories of Herpolsheimer’s will live on for years to come.

Grand Rapids Public Library has several photos of Herpolsheimer's, including the elevated train, on its website.

Please add to this site!

If you have information on the history of Herp’s/Herpolsheimer’s, please blog it or email me (robert @ gmail.com) and I will add it to the site, giving credit of course. Any comments are most welcome as well. Thanks!
Some things I would like to know....
-Your memories of Herp’s/Herpolsheimer’s
-Any specific dates
-Any other information
-Anything in the way of photos
-Did Herp’s/Herpolsheimer’s have any other locations?


Susan Southwick said...

Hi. I live in Georgia and don't know how long ago you posted your article but I was waxing nostalgic for home and the way I remember it and I chanced on your article in a round-a-bout way. I used to live in Jackson, Michigan. My father died in 1958 and my mother had to go to work. After working in a friend's restaurant in the town where I grew up she went to work for L.H. Field's department store in Jackson. She is 91 now and preparing to move into a rest home and I know she has an old menu from Field's "Rose Room" restaurant. I tried to look up information on the Field's in Jackson. Although he (Leonard H. Field) was the brother of Marshall Field, I could find nothing on L.H. Field (not even a mention of his name) nor the department store that was in Jackson from the late 1800's. A lot of what I read about Marshall Field was also a part of the LH Field store of my childhood and early adulthood. The Rose Room in Jackson was the "Walnut Room" in Chicago's Marshall Field's store. The animated Christmas decorations filling all the windows on Michigan Avenue (Main Street through downtown Jackson before they rerouted traffic away from downtown), one of the first stores with their own revolving credit, the first escalators, the "bargain basement", etc. etc. just like his brother's store in Chicago, but on a smaller scale (only 3 floors and a basement).

In the very early 1980's LH Field's sold out to Herp's. They soon sold out and eventually the store just went completely out of business. In the late 1980's or early 1990's some ladies wanted to buy the building and recreate some great nostalgia shops in it. (The restaurant was superb, their candy shop was the only place you could buy Godiva chocolates in town, Santa's toy shop in the basement right by the elevators, memories galore.) But, at that time Jackson was still in the "What do women know?" mood and it was decided no, they couldn't buy it and restore it (at least on the outside) to it's former splendor. Instead they tore it down and sold the land to an investment firm who put up a new building on the site. So, that was how I found your article...I looked up Herp's. And then remembered the entire name. How could two great stores with such history and memories have not been included in this world - wide web existence we have now? Marshall Field may have done some great things, but Leonard Field made a pretty memorable impression on me. Unfortunately my (younger) daughter doesn't even remember the store, but my son still does. We were just talking about it a couple weeks ago, remarking on the unusual things on their menu. I'm glad you have your memories. I wish someone could get all this information saved somehow. Thank you for your article.

Holly said...

Oh how I LOVED Herpolsheimers! I have lived almost all of my life in downtown GR and every Christmas I grieve it's passing... I drive by the police department and describe the window displays of years past to my children. I'm taking them to the Van Andel Museum next week to see the train I'm always telling them about. Downtown GR is once again up and coming and driving through it last night as it snowed...it almost felt like I had traveled back in time. The stores are busy again...the ice skating rink is full skaters...the Uptown trolley is carrying shoppers all over town for shopping... It's great to see all this and for my children to have some of the same wonderful memories as me.

Dave Boomgaard said...

Herps did have another location at South Park mall. I was actually offered the manager position of the shoe department there in the late 70's when I worked at the downtown store

JK said...

You may want to check out the following link and and it to your blog :


There is a timeline of the store and a few postcard images.

I will look in my "archives" to see if I can add to your blog. Thanks for creating this blog. My wife worked at Herps in 1985 - loved Santa's express and the fashion shows they would put on. I'll try to get my wife to relate some stories.

J. Barszewski said...

As a young girl growing up in the late 50's into the 60's my mother use to work on the 3rd floor there,kind of behind the scenes. She was one of the stores telephone operators and worked on the old fashioned switchboards to connect you to different departments and make announcements and page people throughout the store. I still remember all those cords crossing over one another and thought how does she know where they all go to? Also I was one of the lucky ones that had the best view ever for the Christmas parades that came down Fulton St. past Division in the Great big window they use to have way up on the 3rd or 4th floor. Then the excitement of the train ride, seeing santa and of course Rudolph the animated Reindeer that would ask you your age and then a gift would come down a shoot for you. As I got older I also took modeling and etiquette classes there as Miss Jean from the old T.V. show "Romper Room" was my teacher. Those memories will always be in my mind.

Ali Forrest said...

Growing up in the 70's, I have fond memories of Rudolph and the gift shoot! I still remember the plastic tea cup set I received. In college, I worked for Herpolsheimer's DT in the lingerie dept. and later worked in both stores - DT and Wyoming Village as security. Many of the older saleswomen had been working there for many years. City Centre Mall was always dead.

Once Lazurus took over, the holiday window displays were to be universal. The visual display people were sent drawings and told exactly what to do - no longer utilizing their creativity. I remember feeling as if something was dying.

One evening, we lost electricity at The Wyoming store and I had to make my way through all of the old mannequins and displays to the control panel in the basement. My dim flashlight- created very creepy shadows! All of the mannequins from 50's and 60's,most missing limbs,faces chipped away, some with outstretched arms...a sea of corpses......all as if they were waiting for something...anything. Begging to be placed back in the wonderful window displays of yesteryear. But that was to never be again.

Ironically, I then went to work for GRPD, when it was still on Monroe, before Lazurus closed the stores.

I was very excited to watch Polar Express with my young son and now living outside of Chicago, my husband and I take our son to see the the window displays DT, but perhaps it childhood nostalgia, but they don't seem nearly as magical or creative. Maybe because Rudolph and his wonderful gift shoot isn't there. *smile*

Ali Forrest said...

Other articles or photos to check out:





Anonymous said...

Wonderful reading this blog, as Herpolsheimer's still brings wonderful memories. From the display of Santa and the reindeer's in the front window to riding the Santa Express and visiting Santa Claus.

The wonderful shopping experience, lunch rooms, etc, still linger in my memory.

When downtown Grand Rapids was changed to a pedestrian mall, it lost the uniquest of Herpolsheimer's, Wurzburg's Steketee's, and shopping downtown.

The finally act that did the downtown area in was when Herpolsheimer's was changed to City Centre.

Instead of competing with the surburban mall concept it should been promoted for a shopping experience.

City Centre had hours that were mostly for downtown workers, parking was very expensive, and it was closed on Sundays.

It is gone forever, but with blogs like this and the Musuem refurbishing Santa Express Train, memories will live on forever.

Anonymous said...

fyi, we saw an old I Love Lucy episode that actually mentioned shopping at Herpolsheimer's. Haven't seen any comments to this reference anywhere...

Anonymous said...

Thinking back to my childhood in the 60's and riding that train at Christmas is such a wonderful warm memory for me. I was very little and the thing that sticks out the most was all the Christmas decorations and colors and excitement I felt. I do remember the fabulous window displays and how they looked with all the snow outside. Many years later, when it became City Centre I took my own children there to ride the magical train I loved so much. I hadn't seen it in a long time and was amazed at how small it was, especially since I remember my grandma squeezing in to ride with me. When I saw Polar Express and the Herpolsheimer's sign my reaction was OMG..it's the train!!! Living out of state now my husband just thought I was nuts..LOL To me as a child it was more than a store, it was Christmas. On a recent visit back to GR I saw that it was now the police station and was a little sad. I am glad the museum has the train and will have to make sure to visit it as soon as I can because it really was a big part of my childhood.

Sarah Durrand said...

Hello everyone...my name is Sarah Durrand, but my dad's last name growing up was Herpolsheimer. He legally changed it to Durrand sometime back.

I have always been interested in family history, and I knew from my father that the Herpolsheimer's had owned a department store in Michigan. I recently googled "Herpolsheimer". I came across this blog, and it was amazing to find so much information about Herpolsheimer's all in one spot! This History of Herpolsheimer's iss amazing, and I really enjoyed reading all the fond memories people posted in the comments.

Thank you, everyone, for providing such an amazing passageway to the era of Herpolsheimer's Department Store. Being too young to have witnessed it for myself, I am incredibly thankful for all these descriptions and memories.

Sarah Durrand

Sarah Durrand

Anonymous said...

I also was totally surprised while wathcing the movie The Polar Express, when the train passed a large dowtown department store called Herpolsheimer’s! Wow! The memories just started flooding back - the Christmas displays, the train ride, the bargain basement, one of my first jobs as a waitress in Herpolheimer's restaurant. I remember that they didn't like to be called Herp's. Thank you for adding to my memories.

Maryann Ogden Gaither

Tom DeWitt said...

The fondest memories of my childhood was the time spent with my Grandma Olthoff. Our Saturdays often began by getting on the city bus for the trip downtown. She never did learn how to drive. We always had lunch at the counter in Herpolsheimers. She was my favorite grandma and I was her favorite spoiled grandchild. What wonderful days those were!

Anonymous said...

I ran across your blog tonight as I was searching for Albert J. Flogge, the former President of Allied Stores of Michigan, of which Herpolsheimer's was a unit. Your story captured much of the history of the store but there are a few things that I thought you might be interested in learning about.

1) I was the VP Sales Promotion at Herpolsheimer's from 1973 to 1977 after which I was transferred to another Allied Store in Syracuse, NY, where I now reside.

2) The store president during that time was "Bud" Dinger, who resided near Grandville and may still be there. He later worked at Rogers Dept. Store, which I believe is now gone.

3) The large flag in the front window at the corner of Division, Monroe and ? was one of the largest flags in the US at the time and required an annual dry cleaning to remove the dust and bring back some of the color lost by the sun's intense heat in the large 3 story window. The cleaning cost was included in the advertising/promotion budget each year and when the cleaning took place it required 3-4 people to take it down and re-hang it. The space was also used from time to time for oversized community event posters.

4) All the offices for the store management and the regional office were located on "bands" that were hung on large iron rods that ran around the edge of the selling floor.

5) The name Herpolsheimer's was retained by Allied Stores when it was purchased. It became fortuitous to shorten the name to Herp's in 1975 when Herpolsheimers acquired the former Wurzburg's Southland location. (Herp's was the name used most often by customers). The reason was really quite simple. The Herpolsheimer's name was just too long to fit on the building and so I suggested the shorter name was more contemporary, would fit the building, and cost a lot less to erect. (By the way, I had also changed the name of the Hardy Herpolsheimer's in Muskegon to Hardy's during my tenure there from 1968 to 1973). The Southland Grand Opening generated the largest sales volume day that Herpolsheimer's had ever experienced and it continued to make significant sales gains during the remaining time of my tenure there.

6) The train story is quite interesting onto itself. A part of my job was to be sure that the train was operational and running for each major event of the year and so we developed promotions to utilize the train and support Easter, Back to School, and Christmas events. IThe train required frequent maintenance and was really quite noisy as it lumbered around the perimeter of the basement selling floor, which housed toys and sporting goods, as well as the Bargain Basement. The Bargain Basement was run for many years under the leadership of Sam Lake, who developed many young people into store buyers.

7) One of the most disconcerting elements of the Herpolsheimer's operation was the use of subsidized parking by the city fathers since it cost the larger stores on Monroe Avenue a disproportionate share of the cost and was a significant drain on store profit.

I may be able to share some additional information on the store if it is of interest to you. If you have a specific area you want to learn more about just let me know.

Allan Travis

Anonymous said...

Hi! My name is Linda Cadreau. I was born Linda Herpolsheimer. My father's name was Edward Fredrick Herpolsheimer. My parents divorced when I was very young and never had much contact with that side of my family. I feel as though I have another side of my family that I know nothing about. I wanted to ask Sarah Durrand why her dad changed his name.

Babs27 said...

Herp's begain in 1870. Betty Ford worked at the store when it was located at the corner of Ottawa and Monroe not the modern store building built on Division Avenue in 1948.

Anonymous said...

To Linda Cadreau:

Sarah Durrand here. He was simply tired of the name "Herpolsheimer". Admittedly, it seems like it might be a little tough to grow up with.

Thanks again to everyone for your memories and stories of Herpolsheimer's - it's truly wonderful reading through them all. :)

Sarah Durrand

Anonymous said...

I lived in the Herpolsheimer Mansion at 119 Lafayette,1978-80. I believe it was built around 1908. You could tell it was quite an elegant home in its day, it still had the origanal velvet draperies and a mural in the foyer. The garage had hooks for tire chains, labeled Lincoln.

BAK said...

Like other readers of this blog, I have a keen interest in Herpolsheimer's and all of Grand Rapids' memorable department stores.

Readers may enjoy my blog, The Department Store Museum:


I have not yet been able to exhibit the Grand Rapids stores, due to lack of information. Online versions of GR newspapers only cover dates up until 1922. It is my sincere desire to include these stores, however. I am currently writing a book about Jacobson's, which was once located in downtown GR (Fulton at Sheldon, and before that, in the Pantlind Hotel).

When I visit GR for research, I may be able to get enough information from the newspapers to include Herpolsheimer's, Wurzburg, and Steketee's in The Department Store Museum.

Anyone with information about Jacobson's, which would be pertinent to a comprehensive book about the store, is encouraged to contact me via the Jacobson's exhibit at The Department Store Museum online.

Thanks for keeping sorely-missed institutions alive, if only online!

Best Regards

Bruce Allen Kopytek

BAK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stacey said...

There was a Herp's store in downtown Battle Creek (Michigan) in the 80s, i remember going as a child with my mother. It for some reason always seemed like a special treat as opposed to going to the mall. I always wondered why it closed. The building it once occupied is now a branch location of Western Michigan University at 50 Jackson Street West, Battle Creek.

i couldnt remember how to spell the name correctly to find anything on the store. Only remembering that as a child i called it Herpes (yes like her-pees) and that my mother would always make a face and tell me "DONT SAY IT LIKE THAT!" =o)

Tiffany Olson said...

I have acquired a very old White Model 264R sewing machine, from a grandmother that lives in South Carolina. She had never been to Michigan, until after my mom & dad married in 1980. This sewing machine has been in the family for decades before. When going through the instruction manual, I found a charge note, thanking the customer (probably NOT my grandmother) for the purchase through Hardy Herpolsheimer's, Muskegon, MI. Muskegon, MI is now where I reside! How amazing to see this go full cirlce! I Googled the name of the store, to see if any were still around, that I could ask questions about the machine at, and your blog popped up. Thanks so much for the rich history. I now have something to add when I pass this down to my girls!

BAK said...

Readers of this blog may like to know that I have now posted Herpolsheimer's, Wurzburg's, and Steketee's exhibits at The Department Store Museum.


Anyone interested in the Jacobson's stores located once in the Pantlind Hotel, and later at Fulton and Sheldon, can find pictures in the Jacobson's exhibit


Anonymous said...

from Peggy Reyna- In the 1960's we lived in GR, and our next door neighbor, Herb Masalkowski, was a window dresser at Herps. He was a truly amazing man and accomplished artist. The windows at Christmas are a precious memory for me, especially knowing that our neighbor had so much to do with them. I remember the train, but never had the chance to ride it. Those were the good old days!

inge weber sturm said...

Hello! I have enjoyed reading all the stories about Herpolsheimers Department Store. I recently purchased a white Arabian (almost full size) horse, and I was told that she came from Herpolsheimers. I would love to get more information about this horse. I can be reached at my Antique Store "The Intersection" in Six Lakes. Mi @ 989-365-3506... My hours are: M-F 10-5and Sat. 11-3. Any information would be welcome....THANK YOU, inge sturm

BAK said...

I'd like to announce that my book - Jacobson's: I miss it so! - will be available in September. It is listed on bn.com, amazon.com, and historypress.net.

Readers of this blog may be interested to see pictures of the Grand Rapids Jacobson's, which was located near Herp's, as well as pictures and information about L.H. Field's, Jacobson's main competitor in downtown Jackson.

It was exciting to research this long-lost store, and I would hope that readers get the same sense of discovery I had when I learned of the fascinating history behind this important part of Michigan (and Florida's) lost past.

Anonymous said...

Looked up Herpelsheimer's Grand Rapids today after speaking with my Mom. Seems that the china I inherited was purchased on layaway by my Grandmother who was an employee there before she got married in 1936. I vaguely remember visiting there on a trip to Michigan about 1968. Will definitely research more!

martyveldman said...

In 1985 my boss asked me if I would be interested in running the Maint, Dept. at the new City Centre Mall in the old Herps/Gantos building and I said yes. We spent many days cleaning the floors, stairways & basement getting ready for the Grand Opening. Herps was already gone and Lazarus was setting up on the 1st & 2nd floors. The Food Court was rapidly filling up and it seemed to be the beginning of a great Downtown revitalization. Things went along quite well for a time, but after a year or so Lazarus pulled out and the general decline began. I could see the handwriting on the wall. The homeless began to spend more time in the mall and the food merchants, including McDonald's began leaving one after the other. I really enjoyed the great fountain that shot up three stories and running the train on the basement level, except when the motor brushes gave out and the train stopped in mid track. We would then have to get the ladders out and bring the children out one at a time. They probably enjoyed that more than the train ride itself! After 2 years, it was evident that the Mall was doomed to fail and I left for a more permanent position with the Grandville Public Schools where I have spent the last 24 years. Looking back though, I really enjoyed the sense of history working at the historic Herpolshimer's site. My boss now was manager at the Steketee's Dept. Store just down the walk at the time. Downtown seems to be coming back except for the shopping.

Corney said...

Hi all, Kathy Here....
I grew up "in" Herpolsheimer's!. Back in the 1950's and 1960's my Grandmother was the Clothing Buyer for the Women's Department in Grand Rapids. Her name - Kathryn Bunde.
Her office was in the Glass window area of the building overlooking Division St. (3rd or 4th floor).
I had so much fun behind the scenes with my Grandmother. In the stock room, helping her set up special displays, crawling around behind window displays, so many stories.
I have very fond memories of shopping for school clothes, riding down the circular ramp to the parking garage, riding the escalators, riding the elevators - with an elevator operator!, having lunch in the Tea Room (Chocolate Cigarettes), Christmas train rides with my three brothers.
Her employee discount helped my parents insure that our Christmas was always Merry. She bought me my first (one of the first) Barbie Dolls from the toy department.
I have an old Hat Box from Herp's.
Ah, so many many memories....

Anonymous said...

I was a kid in the late 60's – early 70's and a trip to Herpolsheimer's was a big deal. It was really cool driving down the sharp pitched curve into the sub-basement parking garage (where someone else parked the car) and then taking one of the two elevators up to the bargain basement level. In addition to the aforementioned train there was a small snack bar with colored lights (blue and yellow almost like a carnival) that always smelled of popcorn and hot dogs - hard to imagine that small little food outlet made any money (I remember it was closed in later years). We'd take the escalators to the first floor (only one set ran the entire store in a crisscross pattern so you’d get off turn around and go up on the next one) the set in the back of the store only ran from 1-3 and ran parallel to each other so the up & down were right next to each other and then you’d walk loop around and take the next set up to the third floor. I guess they did this because from the first floor the back escalators brought you right up to the entrance of The Kent Room. Yes this is where Betty Ford modeled, but that was before I was a child excited to go into this rather elegant restaurant. The entrance had oversized brass lanterns on either side of the lettering with a faux planter underneath (were you suppose to feel like you were outside?) inside the rather dimly lit room (and the darker “lounge” on one side which was filled with smoke and where I was not allowed to go) white table clothes, heavy industrial china, and waitresses in black dresses with white aprons (like old fashioned maid uniforms). I think a few times I was allowed to get a kiddy cocktail of 7-up with grenadine and a cherry. I was given my own children’s menu and then sat quietly for the informal modeling – I just remember women walking around and there clothes still had price tags on them. The room looked to be very “Dorothy Draper” mid-century d├ęcor (I figured this out after seeing a Draper Retrospective show in NYC – and the timing would have been right for this project to fall her way in the late 40’s when the store opened). Any more information on the Kent Room would be appreciated. There was also an enormous lunch counter on the 1st floor – directly below the Kent Room. The counters were like a maze going back and forth and in and out so that the waitresses were on one side, and the patrons on the other sitting on stools (I wasn’t an over weight kid so I have no idea why I was so fascinated with the food outlets). And then there was also the Candy Counter – I don’t remember exactly where this was on the 1st floor – does anyone know was it relocated as I kind of remember it in more than one spot of the main floor. Anyway the typical glass front cases that “showcased” a couple layers or candies, gummies, chocolates, bridge mix and jelly beans. A separately lit case was just for displaying nuts on a turn table so they would always be turning around under warm light bulbs (I wondered what that did for the nuts?). Anyway – I loved the store and as a child I also enjoyed looking up through the louvered ceiling! It was quite an innovation in it’s day – all the mechanicals, and a set of fluorescent lights hidden above metal grid ceiling panels. Incandescent eyeball spots pierced the grid to highlight displays but the ventilation and mechanicals were all hidden away above the grid. The third floor was slightly different and somehow much darker than the other floors. I recall mattresses for sale, and a “fur-vault” where my mom’s coat would go during the summer – I didn’t really understand but just went with it. I think the third floor was the designer gowns and the like – any more information would be appreciated. I loved the record department in the basement – and the boys and men’s jeans store on the first floor near the Monroe Street entrance. Well it was a great store – the train and Rudolph were my favorites at Christmas! Please share or correct me – it was a long time ago!

Anonymous said...

Herpolsheimer's built a new store on Division in 1948. Betty Ford married Gerald Ford in 1948. The only photo I've seen of Betty Ford was in the old Herpolsheimer's when it was on Ottawa and Monroe.

Do you know from personal knowledge that she actually modeled at the new Herpolsheimer's on Division? Did they have a Kent Room at the old Herp's?

Anonymous said...

I remember the Hardy's in downtown Muskegon. On winter days when the snow was falling softly, my dad would drop my mom and I and my two sisters downtown, and we'd all trapse over to Hardy's. While the girls would be trying on clothing, I'd scurry up the ramp to the next floor and rummage through the record bins. It was there that I was first introduced to Alvin and the Chipmunks (with David Seville). I bought my first Chipmunks Lp at Hardy's: "The Chipmunk Songbook", sporting a beautiful golden foil jacket. I still have that very record album. My mom and sisters could shop all day long, as long as I was scoring cool stuff like this. After a couple of hours at Hardy's, we'd hurry next door to Kresges for a cup of hot soup in their little cafe. These memories are as vivid as if they happened yesterday. Beautiful! (Posted by Steve, who now lives in Oregon.)

Fubble Entertainment said...

This is a great blog! My company is Fubble Entertainment and we are located in downtown Grand Rapids right across the street from where Herpolsheimer's was on Division and Fulton. We created this Facebook page for people to share their memories of the Holidays in Downtown Grand Rapids. Take a look! https://www.facebook.com/HolidayMemoriesOfDowntownGrandRapidsMi

Fubble Entertainment said...

This is a great blog! My company is Fubble Entertainment and we are located across the street from what used to be Herpolsheimer's on the corner of Fulton and Division. We started a Facebook page for people to share their memories of the holidays in downtown Grand Rapids. Check it out! https://www.facebook.com/HolidayMemoriesOfDowntownGrandRapidsMi

Vicki Blankenship said...

Linda Cadreau and Sarah Durrand and any other descendants: Please contact me at your convenience by email at vblanken5@yahoo.com. My name is Vicki Herpolsheimer Blankenship. My grandfather, Ralph Hensch Herpolsheimer, just passed away and it has given me a renewed desire to complete my genealogy project on the family. I believe it was his grandfather that started Herpolsheimer's with a partner. Thank you!!!

Lisa M said...

My son was very young in the late 1990's when the short-lived children's themed mall was located there called Mackie's World. We visited the mall shortly before it closed. There was a dinosaur sculpture in the center near the elevator and a restaurant on the upper floor that had a chalkboard that ran the entire length of one wall. It also seems as though there was a sports complex in the basement.

ViragoBob said...

To Linda Cadreau,
My name is Robert O'Brien, however I also am a Herpolsheimer Kid. My mother was Caroline Brandt Herpolsheimer who passed away in 1964 under the name of Caroline Brandt O'Brien, whose surname I and my younger brother Tom still carry to this day.


To all who may read this,

I am in search of any information about my mother as I was only 6 when she died. Any pictures of the Herpolsheimers, and especially of my mom, would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you and God bless.

- Robert O'Brien

David Martin said...

Do you have any more information about your sewing machine. I have one myself that has the Herpolsheimer's name on it as well. It also has a sewing machine shop name stickered to it that probably fixed it at one time in Michigan. Im in Orlando so this machine must have been a big traveler as it has an enclosed carrying case to it. I have no manual or anything. would love to exchange photos and maybe get a copy of a couple of pages from the manual if thats possible. Please get back with me and I will exchange photos. davidmartin3336@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Here is an interesting link for several independent department stares.


Gretchen DeKok said...

My aunt, Miss Sylvia DeKok, worked at Herp's for a number of years in the Post Office Dept. She passed away on December 21, at the ripe old age of 96. I vaguely remember going to visit her at the store.

Travis541 said...

My grandfather was Donald Herpolsheimer, I was told stories in my younger years when he was still alive about the family department store. My jaw dropped seeing it in the movie Polar Express so many years later..Very neat! thanks for the article.

Sharon Walker said...

You have all touched my heart. My father, Joseph Z was the Men's Clothing Tailor at Herpolsheimer's for numerous years until he retired. I was born in 1958 and I remember absolutely everything about the store. My mother take me shopping on Fridays, start at Wurzburgs, head to Steketees, and then we would meet my father for dinner at Herpolsheimer's. Remember the talking Reindeer downstairs? And everyone loved the train! What fabulous memories I have of it all! Just watched the movie the Polar Express! Couldn't believe it either! To Good Memories!!

Anonymous said...

is the name related to the last name Herbolsheimer?

Heidi Magesa said...

Does anyone know if the Grand Rapids Herpolsheimer's was in any way related to the H. Herpolsheimer's Co. in Lincoln, Nebraska? I found an advertisement for H. Herpolsheimer's Co. dry goods store in a Lincoln, NE publication.