The 1949 Grand Opening of Lowenstein's East



photo courtesy "Lowen-Behold!" newsletter

When Lowenstein's opened its new million-dollar department store on April 1, 1949, it marked a milestone in Memphis: The store would serve as the anchor for the first shopping center built outside downtown, a complex of stores then and now called Poplar Plaza. How quaint that notion seems now: Highland considered "East Memphis."

The Lauderdale Library contains several issues of the "Lowen-Behold!" company newsletter, and the March 1949 issue talks about the new store. The opening ceremonies had some rather unusual activities. Among them was a special preview on April 1, "but no merchandise will be sold that day." Well, not to just regular folk like you and me. Well, you. Instead, from 2 to 5 that afternoon, the only shoppers would be the "Roll of Honor" residents of Memphis: "These are the people who attended the opening of the new Lowenstein's store at Main and Monroe on September 8, 1924, and signed the roll of honor."

Gosh, I bet they never dreamed of the good fortune that awaited them 25 years later!

The newsletter notes that Mrs. Wilma G. Person, whose family owned the land the new store was built on, "has requested that she be allowed to make the first purchase at our new store." No word on whether her wish was granted.

The newsletter assured nervous customers, not accustomed to this crazy "East Memphis" shopping, that "facilities offered at Lowenstein's East will be approximately the same as those available at our uptown store." Oh sure — "approximately." One thing that customers would find decidely different from the "uptown" store would be parking: "A wonderful convenience for our customers at Lowenstein's East is the spacious parking area, which will accommodate 120 to 130 cars."

Here's something else amusing (if you ask me) about the newsletter article. In this day and age, when everybody carries a smart phone and all it takes is one swipe of the screen to do just about anything, making a telephone call to the new Lowenstein's was quite an adventure. The newsletter explains the steps involved: "The telephone number for our suburban store will be the same as our regular number: 8-7711. Our automatic system will be used for calls from Lowenstein's to Lowenstein's East. Dial 8, then dial the number listed in the directory for the department you desire. For station-to-station calls within the suburban store, dial the number for the station or party desired. For calls from Lowenstein's East to our uptown store, the operator will connect you with a party or the department desired."

Got that? Well, it doesn't matter. Dialing 8-7711 won't connect you to Lowenstein's, and there's no point in driving there either. You'll find Spin Street Records and Petco where the old department store used to be. Be sure to ask to sign the "Roll of Honor" when you visit either place.  It might come in handy someday.

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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