L.S. Ayres Department Store was located at the intersection of Washington and Meridian Streets from 1905 to 1992. L.S. Ayres was not just a department store, but an experience that transformed the way women participated in urban society. While public spaces had previously been dominated by men, department stores were designed to appeal to women shoppers.
Stepping Back in Time…
It’s Friday, November 27, 1959. You want to start your holiday shopping, so you go downtown. At the corner of 1 West Washington Street, you notice the 10,000-pound L.S. Ayres Clock sitting almost 29 feet up. Atop the clock is a bronze sculpture of a cherub. Outside is the beautiful holiday-themed window display in the front of the building. The feminine décor and decadence you see indicate this is a place for women. The decorations, as well as the fashions, were art forms in themselves.
Entering the store, you hear holiday music performed live by the L.S. Ayres Carolers. Since you have been to Ayres before, you know the many departments throughout the building: men’s, women’s, junior's, children’s, shoes, hats, cosmetics, jewelry, furniture, and electronics. At each location, you are greeted by friendly employees that help you find everything.
After hours of shopping, you get lunch at the Tea Room. A uniformed server arrives, and you order chicken velvet soup and apricot bread. While waiting on your meal, you notice some children selecting gifts from the Treasure Chest in the middle of the room after riding the Santa Claus Express Train. After finishing, you head to one more place: the Downstairs (or Budget) Store. While most customers can only marvel at the couture fashions upstairs, they actually purchase their items from the Downstairs Store.
The Significance of the Department Store
Department stores such as L.S. Ayres offered a space for middle and upper-middle class white women to consume fashion and immerse themselves in beautiful surroundings where every detail had been designed with them in mind.