Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Shopping in Detroit Memories: Kern's and Crowley's

In this week's post about shopping in Detroit we're going back to a couple of the "old-school" department stores many of us remember.

In a previous post, I briefly mentioned probably everyone's favorite: Hudson's; of course I will dedicate an entire post to the JL Hudson Department Store. If you went downtown to Hudson's, then you certainly remember Kern's and Crowley's.

Kern's Department store was started back in 1883 as the Ernst Kern Dry Good Company. A fire in 1886 caused the store to be rebuilt on the corner of Randolph and Monroe streets, but as business grew, the store moved again in 1900 to its last location on Woodward and Gratiot. It continued to grow and develop into Detroit's third largest department store by the 1950s. At that time, the Kern Family, who owned a home in my neighborhood, the Boston-Edison Historic District, sold the store to a corporation in New York state which finally closed the doors on Kern's on December 23, 1959. The corporate headquarters of Compuware was built where Kern's was located; and the redesigned "Kern's Clock" stands guard at the corner of Woodward and Gratiot.

Besides the famous clock, what I remember most about Kern's is the escalator: it was completely made of wood, not metal. What do you remember?

Crowley's Department store lasted longer than Kern's; the last store, which was located in New Center One, closed in 1999. "Crowley's" was actually the Crowley-Milner Company, which began in 1909 when the Crowley Brothers of Detroit, Joseph, William, and Daniel, merged with the W.L. Milner store in Toledo Ohio. Although Milner was killed in an automobile accident in 1923 and his family sold his shares in the department store's chain, the Crowley family kept the official name. Throughout the decades, and in spite of the Great Depression and several top management changes, Crowley's continued to grow and expand throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It had stores in the enclosed malls around Detroit, as well as Lansing and Flint; as well as the flagship store in downtown Detroit, which finally closed in 1977.

Although Crowley's struggled to maintain its original upscale image, by 1995, three of its last stores were bought by the company that owns Value City, and the store were named "Crowley's Value City". The Crowley's name was eventually dropped; Value City off-price retail stores still exist. However, many of us prefer to remember the Crowley's of the 1950s and 1960s, which along with Hudson's had the most beautiful holiday displays and high-brow shopping experiences in town. Our mothers actually dressed in white gloves, high heels, and hats to go shopping!

Shameless Plug: Please read my husband's blog, The "D" Spot...


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