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Downtown Salt Lake City thrived as shopping mecca for century

Stores such as ZCMI and Auerbach's were popular destinations

Published: Monday, Nov. 16 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

A large US Flag is hung on the Front of ZCMI celebrating Americas 200th Birthday in 1976. ZCMI is known as one of the earliest Department stores in the Nation. Deseret News Archives

Deseret News Archives

Before there were shopping malls, there was downtown.

And for more than 100 years, Salt Lake City's downtown was the state's number one shopping destination.

With a vibrant commercial district, Salt Lake's Main Street offered a little bit of everything. Businesses that carved a name in the history of downtown include ZCMI, Auerbach's, P.W. Madsen Furniture, the Dinwoodey furniture company and Dayne's Music, to name a just a few.

"Residents who lived in Salt Lake City prior to the 1960s remember how vibrant the city was, full of life and bustle," according to an article at www.utahstories.com. "Arline Markosian says Salt Lake City was so safe, she and her young sister would often ride a trolley to the Orpheum Theater to watch a film — unaccompanied by her parents — for a nickel."

Most of those store fronts, many featuring creative and colorful displays designed to lure window shoppers in from the streets, have disappeared. Some have moved to other locations.

Over the years, Deseret News photographers have captured some of the charm and vibrancy of Salt Lake City's downtown in its glory days. Photo researcher Ron Fox has assembled a collection of these photos, which can be viewed at the newspaper's Web site, www.deseretnews.com.

When silver was discovered in Utah about 20 years after the Mormon pioneers arrived, the ramifications split the personality of the commercial district.

Anchoring the "Mormon half" of downtown was ZCMI, which was created to combat the inevitable changes the mines would bring. Brigham Young envisioned an organization that would support home manufacturing and to sell goods "as low as they can be sold."

ZCMI sold a variety of goods, including clothing, wagons, machinery, sewing machines and carpets, and also served as an outlet for the products produced by the Saints. In 1876, the several departments were consolidated under one roof to create what has been called America's first department store.

The "gentile half" was the Exchange Place district near the City and County Building.

The one company that defied the "us vs. them" mentality was Auerbach's, founded by Fred and Herbert Auerbach on Broadway, which became Utah's second largest retail store after ZCMI,

Other earlier businesses succeeded by specializing. Daynes Music, for example, started in 1862 in a log cabin on Main Street.

Dinwoodey Furniture and P.W. Madsen Furniture opened in 1874 and 1875 respectively.

Dinwoodey's six-story building was an impressive downtown presence, and one photo shows the structure festooned with a giant fabric star for Statehood Day in 1896. The business closed its doors in 1985.

P.W. Madsen Furniture moved to Holladay in 1968 and closed in 1999.

Dayne's Music, which moved to Midvale, continues to thrive. It is the oldest music company west of the Mississippi.

Auerbach's survived over 100 years until it succumbed to the migration of shoppers from downtown to the malls.

And ZCMI, which thrived at the same location for many years, was transformed from a provincial cooperative to a publicly owned shareholder entity. Shoppers would ride the train or trolley from all over the Wasatch Front to shop for clothes and eat ice cream sundaes at the ZCMI soda fountain.

The malls changed that, even though ZCMI expanded into the mall locations. The store was sold in 1999 to the Meier and Frank Co.

e-mail: mhaddock@desnews.com

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