Herbst Department Store
With warmer weather comes spring cleaning. And after cleaning out the closets, what better activity than shopping?
At the Herbst Department Store in downtown Fargo in late May 1923, it was time for the annual spring "Dollar Days Sale." A crowd of people lined up along the sidewalk for blocks, in anticipation of the doors opening.
The "Dollar Days Sale" happened every 90 days, and it featured high-valued items priced at only one dollar. Six times during the day, a gong would ring, signaling to customers that a new specialty sale item had been placed somewhere in the store. The first customer to find it could take it home for just one dollar. These sales attracted as many as 35,000 people! The value of a dollar in 1923 is approximately $15 today, but judging by the size of the crowds, there must have been some great deals.
Shopping downtown at a department store was more than merely buying goods. It was an experience. They often included places to eat and beauty salons.
Although the exchange of goods for currency can be traced back to the very beginnings of organized society, shopping as a leisure activity wasn’t common until the turn of the 19th century. The industrial revolution spurred the growth of a newly affluent middle class. More leisure time and more money led to the emergence of the department store. The first was Harding, Howell & Co, opening in London in 1796. In the U.S., Macy's opened in New York City in 1858.
The Herbst store was among the earliest in North Dakota, opening in 1892. It was founded by Isaac or "Ike" Herbst, who came to North Dakota 1884. He worked in Bismarck and Jamestown before coming to Fargo in 1887. He went into partnership with Robert Adler and purchased a bankrupt store's stock. They opened a store called "The Bankrupt Store" and quickly sold the complete inventory.
Herbst eventually bought out Adler and opened his own store in 1891. And though he passed away in 1910, his wife Emma, along with sons Robert and Krohn, successfully ran the store for the next 70 years. The Herbst department store remained a vibrant part of the retail community until 1982 when shopping malls took prominence.
Today, many mall department stores are closing as shopping trends again change. There is also a trend toward downtown revitalization. As Petula Clark sang, "the lights are much brighter there, you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, so go downtown."
Dakota Datebook by Maria Witham
Resseguie, Harry E. “Alexander Turney Stewart and the Development of the Department Store, 1823-1876.” The Business History Review, vol. 39, no. 3, 1965, pp. 301–322. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3112143.
Raezer, Trisha and John Hallberg. Images of America: Herbst Department Store. Charleston, South Carolina, Arcadia Publishing, 2015