June 29: Shopping on the Frontier
Shopping on the frontier was a far different experience than shopping in the cities out east, which could support shops that could specialize in items like shoes, baked goods, cloth, cheese, tea, books, and hats. The bigger cities might also have so called “Cheap Shops,” an early version of the discount store.
Small frontier towns, however, could not support such a wide variety of shops, making the general store a staple of frontier towns. The general store offered a wide variety of goods in one place.
Early pioneers in Dakota Territory were dependent on traders for the goods they needed, giving rise to trading posts, with goods like blankets, guns, cooking pots, and tools. The first permanent trading post was established at Pembina in 1801. Other posts were built throughout the territory as more settlers began to arrive.
Small frontier towns grew into small frontier cities. As they did, they attracted more inhabitants and more businesses. The general store would slowly be replaced by specialty shops. In 1874, Bismarck boasted a population of twelve hundred people. The city was located in a strategic position with a port on the Missouri River and, later, as an important railroad hub.
Meyer Eppinger was a businessman from Sioux City, Iowa, but was attracted to Bismarck by the seemingly unlimited opportunities. He opened the Star Clothing House, which offered a variety of ready-made clothing for the entire family. On this date in 1887, Eppinger was in the east on one of his buying trips. His store had a reputation for carrying one of the largest stock of clothing in the Northwest. Clothing no longer had to be hand-sewn one item at a time. People now had the convenience of manufactured clothes.
Eppinger closed his store when the building was destroyed by fire in 1898. He worked to rebuild the business district, with one section becoming known as the Eppinger Block. He passed away in 1902. He was described as a kind and charitable man. He left his mark on the city and helped change the way people got their clothes on the frontier.
Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher
- Bismarck Daily Tribune. “Death of M. Eppinger.” Bismarck ND. 2/13/1902. Page 3.
- Bismarck Historical Society. “It Happened in Bismarck.” http://www.bismarckhistory.org/ithappenedinbismarck/june/ Accessed 5/30/2023.
- Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. “Bismarck, North Dakota.” http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.ct.006 Accessed 5/30/2023.
- Shannon Selin. “How Did People Shop in the Early 1800’s?” https://shannonselin.com/2021/12/how-did-people-shop-early-1800s/#:~:text=Markets%2C%20peddlers%20and%20hawkers%2C%20specialty%20stores%2C%20general%20stores,cheap%20shops%20all%20catered%20to%20early%2019th-century%20shoppers. Accessed 5/30/2023.