Looking back at Herman’s Department Store and the traces left behind.
For almost 70 years, Herman’s Department Store provided residents of Jefferson City with more than just items for their home — it provided them with treasured memories. It was the local store where countless brides purchased their wedding dresses, and their grooms turned to the store for tuxedos. Parents went to Herman’s to purchase school uniforms, and occasionally, children were treated to a Coca-Cola from the store’s classic soda machine.
When David Herman opened the store in 1926, it’s unlikely he had any idea how many memories he and his family would help create and be a part of. A native of Lithuania, David was born in 1900 and immigrated to the United States at the age of 13. He moved to Jefferson City in 1925 and opened his store soon after. While overseeing the store, he and his wife, Ethel, also had a family of five children (three daughters and two sons).
Herman’s Department Store created a place where customers could shop for all phases of their life at one location — school clothing (casual as well as formal dresses), home goods, and even luggage for their travels. The store had both a tailor and a seamstress on site to ensure a perfect fit. It also offered local teenagers a place to gain work experience and raise enough money to purchase their first pair of Levi’s.
Robert Herman, one of David’s sons, married his wife, Roberta, in 1953. The couple, known as “Bob and Bobbie,” met in college at the University of Missouri. Bobbie, who had grown up in the small Missouri towns of Carthage and Union, remembers feeling as if she had moved to a large city when she arrived in Jefferson City.
When David passed away in 1973, his sons Robert and Allen took over the business. Bobbie managed the register and oversaw the linen department while her sister-in-law Barbara was responsible for the store’s bridal department.
The department store operated at three different locations through the years, all located on High Street and within close proximity to one another. The first was at the corner of Monroe and High streets in what is now known as the Monaco building. It later moved across the street before settling into its final location, 240 E. High St., putting it once again on the corner of High and Monroe. Today, Cole County Abstract currently operates out of the location.
Built in 1870, the building was originally called Bragg Hall. At one time, the historic building had a mansard roof, similar to the Governor’s Mansion and the Caretaker’s Cottage at the National Cemetery. The building, then valued at $15,000, was left to the City of Jefferson by local businessman J.M. Clarke upon his death. Clarke stipulated in his will that the city had to raise $3,000 to pay for a life-sized bronze statue of himself. The statue was to be placed in a prominent room of the building along with portraits of his wife, Lavinia Clarke, and his two sons, Junius and Marcus. The city was also required to maintain, in perpetuity, the Clarke family burial vault at Woodland-Old City Cemetery. In 1987, the city reached an agreement with the Clarke heirs and the statue and family portraits were moved to the Clarke Nutrition Center on Myrtle Avenue, which was given the family’s name.
It was the kind of store that doesn’t exist anymore.
Over the years, the historic building has been home to Dallmeyer Dry Goods as well as a fire station. By 1946, Herman’s Department Store inhabited the first floor and basement while Jefferson City Hall occupied the remainder of the building. This arrangement continued until the building was sold and city hall was moved to its present location in 1983. Before that, customers would often bump into the mayor while shopping.
Although Herman’s Department Store closed in the early 1990s, traces of the business still exist. The store’s tuxedo business was purchased by Sam Bushman, who opened Samuel’s Tuxedos on the same day Herman’s closed; he even used some of the same fixtures from the department store. Bushman has owned the tuxedo store for almost 20 years, but recently sold the business to Hannah Spalding. However, he still plans to continue working part-time. Sam has fond memories of his time at Herman’s and believes the store was where he learned how to be a good retailer. “It was the kind of store that doesn’t exist anymore,” Bobbie Herman says, reflecting over the years. “Ours is just a typical Midwestern story. We feel blessed that we were able to raise two great sons in a nice small town.”
Herman’s Department Store will be remembered as an iconic piece of Jefferson City history. Although the store is gone, the memories remain.