The Indiana Historical Society (IHS)’s newest exhibit, Jewish Merchants of Downtown Indianapolis, opens tomorrow, January 15, at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, located at 450 W. Ohio St. in downtown Indianapolis.
The exhibit expands on the history of Jewish merchants — Hiram Passmore Wasson, William Herman Block, Leopold Strauss and others — and how their stores played a significant role in offering Indianapolis an innovative shopping experience on par with some of the largest department stores around the world.
The centerpieces of many cities all over the world, department stores were lavish palaces of consumption, filled with every product and service imaginable. Their beginnings, however, were humble.
“Department stores emerged from small, no-frills, dry-goods stores that sold a limited selection of merchandise,” said Indiana Historical Society Exhibitions Research Assistant Jessica Fischer. “Indianapolis had its own grand department stores, many of which were established and operated by Jewish business owners.”
These business owners contributed to Indianapolis through their successful companies that bolstered the city’s economy and their legacy as generous citizens who gave back to the community through actions like organizing welfare associations and providing trust funds for charitable organizations.
The Jewish Merchants of Downtown Indianapolis exhibit is presented by Walter and Joan Wolf and included with admission to the Indiana Historical Society. Also available through IHS’s Basile History Market is new IHS Press title “Looking Forward, Giving Back: The Jewish Merchants of Downtown Indianapolis,” a book by Kenneth L. Turchi that traces the 150-year history of the Jewish merchants, offering a glimpse of a more genteel time when shopping downtown was a special experience.