For First Time in Nearly 140 Years, SLC Lacks Department Store

For First Time in Nearly 140 Years, SLC Lacks Department Store


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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Saturday's closing of the Macy's store downtown marks the first time in 139 years that Utah's capital city is without a department store.

Ever since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founded Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution in 1868, there has been a department store in the heart of downtown.

ZCMI is considered one of the country's first department stores and was founded by church leaders to protect Mormons from Non-Mormon merchants, according to one historian.

Today, the church has a more inclusive business model and downtown retailers Macy's and Nordstrom are closing down temporarily while the LDS church redevelops the downtown malls.

The $1 billion City Creek Center will open in 2011 with a total of four department stores including Macy's and Nordstrom. The church hopes the project, which will also include office and condominium towers, will restore Main Street shopping to the draw it used to be when a trip to ZCMI was an event.

"It's really too bad that that historic center of commerce will be put on hold for a while," says Kent Powell, history programs manager for the Division of State History. "Hopefully, with the new developments down there, that will be a springboard to continue the tradition and commercial significance of the area."

Uncomfortable with the influx of non-Mormons to the territory, then LDS church President Brigham Young directed community and business leaders to create the cooperative, according to Utah historian Martha Sonntag Bradley, whose history of the homegrown store is called "ZCMI: America's First Department Store."

Young thought non-Mormon merchants were selling Mormons overpriced goods. He and other church leaders encouraged members to shop exclusively at ZCMI, according to a brochure written by the Utah Heritage Foundation.

Young was ZCMI's first president and customer, buying $1,000 worth of goods, according to Bradley's book.

The May Co. purchased ZCMI in 1999 and the chain became Meier & Frank stores. With a merger last year they became Macy's.

All that remains of the old store is ZCMI's 1876 cast-iron facade, which still serves as the entrance to Macy's. The church has said it will remove the facade during construction and put it back on the front of the new Macy's store.

"I don't think there's the same sort of emotional connection to Macy's or Meier and Frank as there was to ZCMI," says Bradley. "ZCMI was a historical artifact a lot of people were connected to. It would be much more controversial to put ZCMI down."

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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