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Indy Ayres: 1905

Indy Ayres: 1905

Circa 1905. "The Ayres Building, Indianapolis, Indiana." The L.S. Ayres & Co. department store. 8x10 glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.


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Re: Turning back the clock

I just visited the Indianapolis Historical Society exhibit on the founding and history of the iconic L.S. Ayres Company, and particularly their downtown location. The Ayres Christmas Cherub is currently on display there, under glass, for all to see and appreciate at eye level. There are many items on display, primarily pertaining to women's fashions, for which they were so well and widely known. "That Ayres Look" was their well known slogan, and was used for years to identify their classy, well done, understated lady-like fashion style, even into the most well known fashion magazines.

The company itself was well-known as a very good company for which to work, and one which was the home of many employee-friendly innovations. Among these included being the first business in Indianapolis to establish the tradition of the employee picnic in the late 1800's, establishing the distribution of the annual Christmas turkey to all employees, later replacing this with a $1 bonus, which was apparently the cost of the average turkey at the time. But the $1 could be used for anything the employee needed or desired. Later on, the establishment of their own employee emergency assistance program, not just for employees, but ex-employees as well.

Then there was the training systems for their own in-store models, and the first store in Indianapolis to install air conditioning in 1929. Later, when the installation of rider-controlled elevators eliminated the position of elevator operator, the customer service-minded African-American young women who had been hired to fill those positions were retained and retrained for sales and administrative positions.

Ayres was the first store in Indianapolis to establish the Ayres "Charge-A-Plate" program, before other stores or any Visa or MasterCard-type programs ever came. They also had a centralized cashier system, run through pneumatic tubes, which sent sales tickets and the customer's payment, whether cash or later their "Charge-A-Plate" to the cashier section, who processed the sale and returned the receipt and change to the same sales associate for return to the customer. No cash registers in sight. And of course, their Tea Room, Christmas Windows, Christmas Train....

re: Everybody Jump!

Actually seconds after the near-miss, since 406 is traveling away from 407.

Now a conference facility

The upper floors of the old Ayers building have been converted to offices. I worked there in the mid-2000s. Interestingly, the actual space that was the Tea Room is still there -- now part of a conference facility.

In the reproduction Tea Room at the Indiana State Museum, they photographed the view outside the original Tea Room (Barnes & Thornburg building) and put them outside the photo outside the new imitation windows at the museum. It really feels like being in the old Tea Room!

Everybody jump!

This photo was taken seconds before the famous streetcar crash between #406 and #407.

Come visit the Store

A large section of the facade of the L.S. Ayres building, two floors tall and all the classic stonework, is integrated with an inner wall of the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis. It's the face of the Museum's L.S. Ayres Tea Room, which is a working replica of the Store's original tea room

Tons of pictures

Google Images has an extensive set of pics of this store through the years. This site has an interesting history.

New Ownership

Now a Carson Pirie Scott store. LS Ayres was Indiana's premier department store until it was bought out by Macy's. But then, every department store will eventually be Macy's.

Fireplugs just don't move.

Turning back the clock

The Ayres store in downtown Indianapolis closed in 1992, and the L.S. Ayres name vanished in 2006 when it became Macy's. A Carson Pirie Scott store now occupies part of the building, which still looks much the same as in 1905.

A bronze cherub statue commissioned in 1947 by Ayres has adorned the corner clock during each Christmas season since, except for 1993 when the May Company (Ayres' owner at the time) removed the statue to its St. Louis HQ after closing the downtown store. The public outcry compelled the May Company to donate the statue permanently to Indianapolis Downtown Inc.

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Ayres History

The plaque on the side of the building reads:

When constructed in 1905, the Ayres Building was the first modern, fireproof department store in the city. Located at 1 West Washington Street and designed by the local architectural firm of Vonnegut & Bohn, the store was enlarged in 1914, 1928, and 1946. Founder Lyman S. Ayres (1824-1896) had been a leading dry goods retailer in the state since opening his first store on Washington Street in 1872. A family owned business for three generations, the department store founded many of the great traditions of downtown Indianapolis, such as the Ayres Tea Room, Santa Land, the Ayres Clock, and the Christmas cherub. L. S. Ayres & Company vacated its historic headquarters in 1992. The building was rehabilitated and integrated into Circle Centre.

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