Younkers: An Iowa Icon Timeline

Younkers Building from Glimpses of Des Moines circa 1900?

1856 – Lytton, Samuel, and Marcus Younker establish the first Younker and Brothers Dry Goods Store in Keokuk, Iowa.

1874 – A younger brother, Herman, opens the Younker Dry Goods Store in Des Moines.

1879 – The Keokuk store closes and the Des Moines store becomes the headquarters for Younker Brothers.

1881 – Younker Brothers hires Mrs. Mary McCann, the first woman to be employed by any store in Des Moines.

1899 – The Des Moines store moves to its long-term location at Seventh and Walnut Streets, opening on November 9.

1912 – Younker Brothers purchases the Grand Department Store.

1913 – The original Tea Room opens.

1927 – The new Tea Room replaces the old.

1927 – The company merges with Harris-Emery Company, and becomes the largest department store chain in Iowa.

1928 – Younkers Brothers buys J. Mandlebaum and Sons.

1936 – Air-conditioning comes to the entire downtown store.

1939 – A modernization program includes the installation of the first “electric stairs” (escalators) in Iowa. Thousands turn out to try the new invention.

1943 – Younkers purchases the seven-story building across the street from the main store and opens the Store for Homes. A tunnel under the street connects the two stores.

1956 – Younkers negotiates to buy the site of St. Gabriel’s monastery on Merle Hay Road. This later becomes the site of Merle Hay Mall.

1959 – Younkers Merle Hay Mall store opens.

1950s-1960s – Younkers opens several more Des Moines stores as well as branches in Sioux City, Iowa City, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, Omaha, Nebraska, and Austin, Minnesota.

1978 – Tragedy strikes when the Merle Hay store is destroyed by a fire which kills ten employees.

1979 – Equitable of Iowa purchases Younker Brothers for $72.2 million and makes the retailer a subsidiary officially named Younkers.

1985 – The downtown Store for Homes closes.

1986 – Younkers purchases major competitor Brandeis & Sons, which has eleven department stores in Iowa and Nebraska.

1992 – Younkers purchases the department store division of H.C. Prange Co., a privately owned chain with twenty-five stores.

1994 – Milwaukee-based retailer Carson Pirie Scott & Co. makes an unsolicited bid for Younkers, but the Younkers board votes not to sell.

1995 – Younkers accepts a bid for the company of $216 million from Proffitt’s, Inc., a Tennessee chain,

1998 – Proffitt’s buys Saks Fifth Avenue and makes Younkers a division of Saks.

2005 – The flagship downtown store closes on August 12, ending more than 100 years of retailing on the same site. A store-closing sale brings thousands of people downtown to purchase memorabilia ranging from teacups from the fabled Younkers Tea Room to the “Electric Stairs” sign which had hung over the escalators since 1939. It was the end of an era for downtown retailing in Des Moines.

2006- Bon-Ton Stores acquires from Saks all the shares of its Northern Department Stores Group, and becomes the new corporate parent of Younkers.

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