Remembering Some Of Kansas City's Beloved And Iconic Stores

Mar 29, 2017

In February, the beloved Prairie Village card shop Tiffany Town closed after 52 years. Central Standard's Gina Kaufmann remembered the store as the "aesthetic of childhood in the '80s," and as the place to get birthday gifts for classmates.

The card shop is now among the ranks of other iconic Kansas City  institutions that people remember fondly. Historian Monroe Dodd and KCUR's Sam Zeff spoke with Kaufmann about other iconic businesses and what they meant to both the metro area and to individuals who remember them. 

One place that came to mind immediately was the Emery, Bird, Thayer Dry Goods Company (EBT), one of the first department stores in downtown Kansas City, which closed in 1968.

"In obituaries, people were proud to say they were a milliner or fashion designer or elevator operator there,"said Dodd. "They remember that point in their lives because it was a destination, an aspirational kind of place for a lot of people."

Wonderland Arcade.
Credit U.S. National Archives / Flickr — CC

A more recent closure in the area is that of Bruce Smith Drugs. The pharmacy announced that they were closing their doors after six decades of business in Kansas City. The owners of the pharmacy left a note on their doors saying they felt "blessed for the many years [they] have been able to have you in our lives and will miss you all."

Zeff also recalled the arcade he frequented as a child "back when you used to have to leave the house to play videogames."

"When my mom went to the plaza we would take the bus to Wonderland," Zeff said. "It was a pinball arcade with early versions of videogames. Your mom could trust that you would be ok to get on the bus and spend $5."

As the number of chain stores increased and online shopping has become easier, daily life has changed and many one-of-a-kind stores have also closed.

"As the metropolitan area exploded miles and miles in every direction and as suburbs sprang up, all these stores that used to be destination stores downtown died out," said Dodd.

As the city has changed, so has the way people shop.

Zeff's Department Store on SW Boulevard in Rosedale.
Credit Sam Zeff

"People used to say, 'I think I’ll drive a few blocks to go and get this,' rather than just ordering it on the internet," said Dodd. "I like to say you would have to wipe away the freeways to see what the city was like. To see what shopping and family stores were like, you would have to wipe away the internet."

As someone who grew up with a local family business, Zeff's Department Store, Zeff said that he noticed a difference in attitude between the family-owned store and current businesses.

"In that business you become a part of the community," said Zeff. "I don't mean to knock Macy's, but it doesn't have that same appeal. My relatives were a part of where that store was, a part of the landscape and part of the neighborhood in a really good way."

Although it's been years, Zeff says that he still feels the influence of the family store.

"Not too long ago I was doing an interview with a representative in Kansas City, Kansas, and when I gave him my card he said 'Are you related to the Zeffs from Southwest Boulevard?' There are still people who remember."

Caitlin Troutman is an intern for KCUR's Central Standard.