Robertson’s Department Store opened in South Bend in 1904 at 211 S. Michigan Street. The store was founded by George A. Robertson. It was the largest department store in South Bend with seven stories.
In 1932, Jewish brothers Sig and Will Welber bought the store. Will’s son, Philip Welber, joined the store in 1936 and became its president. One of the reasons that Robertson’s was so successful was because the Welber family and Robertson’s management were innovative and great retailers. The mezzanine had a bookstore, a bakeshop, a luncheonette, and a photo studio.
There were floors dedicated to women’s fashion, men’s fashion, and furniture. The sixth floor had a very popular tearoom with an auditorium that was used for fashion shows and product demonstrations. Robertson’s had the first escalator in South Bend in 1948 and was the first store to have building-wide air conditioning. It was a trailblazer in the American retail sphere, implementing groundbreaking technology and methods at the time, including the use of credit cards, personal shoppers, and free delivery.
There were many more Jewish owned stores downtown including Max Adler, Frances Shop, Greene's, Spiro's, Milady Shop, Little Folk Shop, Newman's, and Jacob's Jewelers. Robertson’s eventually closed in 1986, and the building was converted into its current use as affordable housing for seniors.
Thanks to Indiana Humanities for awarding us a grant for this project and to all the volunteers who helped put this together (especially past and present community members who agreed to tell us their stories).