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CJ Coombs

Historic Emery, Bird, Thayer & Co. department store was a central focus on the main retail road in Kansas City in 1890

Emery, Bird, Thayer & Company, Kansas City, Missouri.Public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

The Emery, Bird, Thayer & Company (EBT) was a downtown Kansas City department store. Its history goes way back to almost when the city began. It closed in 1968. The actual address was 1016-1018 Grand, Kansas City, Missouri. It was built in 1889-90 and faced south on 11th Street.

The architectural style had been described as Free Romanesque. The architect was Henry Van Brunt of Van Brunt & Howe in Kansas City. Van Brunt was considered to be a distinguished architect in Kansas City.

Van Brunt translated in 1857 the first ten of Viollet le Due's seminal Discourses on Architecture, which deeply influenced, among others, Frank Lloyd Wright. Van Brunt was national president of the A.I.A. in 1899 and was a frequent essayist. (Source.)

Van Brunt's firm also designed the New Coates House Hotel (1887-1891) which was also listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

The EBT building was listed on the NRHP, but in 1971, it was torn down. Even though it was torn down, it had a place in history and should be written about. It was removed from the NRHP on January 1, 1999.

When Kansas City was known as the Town of Kansas in the 1860s, the Coates and Gillis store was established by Kersey Coates and William Gillis. It was started on Main Street at Missouri Avenue and the intention was to help outfit the travelers on the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails.

The store moved to a new three-story building at 7th and Main Streets. It also became more upscale. The store merged with a store operated by Thomas B. Bullene and became Coates and Bullene. Still later, the department store became Bullene, Moore and Emery. And, believe it or not, in the 1890s, the store had its last name change associated with investors' names: W.E. Emery, Joseph Taylor Bird, Sr., and William B. Thayer.
Emery, Bird, Thayer & Co. is on the upper left, taken between 1900 and 1910.Detroit Publishing Co, Public domain, via Library of Congress.

In the 1890s, along East 11th Street from Walnut to Grand, a new building was opened that took up a whole block. It was a central attraction on the main road through the city. It was also referred to as Petticoat Lane.

A promotional brochure from 1902 described it as 'the biggest retail dry goods store in the state of Missouri.' (Source.)

In 1925, the store expanded on the Country Club Plaza at 47th Street and Broadway Boulevard, and it also purchased a store on Independence Square in Independence, Missouri. Times were rough though after the war. 

The store had trouble keeping up with the pace of changes and closed in 1968 resulting in 800 jobs being lost. Before it closed, many went there for the going-out-of-business sale.

When the downtown store was demolished in 1971, a building was eventually constructed by UMB Financial Corporation on that site. There was also a restaurant named EBT at a UMB Bank location at 103rd Street and State Line Road near the ramps to Interstate 435. The restaurant contained some memorabilia from the store. The restaurant closed in 2015.

The store's warehouse at 16th and Walnut was converted into residential lofts, but the lettering on the side of the warehouse that reads, Emery Bird Thayer Warehouse, was repainted. You may have driven by it before if you're a Kansas Citian.
Emery Bird Thayer Co. Warehouse.Celeste Lindell, CC, via Flickr.

Some of the architectural designs of the smaller commercial buildings around EBT were influenced by the design and details of the EBT building.

One of the highlights of EBT downtown was the tea room.

Up the elevator one would find Emery, Bird and Thayer’s famous Tea Room, where anyone might have a spot of the drink, and the company even hosted tea parties for the city’s children. (Source.)

Interestingly, actress Joan Crawford had worked at EBT Co. as a sales clerk around 1917 when her name was Billie Cassin and she moved to Kansas City with her family.

It's sad the old store building had to come down.

Thanks for reading.

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