William Blum Thalhimer, Jr.
A Guide to the William Blum Thalhimer, Jr. Corporate and Family Archives, 1862-1992
Call NumberMss1 T3275a FA1
Description & Guide
Thalhimer, William B., Jr., 1914-2005
Corporate and family archives, 1862-1992
ca. 2,500 items
William B. Thalhimer, Jr.: Retail Executive, CEO Thalhimer Brothers, Inc., 1950-1987, Chairman of Thalhimer Brothers, Inc., 1973-1990; Served in United States Marine Corps, 1942-1946. Thalhimer Brothers, Inc.: opened as a one-room, family-owned retail store in Richmond, Va., 1842; Incorporated, 1921; acquired first store, Sosnick's in Winston-Salem, N.C., 1949; publicly traded, 1953; merged with Carter, Hawley, Hale, 1978; acquired by May Company, 1990; merged with May Company subsidiary, Hecht's, 1992 and the Thalhimer name was discontinued. The business was headed in succession by William Thalhimer (1809-1883), Isaac Thalhimer (1855-1930), William B. Thalhimer (1888-1969), and William B. Thalhimer, Jr. (1914-2005).
Chiefly business records, ca. 1880s-1990s, including account books and financial statements, advertising materials, internal publications, printed materials and newspaper clippings, photographs, and company history materials documenting the history and retail operations of Thalhimer Brothers of Richmond, Va., from the company's inception in 1842 until its merger with Hecht Company in 1992. At its height, the company operated twenty-seven stores in four southeastern states. Members of the Thalhimer family, who were prominent Jewish merchants, including William Thalhimer (1809-1883), Isaac Thalhimer (1855-1930), William Blum Thalhimer (1888-1969), William Blum Thalhimer, Jr. (1914-2005), and Irving May (1891-1964) are represented in the collection.
A bound family and corporate history traces the life of the family-owned retail business. (Restricted until 2025)
Gift in honor of William B. Thalhimer, Jr., of Richmond, Va., by his children, Barbara Thalhimer, William B. Thalhimer III, and Robert L. Thalhimer, on May 12, 1994. Accessioned February 6, 1995.
Family and corporate history restricted until 2025. No restrictions on remainder of collection.
Section One: Family and Corporate History (restricted until 2025)
Section Two: Corporate History
Section Three: Speeches
Section Four: Financial Reports
Section Five: Advertising and Promotion
Section Six: Personnel
Section Seven: Miscellaneous
Section Eight: Photographs
Section Nine: Account Books
Section Ten: Text Books
Index to Sections
I. Company History
The history of the Richmond-based retail firm of Thalhimer Brothers spans over one hundred and fifty years. Beginning as a small dry goods store, Thalhimer Bros. grew into one of the South's most successful retail chains. Prior to its merger with the May Company in 1990, the company was operating twenty-seven stores in four states with annual sales of just under $500 million. Thalhimer's durability and success was a product of the acumen, vision, and philosophy of its founder and the generations which followed in his footsteps.
Wolf Thalheimer (1809-1883), whose name was later anglicized to William Thalhimer, emigrated from an area near Baden, Germany, to the United States in 1840. Entering the country at the port of New Orleans, William journeyed across the South, finally settling in Richmond, Virginia, a community known to have a substantial population of German Jews. By 1842, he had saved enough money peddling his wares from a horse-drawn cart to open a store. William and his wife, Mary Millhiser (1817-1876), whom he married in 1845, worked to make the store, located on Main Street between 17th and 18th streets, prosper.
The War Between the States brought years of hardship and trial for the couple. Shortages left the shelves bare and the Great Conflagration of April 1865 damaged the store, which had been relocated up the block. As capital was scarce in the war-ravaged South, William turned his sight northward in search of resources. Contacting friends in New York City, he was able to procure a loan to rebuild the store.
Although the period of Reconstruction proved to be difficult, the loan bolstered the store's chances of survival. By 1870, William chose to relocate to Broad Street between 3rd and 4th streets and then again to 501 E. Broad Street in 1875. Situated on a hill, the new location removed the business from the threat of floods that periodically plagued the low-lying area of Shockoe Bottom.
All five of William's sons worked in the store as young boys; however, Isaac (1855-1930) and Moses (1857-1935) displayed a lasting interest and commitment to running the business in the future. As William grew older, he relinquished responsibility for operating the store to Isaac and Moses. Following William's death in 1883, the store became known as Thalhimer Brothers. Although the name would remain, the team of Isaac and Moses soon parted ways. Isaac offered to buy out Moses's share of the business, which he willingly accepted.
Isaac became president of the company as mass produced goods, including clothes, were entering the economy in greater quantities. While many consumers held the belief that mass-produced goods were inferior, Isaac saw an opportunity to capitalize on the nascent innovation. He soon offered ready-to-wear clothes for sale, a decision that proved to be profitable as the stigma diminished.
Just as Isaac had learned the retail trade from his father, so too did Isaac's son, William (1888-1969). William inherited the keen merchandising instincts common to the Thalhimer family and possessed a strong ambition and boundless energy. These character traits combined to propel Thalhimer Bros. successfully through the early years of the twentieth century. William officially entered the business in 1905 after a year of employment with Carson, Pirie, and Scott in Chicago. In 1917, Isaac and William became legal partners, and in 1921 Thalhimer Bros. was incorporated.
Responding to the need for more space, the business relocated to the 600 block East Broad Street in 1922. During the 1930's, Thalhimer's purchased the Odeon Theater and leased property from the Robert E. Lee estate next door. The theater was demolished, and a six floor structure was constructed. Three floors were added to the Lee site and amenities, such as air conditioning and escalators, were installed.
The additional square footage enabled William to create a specialized department on each floor. For example, the Homemaker Floor contained appliances, cookware, and dishes, while the Fashion Floor housed dresses, suits, sportswear, and designer originals. Thrift Lane, a floor containing inexpensive items, catered to the low budget consumer.
William devoted a large share of his time to the local and international community. Prior to Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland, he worked tirelessly to bring German-Jews to the United States. As the door to Jewish emigration was closing, Hyde Park Farm in Burkeville, Virginia, was purchased with the assistance of William's cousin, Morton G. Thalhimer, and arrangements were made for immigrant German Jews to live temporarily at the farm. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Thalhimer Bros. initiated the Parking Lot Canteen, an outdoor social held during the summer months for enlisted men and their guests. As the name suggests, Thalhimer's parking lot was used for the festivities.
A heart attack in 1927 forced William to reduce his work load for the remainder of his life. Although William lost much of his youthful energy, he continued to offer many useful merchandising ideas until his death in 1969. His poor health forced his namesake, William, Jr., to assume an ever greater role in the business.
William Blum Thalhimer, Jr., was born on June 12, 1914. As a young boy he attended Ginter Park Elementary School and in 1932, William, Jr. graduated from John Marshall High School. Douglas S. Freeman, a close friend of William, Sr., encouraged the younger man to enter the family business rather than enroll in college. William, Jr., agreed to forego a college education, but he insisted upon obtaining a position at a different retailer in order to prove his own merit, and on visiting vendors to observe the origin of Thalhimer's products. Following a tour of the textile mills of North and South Carolina, he worked at Stern Brothers in New York City. In 1934, William, Jr., returned to Richmond and began the first of his 56 years with Thalhimer's.
William, Jr., quickly ascended the corporate ladder, moving from Art Needlework Buyer in 1934 to President and CEO in 1950. With the onset of the United States' involvement in World War II, William, Jr., joined the throngs of volunteers who were lining up to fight the Axis powers. He returned home after having attained the rank of Captain in the Marine Corps.
Thalhimer's experienced a greater than two-fold increase in profits during the war years, from $8 million to $16 million. In order to position itself for continued growth after the war, the company embarked on a series of projects. A distribution center was constructed increase warehousing space and merchandising capacity. Sosnick's department store in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was purchased, and shares of Thalhimer Bros. stock were traded on Wall Street for the first time. By going public, the company generated additional cashflow to finance expansion into the Virginia and North Carolina markets. These actions served to accelerate the upward progression of Thalhimer's profit curve.
The postwar years were marked by the increasing flight to suburbia and an uneasiness with the continuation of segregation. Thalhimer's was influenced by both of these trends. The company began to open stores in the new suburban shopping malls across the region. Sixteen stores were opened during the decade of the 1960s. However, the growth in sales was temporarily interrupted by a boycott that was initiated to protest racial discrimination. Thalhimer Bros. was forced to confront the stigma of segregation.
On 22 February, 1960, an organized group of fifty blacks at the Downtown Richmond store were refused service and escorted out of the Richmond Room. The resulting boycott and lines of picketers cost Thalhimer's $3 million in sales. The situation prompted a meeting between William, Jr., and Webster Rhoads, the president of Miller & Rhoads Department Store, to discuss a solution to the crisis. They resolved to invite blacks to dine at their respective eating establishments, thus taking the first steps to end segregation. Upon hearing about the events, President John F. Kennedy requested the presence of William, Jr., at a meeting to discuss the South's transition to an integrated society.
By the 1970s, Thalhimer Bros. was an attractive candidate for a merger. Carter, Hawley, Hale, a Los Angeles based retailer, paid $150 million for Thalhimer's in 1978. The money provided the necessary cashflow to continue the policy of expansion. Importantly, the merger agreement allowed the Thalhimer family to remain as active participants in the business. Extending their presence in the region, Thalhimer's opened new stores in Tennessee and South Carolina.
In October of 1990, Carter, Hawley, Hale sold Thalhimer's to The May Company. A year later May Co. announced the merger of its other subsidiary, Hecht's, with Thalhimer Bros. As a result, the Thalhimer name was discontinued and seven stores, including the flagship store in Richmond, were closed. The one-hundred and fifty-year history of Thalhimer Bros. was brought to a conclusion.
II. Collection Summary
This collection was donated by the Thalhimer family in honor of William Blum Thalhimer, Jr., in 1994. The bulk of the collection contains material that focuses on the twentieth century development of Thalhimer Bros. A brief highlight of each section follows.
Section One is entitled "Family and Corporate History" and contains a bound item that traces the 150 year history of the company and the family. The item is restricted until 2025.
Section Two is entitled "Corporate History." The series of folders contain speeches, press releases, internal documents, newspaper clippings, and chronologies related to the history of the business. The Carter, Hawley, Hale merger (1978), the May Company acquisition (1990), and the unveiling of the aluminum facade at the downtown Richmond store (1955) are highlighted.
Section Three is entitled "Speeches." Dating from 1967 to 1986, the speeches cover topics such as year-end results, long range plans, management approach, merchandising, marketing, and advertising.
Section Four is entitled "Financial Reports." The section contains annual reports (1946-1977), sales performance (1895-1916 and 1989-1992), and square footage and sales productivity reports (1988-1990).
Section Five is entitled "Advertising and Promotion" and contains Christmas catalogs, newspaper clippings of advertisements (1898-1990), and a detailed review that was conducted in 1930 on Thalhimer Bros.' sales promotion and advertising activities.
Section Six is entitled "Personnel." A collection of company newsletters dating from 1940-1989 offer the researcher information on employees, trace the post-war growth of the business, and reveal trends in society. A group of service party programs (1956-1990) provides lists and photographs of the employees. A service manual (1948) outlines company policies.
Section Seven is entitled "Miscellaneous." A wide range of items including a genealogical and organizational chart, receipts (1883-1904), a floor plan of the downtown Richmond store (1971), and correspondence concerning the engagement of Jacob Thalhimer (1851-1941) with Minnie Bettleheim (1863-1938).
Section Eight is entitled "Photographs." The section contains four photograph albums, which primarily concern the downtown Richmond store, and numerous loose photographs of Thalhimer Bros.' satellite stores.
Section Nine is entitled "Account Books." The nine volummes (four ledgers and five journals) provide a glimpse of store operations from 1894-1942. Other headings include Liberty Bonds, Real Estate, Insurance, and Stocks.
Section Ten is entitled "Textbooks." Two textbooks on production/operations management (1987 and 1990) devote a chapter to the subject of mass service.
The guide that follows contains a subject index and a detailed outline of the materials in the collection. The files are grouped by basic subject and arranged alphabetically.
Section One. Family and Corporate History (Restricted until 2025)
"Thalhimer's: A Family, A Tradition, A Business" (narrative tracing the life of a family-owned retail business)
Section Two. Corporate History
Aluminum Facade Unveiling (1955)
Carter, Hawley, Hale Merger (1978)
May Company Acquisition (1990)
Press Releases, Drafts of Articles
Speeches, Addresses, etc.
Section Three. Speeches
Section Four. Financial Reports
Annual Reports (1946-1977)
Square Footage and Sales Productivity Reports
Stocks and Bonds
Section Five. Advertising and Promotion
Brochure (Van Raalte Singlettes)
Review and Analysis (1930)
Section Six. Personnel
Certificate of Safety Achievement (1955)
Company Report (1986)
Equal Employment (1979)
May, Irving (1891-1964)
TBI Talks (June 1940 - Mar. 1942)
TBI Fights (Apr. 1942 - Aug. 1945)
TBI Talks (Sept. 1945 - Christmas 1960)
TBI Tips (1958 - 1969)
Thalhimer's Christmas (1971 - 1990)
Thalhimer's Today (1984-1989)
Old Timer's Party
Orientation Booklet (1982)
Performance Appraisal (1991)
Service Manual (1948)
Social Security Amendment (1954)
Telephone Directory (1991)
Thalhimer Scholarship Foundation
Section Seven. Miscellaneous
Bank Note (1862)
Correspondence concerning Jacob Thalhimer
Floor Plan (Downtown Richmond Store, Feb. 1971)
Genealogical Chart (Thalhimer Family)
Letter (July 16, 1959)
Membership Roster (Young President's Organization, 1955)
Menu (Richmond Room)
Miller & Rhoads
Patent Issue (Shay Cigarettes, 1885)
Section Eight. Photographs
NC: Durham (retail stores)
NC: Fayetteville (retail store)
NC: Greensboro (retail stores)
NC: High Point (retail store)
NC: Raleigh (retail store)
NC: Winston-Salem (retail stores)
TN: Memphis (retail store)
VA: Danville (retail stores)
VA: Hampton (retail store)
VA: Lynchburg (retail store)
VA: Norfolk (retail store)
VA: Petersburg (retail stores)
VA: Richmond (retail and commercial stores)
VA: Richmond (Christmas Display, Downtown Store)
VA: Richmond (Christmas Float)
Misc.: Delivery Wagon
Misc.: Snow Bear
Misc.: Photograph Album
Misc.: Photograph Album: Addition and Construction, 1955
Misc.: Photograph Album: Basement Store, Downtown Richmond
Misc.: Photograph Album: Christmas, 1953
Section Nine. Account Books
Section Ten. Text Books
Production/Operations Management, 3rd ed.
Production/Operations Management, 4th ed.
Index to Sections
- Accounts: Thalhimer brothers, Richmond, Va.
- Account books, 9
- Advertising - Retail trade, 3, 5
- Afro-Americans - Employment, 6
- Awards, 6
- Camp Thalia, Chesterfield co., Va., 6
- Carter, Hawley, Hale stores, inc., Los Angeles, Calif., 2, 3, 4, 6
- Centurama, 7
- Cloverleaf mall, Richmond, Va., 10
- Consolidation and merger of corporations, 2
- Corporation reports, 4
- Danville, Va. - Pictoral works, 8
- Department stores, 2
- Durham, N.C. - Pictoral works, 8
- Employee benefits, 6
- Employees - Recruitment, 6
- Family-owned business enterprises, 1
- Fayetteville, N.C. - Pictoral works, 8
- Financial statements, 4
- Genealogical charts - Thalhimer family, 7
- Greensboro, N.C. - Pictoral works, 8
- Hampton, Va. - Pictoral works, 8
- Hecht company, Arlington, Va., 4
- Held, Isaac, 7
- High Point, N.C. - Pictoral works, 8
- Incentive awards, 6
- Kopper, Jeff, 7
- Liberty bonds, 9
- May, Irving, 1891-1964, 6
- May department stores company, St. Louis, Mo., 2, 4, 6
- Memphis, Tenn. - Pictoral works, 8
- Merchandising, 2, 3
- Miller & Rhoads, Richmond, Va.
- Norfolk, Va. - Pictoral works, 8
- Parking lot canteen, Richmond, Va.
- Parrish, Amos and company, 5
- Performance awards, 6
- Petersburg, Va. - Pictoral works, 8
- Raleigh, N.C. - Pictoral works, 8
- Regency square shopping center, Richmond, Va., 2
- Retail trade, 10
- Retail trade - Automation, 3, 6
- Retail trade - Employees, 6
- Richmond, Va., 2
- Richmond, Va. Broad street, 2
- Richmond, Va. - Historic sites, 3
- Richmond, Va. - Merchants, 3
- Richmond, Va. - Pictoral works, 8
- Richmond, Va., Sixth street, 2
- Robb, Charles Spittal, 1939- , 3
- Savings bonds, 6, 9
- Social responsibility of business, 2, 6
- Speeches, 2, 3
- Stocks, 4
- Stores, Retail 2
- Swift Creek recreation area, Chesterfield co., Va., 6
- Thalhimer, Gustavus, 1846-1895, 7
- Thalhimer, Isaac, 1855-1930, 9
- Thalhimer, Jacob, 1851-1941, 7
- Thalhimer, Minnie Bettleheim, 1863-1938, 7
- Thalhimer, Moses, 1857-1935, 9
- Thalhimer brothers, Richmond, Va., 2 , 3 , 4 , 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
- Thalhimer brothers, Richmond, Va. - Pictoral works, 2, 6, 8
- U.S. Securities and exchange commission, 4
- Virginia. Museum of fine arts, 3
- Virginia. State corporation commission, 4
- Wages, 6
- Winston-Salem, N.C. - Pictoral works, 8
- World War, 1939-1945 - Virginia - Social aspects, 6
- Thalhimer brothers, Richmond, Va., Young Virginian's shop, Richmond, Va., 7
Sections 1-5 (Folders 1-37)
Section 6 & 7 (Folders 38-85)
Section 8. Photographs (Folders 86-99)
Section 8. Photographs, cont. (Folders 100-109)
Section 9. Account Books, ledgers, 1894-1942
Section 9. Account Books, journals, 1914-1917
Section 9. Account Books, journals, 1918-1926
Section 10. Text Books, 1987, 1990
Last updated: July 6, 2001