City Quotient: Tell Us About Downtown Department Stores of Yore

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

I read recently the former Madison's department store building on High Street is in bad shape. What kind of store was Madison's, and what were some other department stores in Columbus?

You would not believe how many retail businesses were in Downtown Columbus around a half-century ago-so many it's hard to believe they're all gone. In just the three blocks of North High Street between Broad and Spring streets, for example, you once could find department stores H.L. Green, F.W. Woolworth, S.S. Kresge, W.T. Grant, The Union, the Boston Store and J.C. Penney. Besides these, though, interspersed among the coffee shops, jewelers and other small businesses, there were 17 men's and women's clothing stores, 11 shoe stores and two shoe repair shops. Talk about variety and selection. And this doesn't even count the big dog, Lazarus, or a later, larger iteration of The Union across from Lazarus on South High.

One of the longest-lived stores was Madison's, part of a family-owned chain of upscale women's clothing stores that began in Cleveland in the late 1920s. Its founder was Louis Madison, a Russian immigrant; his son David worked for the business and also served as Bexley's mayor for many years. The first Columbus location, on South High Street, opened shortly after the chain was founded; in 1945 the store moved to the 72 N. High location. By the 1990s, Madison's, like so many small clothing stores, could no longer compete with suburban malls and closed its rented store space in late 1994. Even though the building has deteriorated for two decades, it's still sound and could be rehabilitated.

Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to, and the answer might appear in a future column.