Retail in Retrospect: Bry’s Department Store

Retail in Retrospect

Bry’s Department Store

By Sandi Butler Hughes

Brothers Nathan and Louis Bry may have been from St. Louis, but they made a mark in Memphis retail history. They founded Bry’s Department Store in 1902, and grew their store into a Downtown shopping destination. Anchoring the north end of Main Street, they were one of the four major department stores Downtown, with Goldsmith’s on the south end of Main, and Gerber's and Lowenstein’s in between.

In 1933, Bry’s made a notable improvement to their corner at Main and Jefferson with the addition of a huge, four-color neon sign spelling out the name of their store. The colors of red, green, gold, and blue must have been quite a beacon for shoppers!

The Bry’s brothers were instrumental in promoting the career of W.C. Handy when in 1912 they were the first store to sell his sheet music. They recognized the importance of television, and embraced the new technology to promote their business. Bry’s was the first of the “big four” Downtown department stores to hire women as clerks. During their “Daring Sale,” they doubled the number of sales clerks, and it was advertised as the “South’s largest sale event.”

In 1956, Lowenstein’s bought Bry’s, and despite many creative retailing ideas and marketing innovations, the store eventually closed in 1964. While I do not have any personal memories of shopping at Bry’s, I do have this charming coloring book memento from my mother’s shopping days there. Shop local, Memphis - our retailers matter and are making history!

Retail in Retrospect- Bry’s Department Store