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For its first twenty years of existence (1847-1865), Salt Lake City was viewed by the rest of the United States as a remote outpost. At this time The Salt Lake Valley was still Mexican territory and nearly exclusively a Mormon community. Mormons Pioneers had hopes of building a new Zion called "Deseret", complete with their own currency and written language. The Pioneer's early existence relied on hard work and self-sufficiency from all ties with the outside world.

What would later become the ZCMI department store, was originally established as a distribution center for the crops and products the Pioneers produced. Mormon Pioneers maintained a unique form of communism, whereby crops and wealth were shared and distributed. The practice began within ward-houses. ZCMI. (Zions Cooperative Mercantile Incorporated) was established by Brigham Young to organize the exchange of goods and services. ZCMI offered new converts from Europe free food after first arriving over the long trek across the Great Planes. In 1868, however, the Mormons self-sufficient lifestyle would completely change. Federal soldiers stationed in Park City discovered silver, announced it to the rest of the world, and a Salt Lake City became a part of the silver and gold rush that defined the era. Within a few years Salt Lake had a entirely new element of "whores and hoodlums." Like water and oil, neither Mormon nor prospector would have very little inter-mingling. This was the begriming of what would forever be known as "The Great Divide."

The North-end of Main Street: A gathering of Saints below their temple and statue of Brigham Young. A marching band passes as the crowd piously watches the occasion. The South-end of Main Street: A man wearing a spotted mink coat with a cigar in mouth is photographed after a non-stop 10-day road trip on a Buick. Taken in front of the W.M Sickney Cigar Co. Wealth from the silver mine prospectors brought a new element to Salt Lake City.

The "Mormon half" of Salt Lake City became centered around the North-end of Main Street near Temple Square & ZCMI The "gentile half" was located on South-end near the City and County building and the Exchange Place district. For years prospectors would avoid the North-end of Main Street and the Mormons would only patronize stores owned by fellow LDS members: ZCMI and the Eagle Emporium. Auerbach's became the exception to this rule. Owned by brothers Fred and Herbert Auerbach, of Jewish religion and descent, both non-Mormon and Mormon shoppers alike patronized Auerbach's beautiful store on Broadway (300 South).

In 1939 Fredrick Aurbach was a boy learning the retail trade from his father Herbert. Hebert Auerbach was described as a "renaissance man" he had studied all over the world and spoke German and French. He wrote poetry and had a passion for Western folklore and history. Auerbach wrote and edited several articles for the Utah Historical Quarterly
Auerbach's sign reads:
"Utah's most popular department store."

Despite Herbert Auerbach's extensive education and world traveling, he maintained his roots in Salt Lake City was a fixture in downtown retail through his family business. Herbert's father and uncle had established Auerbach's department store after originally providing one of the first banks in the Salt Lake valley in the 1850s. Eventually, the Aurbach's determined a better use of their capital was through retail middle-men. It became clear as more prospectors were entering the Salt Lake Valley in the 1860s, that most were spending rather than saving. Auerbachs quickly became the second largest retail store to ZCMI.

courtesy of the Utah State Archives

Fred Auerbach


The Above advertisement appeared in the Deseret News in 1939 when Auerbach's celebrated 75-years-of-business in downtown Salt Lake City. The corner shown in the illustration is the Broadway district on the South-end of Main Street. For over 100-years Auerbach's and the Paris Company were the two primary retailers in this area. Notice the illustration overlapping the store in the oval. Auerbach's got their start in providing supplies to prospectors heading out West to seek their fortune in the silver and gold rush of the 1860s.

Herbert Auerbach


As Salt Lake City began to grow and develop the great divide remained present, yet less prominent. Mormon businesses were no longer exclusively near their Temple and more non-Mormon businesses were established on Richard's Street or on South Temple.

Brigham Street, named after the founder, prophet and Utah's first Governor, Brigham Young, began to fill with ornate victorian-period mansions, built by the wealth from the successful the silver and gold mining prospectors. Names such as Newhouse, Walker, Kearns, Bamburger and Judge were just a few of the new, prominent, wealthy families who had realized success in mining. Many of these mansions still stand today and line Utah's nationally recognized beautiful street (now called South Temple).



By 1965 Salt Lake City Planners were faced with a growing problem in competing with suburban shopping centers. Here the title of an article in the Salt Lake Tribune poses the question: Should Main Street become a mall? Ultimately planners decided the street should be much more accommodating for vehicles and indoor mall shoppers.

Utah Woolen Mills, had been a direct-to-consumer, wool product catalog business since 1906. Utah Woolen Mills established their first retail store on Richard's street in the 1920s. (click here to watch interview with current owner Bart Stringham)

Below is a photograph of the North-end of Main Street anchored by the ZCMI department store on the left-hand-side).

courtesy of the Utah State Archives

photograph showing the North side of downtown Salt Lake City . The ZCMI department store is on the left.

(around 1955) Shipler collection



A photograph showing the vibrant downtown Salt Lake City (around 1955) Shipler collection

courtesy of the Utah State Archives

photograph shows the vibrant and successful business district surrounding Main Street prior to 1957. Full of happy shoppers on a Saturday afternoon stroll; we see a fit family of three holding hands as they head Southbound on Main Street at approximately fourth south.

Residents who lived in Salt lake City prior to the 1960 remember how vibrant the city was full of life and bussel. Arline Markosian says Salt Lake City was so safe, she and her young sister would often ride a trolly to the Orphum theater to watch a film--unaccompanied by her parents--for a nickel. Though the first half of the century The Paris Company, and Auerbachs anchored the South-end of Main Street. The area around these store flourished with more local businesses. These stores thrived in a climate where shop owners owned their buildings. There was a free-flow of commerce and trade without one entitiy attempting to monopolize retail. Another benefit to the local businesses was how they connected their image and branding to the Salt Lake City's history and growth. Local restaurants also thrived in Salt Lake City's central business district.

The Owl and Lambs Restaurant were filled to capacity every lunch hour as businessmen would sit at their counters and eat. Tom Warner worked in L. Lorenz knife store throughout the 50s. " I remember when you couldn't hardly get your lunch in because there were so many people on the street." (click here to watch interview)

John Speros, who started working in his father's restaurant when he was ten remembers, when people came downtown it was a real occasion, "People would get dressed up, they would wear coats and ties, women would wear their hats dress up, wear their best cloths and they would come downtown to go shopping." (click here to watch interview)

So how is it that in just twenty years Main Street could be transformed from idealic to seedy? A city void of life, activity and anything but vibrancy. In just a 25 year time-span nearly every long-time local merchant in Salt Lake City would go out of business and only the smaller shop owners--with great determination--would remain.


This is where economic policy and history become subjective: compare City Planner Doug Dansy with Historian Allan Barnett and we begin to understand how history tells a different story depending on where you stand. Salt Lake City Historian and author, Alan Barnett believes that the malls "sucked the local character and culture out of Main Street." and eventually ruined the Main Street's vitality. Doug Dansy, who has worked in the Salt lake city Planning office for the past 26 years, couldn't see things more differently. He believes that the malls sustained Main Street's economic vitality in downtown. The razing of many historic buildings was justified, otherwise Salt Lake City would have never been able to compete with the suburban shopping centers. The decision to remove Salt Lake City's trolley network and build massive malls in downtown able accommodate a huge increase vehicular traffic, demonstrated in the above photo, indeed moved life and vitality of Main Street as Barnett says. Bookseller Tony Weller says, "After the malls were built, anyone who wasn't in either one of those two malls would eventually wither up and die."