The 100-year history of B. Siegel’s is another great saga of Jewish immigrant success in Detroit.
I recently wrote about the famous Himelhoch’s clothing store in Detroit. While there were many, many Jewish retailers in the city over the past century, there was one other women’s clothing store in the same elite league as Himelhoch’s — B. Siegel’s.
B. Siegel is mentioned on 407 pages of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle and the JN in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. Indeed, “advertisements” for the store can be found in the very first issues of the Chronicle. I found it interesting that, instead of images of clothing, shoes or other goods, these ads were mini-essays, written to provide the reader with the reasons that one should shop at B. Siegel.
For example, consider the moral of the ad from Chronicle of July 13, 1917. It begins with an “overheard conversation” about Siegel’s and then: “The woman who comes to B. Siegel Co.’s has also learned that style is foremost, and that it is always combined with extreme care in selection of material …”
The store’s founder, Ben Siegel, was born in Germany in 1861 and migrated to Selma, Ala., in 1876. There, he learned about retail merchandising. Siegel moved to Detroit in 1881, where he bought the Heyn’s Bazaar on Woodward Avenue. He changed the store’s name to Siegel’s Cloaks, Suits and Furs, claiming that it was the “finest and most complete cloak and suit store in the United States.”
In 1904, B. Seigel’s moved into a cast-iron-fronted structure at Woodward and State Street, near J.L. Hudson’s and Himelhoch’s. That same year, Ben married Sophie Siegel (her surname was also Siegel). Aunt Sophie was “no shrinking violet,” nephew Marty Mayer related in a story about the family from the Aug. 25, 1998 issue of the JN. She even taught him how to shoot dice and play poker! She was also a respected communal leader.
Indeed, the Siegels were great supporters of the Detroit Jewish community. Editor Philip Slomovitz wrote about the impact of the Siegels in the April 3, 1981, issue of the JN. Along with participation in and generous donations to various organizations, Ben was deeply involved in the fight against the antisemitism of Henry Ford and Father Coughlin. Even after Sophie passed in 1955, her good work continued: She donated the Siegel mansion in Detroit’s Boston Edison district to the Greater Detroit Interfaith Roundtable. It was home for that organization until 1997.
Ben managed B. Siegel’s until 1931. After he retired, his nephew, Leo, was CEO until 1947. During Ben’s era, B. Siegel’s was closed on Shabbat; his successors closed the store on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. He also made a habit of giving newborn babies a free pair of shoes. Ben died in 1936.
Eventually, B. Siegel grew to eight locations. Its store at Livernois and Seven Mile helped give that area its nickname: “the Avenue of Fashion.” Unfortunately, like Himelhoch’s and other stores, B. Siegel’s could not survive the drastic economic changes that occurred in Metro Detroit. The chain closed its doors in 1981.
The 100-year history of B. Siegel’s is another great saga of Jewish immigrant success in Detroit. Many shoppers still miss the store “where fashion reigns.”
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.