We take a trip back to November 18, 1963 for this week’s Epstein Throwback Thursday feature and visit South Bend, Indiana for the opening of the renovated and expanded Robertson’s Department Store at 211 S. Michigan Avenue. For this project, Epstein designed and engineered a 64,000 square foot $2M ($16M in 2017) addition which was comprised of a new white marble façade that integrated the original building with the new space as well as adding escalators to the upper floors and designing extensive interior alterations to the retail space.
Epstein’s work on this store made Robertson’s the largest department store in South Bend at six stories plus basement which totaled nearly 185,000 square feet of retail space. This expanded building featured a new two-level menswear section, a mezzanine featuring a book store, bake shop and luncheonette as well as photo studio on the second level, a third floor dedicated to women’s fashions, three floors comprised of housewares, electronics and major appliances, and a sixth floor tea room with auditorium which was used for fashion shows and product demonstrations.
The Robertson’s Department Store was a long-standing institution in South Bend having been opened in 1904 and after a series of moves from one larger building to the next settled on the 211 S. Michigan site in the 20s. Over the next 60 years Robertson’s was seen as a trail blazer in the American retail scene by implementing new concepts like store credit cards, personal shoppers, and free delivery.
Alas, when South Bend began to undergo financial difficulties with the closing of the Studebaker production plant and a series of industrial facility closings in the 70s Robertson’s also suffered greatly. The store would eventually close in 1986 but the building still lives on. After a major redevelopment, the 211 S. Michigan building has now been converted into affordable housing for seniors 55 and older.