Book: Cohen Brother's, Jacksonville's Big Store

Book: cohen brother's, jacksonville's big store
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Join Metro Jacksonville writers Ennis Davis and Sarah Gojekian as they share a story about the rise and fall of Jacksonville’s Cohen Brother’s Department Store.

Generations of Jaxons grew up with the Big Store being the epicenter of downtown's vibrant retail district.

Founded in 1867, the store grew from operating in a small log cabin on Bay Street to the nation’s 9th largest department store in 1912. Known as the “Wanamaker of the South”, the store’s longtime president, Jacob Cohen was a prominent civic leader in Jacksonville for over 50 years.

Now occupied by Jacksonville's City Hall, Cohen’s “Big Store” was designed by famed architect Henry J. Klutho and is considered a Prairie School masterpiece and the project of his career. During the mid-20th century, the “Big Store” was acquired by the May Company and renamed May-Cohens.

For the next 30 years, May-Cohens remained a retail leader in Northeast Florida and expanded into Central Florida before being acquired by Louisiana-based Maison Blanche in 1989.

While the proposed work utilizes the Cohen Brother’s chain and flagship “Big Store” as the main focal point, it also serves as a historical outline of the evolution of the department store industry in Jacksonville between the Civil War and 21st century, by including documentation on Jacksonville favorites, such as Furchgott’s, Levy/Wolf, J.B. Ivey’s and other retailers that operated large department stores adjacent to Cohen’s “Big Store.”

Significant events covered in this upcoming release include the Great Fire of 1901, World War I in Jacksonville, the growth of the shopping mall industry in Jacksonville, race riots of the 1960s. Significant people covered include Jacob Cohen, Henry J. Klutho, David May, Wilbur B. Talley, Mayor Jake Godbold and Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy.

Cohens spent 122 continuous years in downtown and 75 at Hemming Plaza. Before 1987, life in downtown Jacksonville without May Cohens was simply unthinkable.

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