Take Me to Kaufmann's: The Big Store

Kaufmann’s department store made itself part of many holiday seasons in Pittsburgh.



A scene from a vintage picture books, circa the era when shopping downtown in big department stores was an essential holiday experience.

My friend Claudia Korol called to tell me about two booklets she found among the postcards and printed papers collected by her late husband, Paul. “They’re Christmas readers—full of poems and stories, “ she said. “You have to see them.

“They’re beautiful Victorian booklets with colorful covers, one from 1905 and one from 1907. And they’re both ‘dedicated to the children of Pittsburgh,’ although one spells it without the ‘h.’ They’re from Kaufmann’s with a color picture of ‘The Big Store’ on the back covers.”

So, I went and saw them. They’re handsome little picture books from the days when shopping downtown in big department stores was an essential holiday experience. The inside pages are printed on cheaper paper, like a coloring book, with illustrated poetry and prose for kids from pre-school through the elementary grades.

There are silly bears on toboggans and a beautifully drawn chimpanzee photographer taking pictures of a well-dressed family of Victorian hippos! A two-cookie robbery in Snowbirdville is the subject of another cartoon (which, I’m not sure, might have a hidden political meaning). One of the booklets has a children’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

There are very few Santa Clauses and no birth of baby Jesus stories at all, yet both books bear the same title: “Kaufmann’s Sunday School Greeting.” I tried to investigate if Kaufmann’s might have had a Sunday school (unlikely since the store wasn’t open on Sundays), and I found many people’s department-store memories written for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette back in summer 2006, when the store was changing its name to Macy’s. Someone wrote of a doctor’s office and hospital in the store, but no one mentioned Sunday schools or religious training of any sort.

I called the Library & Archives department at the Heinz History Center, and the always-helpful Art Louderback told me that they, too, had seven or eight of these Christmas books as well as others with non-holiday themes like pets. “They gave them out free to Sunday schools,” said Louderback, “to get some publicity and to remind kids to go shopping at Kaufmann’s.” I hadn’t considered the possibility of a clever church-based distribution plan!

A little Christmas book from Kaufmann’s just makes me think of the old book department on the first floor of the store, right beside the Tic Toc Restaurant. Sometimes we’d wait by the tables and shelves of books for my Aunt Mary and Aunt Ann, who often met us for lunch there, especially at Christmastime when we were shopping with Mom.

Even today, in the place now called Macy’s, I still love browsing at Bradley’s Book Attic up on the ninth floor, where my buddy Lisa Kane always has suggestions. And I should get there this month because there are kids on my list who are going to receive books from a department store, even if that’s an old-fashioned notion. I guess the little Christmas books from 1905 and 1907 can still do what they were intended to do: get me into “The Big Store.”

Hot Reads

Made in Pittsburgh

Made in Pittsburgh

The city of steel always has been known for its industry – what we make. Today, that defining characteristic expands beyond manufacturing into every aspect of modern life.
Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Comic-book artist Ed Piskor continues to win critical acclaim and international fame with his “Hip Hop Family Tree” series of graphic novels.
Review: Sienna Mercato

Review: Sienna Mercato

Matthew Porco, one of our Chefs of the Year, designs the menus at Sienna Mercato's downtown establishments.
An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

PittGirl has had enough of the criticism of fanatics and asks the media to stop labeling everyone.

The 412

Up Close: 6 High-Definition, Purely Pittsburgh Photos

Up Close: 6 High-Definition, Purely Pittsburgh Photos

This set of images showcases 'Burgh related happenings, settings and people.
Love Cheetahs? Get to the Zoo

Love Cheetahs? Get to the Zoo

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is home to four cheetahs who particularly like to move around in the morning.
All That You Need to Know about the Pirates’ Wild Card Game

All That You Need to Know about the Pirates’ Wild Card Game

Think you’re ready for Wednesday? You will be after reading our rundown on the matchup.
Does Pittsburgh Have the Nation’s Best Riverfront?

Does Pittsburgh Have the Nation’s Best Riverfront?

Then help the Steel City to earn that title by voting in an online poll.

Hot Reads

Made in Pittsburgh

Made in Pittsburgh

The city of steel always has been known for its industry – what we make. Today, that defining characteristic expands beyond manufacturing into every aspect of modern life.
Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Comic-book artist Ed Piskor continues to win critical acclaim and international fame with his “Hip Hop Family Tree” series of graphic novels.
Review: Sienna Mercato

Review: Sienna Mercato

Matthew Porco, one of our Chefs of the Year, designs the menus at Sienna Mercato's downtown establishments.
Film Noir Fall Fashion

Film Noir Fall Fashion

Fall into autumn with a fashion landscape awash in black, white and nifty shades of gray.
An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

PittGirl has had enough of the criticism of fanatics and asks the media to stop labeling everyone.
8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)

8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)

Hoping to take a leaf-peeping road trip? Keep food at the top of your priority list and consult our lineup of eight destinations, most within 150 miles of the city.