Scope and Contents
One box containing a Sakowitz gift box, a 1969-1970 Sakowitz catalog, a packing slip from 1975, a clothing tag, and attendee materials from a Texas Classroom Teachers Association meeting (including a note from Bernard Sakowitz, an identification card, and a program) documents some of the history of Sakowitz department store in Houston.
Conditions Governing Use
Permission to publish material from the Sakowitz Collection must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library.
The Woodson Research Center use policy is that researchers assume sole responsibility for any infringement of privacy, literary rights, copyrights, or other rights arising from their use of the archival materials. In addition to any restrictions placed by donors, certain kinds of archival materials are restricted for the life of the creator plus 50 years. These materials include, but are not limited to, student grades, transcripts, and any job applications or recommendations.
Biographical / Historical
Sakowitz Bros. was a family-owned department store based in Houston. It was started in Galveston in 1902 by Ukrainian immigrants, Tobias and Simon Sakowitz. What began as a peddler business taking orders and delivering clothes on a bicycle to the many merchant seamen in Galveston grew in to one of the most successful family-owned department stores in the country, with stores in thirteen locations, that included their first store in Houston, which opened in 1911. By 1929, the original Houston store on 308 Main Street had relocated to the Gulf Building at 720 Main Street; this store was subsequently relocated even further down Main Street to 1111 Main. With the increasing popularity of shopping malls, several mall-based locations were also added, including one each in the states of Arizona and Oklahoma.
Bernard Sakowitz was born in Galveston, Texas, January 12, 1907, to Tobias and Matilda (Littman) Sakowitz. He received a B.S. from the Wharton School of Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania in 1929 and began his retail career at R. H. Macy Company in New York. In 1929 he returned to Houston and the family business and was named vice president in charge of merchandizing in 1937. Bernard married Ann Baum on July 20, 1933.
During World War II he served in the United States Army Air Force earning the rank of captain. Following the war, he returned to the store and became president in 1957. Under Bernard's leadership Sakowitz became a significant Houston institution, with stores at one time, downtown, in Gulfgate, at the Shamrock Hotel, and in the Galleria-Westheimer area. He and his father built the first Sakowitz suburban store in 1959 on the corner of Westheimer and Post Oak. This was the bellwether that led to development of Westheimer Road into a major Houston street that soon included Neiman-Marcus and later the Galleria, built by Houston's Gerald Hines. The area became known as Uptown Houston. Later Sakowitz expanded to other cities, including Dallas, Phoenix, and Midland. Sakowitz never went public and was the last of the major family-owned chains of specialty stores in America.
Bernard and Matilda had two children, Lynn and Robert. Lynn married Oscar Wyatt, Jr., and became an international socialite and philanthropist. Robert, graduated from Harvard cum laude and entered the family business in 1963, becoming president in 1975.
Bernard Sakowitz served on the board of directors of the Texas Medical Center, St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, and Congregation Beth Israel. He served on the Houston Crime Commission and was director of the Kiwanis Club, the Houston Chamber of Commerce, and the Better Business Bureau. In addition, he was a member of the National Retail Merchants Association, the Houston Angus Club, and the Houston Farm and Ranch Club and was vice president of the Contemporary Music Society of Houston. In 1972 he was named Retailer of the Year by Esquire Magazine. Bernard died of a heart attack April 24, 1981 and his wife, Ann, in 2010. Both are interred at Beth Israel Cemetery in Houston.
In the late 1980's, Australian developer L.J. Hooker proposed an upscale mall in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, to be named Forest Fair Mall. Hooker's plans called for Sakowitz to be one of the mall's anchor stores, along with B. Altman and Bonwit Teller, two upscale chains based in New York City. In 1988, Hooker purchased controlling interest in all three chains so that they could open locations at the new mall; however, the chains proved too upscale for the Cincinnati market, and were subsequently sold off. The Sakowitz chain was liquidated in 1990 and its stores closed. The Sakowitz name has survived in the form of Sakowitz Furs, a fur dealer with one store in Houston, owned by Jerry Gronauer.
Excerpted from: https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fsatg