Younkers Department Store

An Iowa Icon Timeline

1854 - Teenagers Marcus, Lipman, and Samuel Younker move to the United States from Lipno, Poland.

1856 – Lipman, Samuel, and Marcus Younker establish the first Younker & Brothers Dry Goods Store in Keokuk, Iowa. 

1874 – A younger brother, Herman, opens the Younker Dry Goods Store in Des Moines.

1879 – The Keokuk store closes and the Des Moines store becomes the headquarters for Younker Brothers.

1881 – Younker Brothers hires Mrs. Mary McCann, the first woman to be employed by any store in Des Moines.

1899 – The Des Moines store moves to its long-term location at Seventh and Walnut Streets, opening on November 9.

1910 - Younker Brothers employs over 500 men and women.

1912 – Younker Brothers purchases the Grand Department Store.

1913 – The original Tea Room opens.

1927 – The new Tea Room replaces the old.

1927 – The company merges with Harris-Emery Company and becomes the largest department store chain in Iowa.

1928 – Younker Brothers buys J. Mandlebaum and Sons.

1936 – Air-conditioning comes to the entire downtown store.

1939 – A modernization program includes the installation of the first “electric stairs” (escalators) in Iowa. Thousands turn out to try the new invention.

1943 – Younker Brothers purchases the seven-story building across the street from the main store and opens the Store for Homes. A tunnel under the street connects the two stores.

1956 – Younker Brothers negotiates to buy the site of St. Gabriel’s monastery on Merle Hay Road. This later becomes the site of Merle Hay Mall.

1959 – Younker Brothers Merle Hay Mall store opens.

1950s-1960s – Younker Brothers opens several more Des Moines stores as well as branches in Sioux City, Iowa City, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, Omaha, Nebraska, and Austin, Minnesota.

1978 – Tragedy strikes when the Merle Hay store is destroyed by a fire which kills ten employees.

1979 – Equitable of Iowa purchases Younker Brothers for $72.2 million and makes the retailer a subsidiary officially named Younkers.

1985 – The downtown Store for Homes closes.

1986 – Younkers purchases major competitor Brandeis & Sons, which has eleven department stores in Iowa and Nebraska.

1992 – Younkers purchases the department store division of H.C. Prange Co., a privately owned chain with twenty-five stores.

1994 – Milwaukee-based retailer Carson Pirie Scott & Co. makes an unsolicited bid for Younkers, but the Younkers board votes not to sell.

1995 – Younkers accepts a bid for the company of $216 million from Proffitt’s, Inc., a Tennessee chain.

1998 – Proffitt’s buys Saks Fifth Avenue and makes Younkers a division of Saks.

2005 – The flagship downtown store closes on August 12, ending more than 100 years of retailing on the same site. A store-closing sale brings thousands of people downtown to purchase memorabilia ranging from teacups from the fabled Younkers Tea Room to the “Electric Stairs” sign which had hung over the escalators since 1939. It was the end of an era for downtown retailing in Des Moines.

2006 - Bon-Ton Stores acquires from Saks all the shares of its Northern Department Stores Group, and becomes the new corporate parent of Younkers.

2007 - Downtown Sioux City store, a presence since 1948, closes.

2007 - Store furnishings and memorabilia from the downtown Des Moines store are sold at a liquidation event in May.

2013 - Wisconsin-based Alexander Co begins renovation work on the Des Moines flagship building in September; plans are for retail on the first two floors and apartments above.

2014 - The downtown Des Moines building is gutted by fire on March 29; its cause is eventually ruled “undetermined.”

2018 - Last Younkers stores close August 29.

2018 - Indiana-based CSC Generation buys the Younkers name in September and launches a new website.