In colonial times and for a few years after the Louisiana Purchase, the business life of St. Louis was conducted from homes of merchants. The earliest record of the existence of separate stores is from ads in the Missouri Gazette which dates from 1808. These were apparently variety stores handling foodstuffs, hardware and dry goods.
A large influx of business and capital came into St. Louis after the War of 1812, when merchants such as John O'Fallon, the Lindell brothers, Henry Shaw and George Collier, arrived here. After 1820, business began to become classified and dealers appeared in separate lines of merchandising, laying the foundations for the large mercantile and department stores of today. A business crisis was precipitated here in 1842 with the failure of Illinois banks and a general stagnation of Western business. Economic conditions improved by 1845 and a steady growth was maintained for some years thereafter.
Downtown was the principal center for retail business during the rest of the nineteenth century and for the first half of the twentieth. The two major downtown department stores now are Famous Barr Company, which has occupied the lower floors of the Railway Exchange Building since its completion in 1914, and Stix, Baer and Fuller, which built its present store on the site of the old Lindell Hotel in 1907. Founded in 1892, the Stix store, popularly known as the Grand Leader, had been located at Broadway and Washington since the late 1890's. Famous-Barr is the result of a merger of the Famous (May Company) store and the William Barr Dry Goods Company in 1913. Barr's, which was founded in 1849, had occupied its own building on the eastern part of its present site, since 1880. Downtown lost its other major stores due to economic conditions; Nugent's closed during the depression in 1933, and Scruggs, Vandervoort and Barney closed its main store in 1967. Such old familiar names as Kline's, Sonnenfeld's, Busy Bee Candy Company and Weil's Clothing Store have also gone out of business in the last two decades. However, a downtown fixture since 1865 is the Union Market. Its present building, completed with bond issue funds in 1924, has been leased by the City to its merchant tenants since 1967.