Lipsitz Department Store
Lipsitz Department Store at the corner of Bay and West streets Neil Lipsitz, son of Joe and Lucille, will still keep open Lipsitz Shoes, located across the street from his parent's former business.
Operated 107 years until closing in late February, 2009.
History of the building and store
The black letters of the Lipsitz sign are ingrained in the Beaufort psyche, and the building at 825 Bay St. that's been the store's location for more than a century has a lengthy history of its own. Identified on the original town plan as Town Lot No. 7, documents indicate the space where Lipsitz now stands was owned at different times by 18th-century blacksmith Andrew Bell, merchant John S. Fyler and speculator George Holmes in the 19th century, according to Evan Thompson, executive director of the Historic Beaufort Foundation. Lipsitz is "likely the third structure that has stood on the site," Thompson said.
It was Holmes who tore down two Civil War-era buildings owned by Fyler and built in 1883 the large, single space that became Lipsitz's home. The building is "downtown Beaufort's largest timber structure," Thompson said. In 1902, Max Lipsitz, then 16, started the family's department store there. "Until the (1920s), they had everything from groceries to bolts of materials and clothing," Joe Lipsitz, Max's son, said in a 2004 memoir. Maxine Lutz of the Historic Beaufort Foundation helped pull together the account of Joe Lipsitz's life, much of which was dictated to his wife.
Lipsitz Department Store was founded in 1902 by 16-year-old Max Lipsitz. He turned over the store to son Joe, daughter Ethel, and Ethel's husband, Henry Rabinowitz, in 1945. In 1955 Joe married Lucille Bass of Charleston; she has worked side by side with him and his family ever since. But Lipsitz Department Store not only remained a thriving business for 100 years, it has remained in the same location, owned by the same family, for three generations before closing after 107 years of business, in February, 2009.
The store celebrated its centeniall in 2002. The family was recognized by the city of Beaufort, the Greater Beaufort Chamber of Commerce, Main Street USA, Beaufort Elementary School and the Downtown Development Association, not only for their longevity, but for their selflessness to the community over the years, including establishing a program to provide shoes for needy students.
Neil Lipsitz, who opened Lipsitz Shoes across the street in 1998, said about 40 of his relatives traveled to Beaufort for the occasion, some from as far away as Philadelphia and Albany, N.Y. He also said the community turnout was very gratifying.
A town tradition
"I loved Mr. and Mrs. Lipsitz," said author and novelist Pat Conroy, who graduated from Beaufort High School in 1963 and now lives on Fripp Island. Conroy immortalized the couple in his 1995 novel "Beach Music," noting "Mrs. Lipsitz, who had fitted my shoes during my entire boyhood," in one passage. He also based his character Max, "The Great Jew," upon Max Lipsitz.
While Lucille and Joe Lipsitz owned and operated the department store for more than 60 years, two employees hired to lend a helping hand a few days a week became second mothers to Lipsitz children Neil, Barry, Sandra and Judy. "We were like one big family," said longtime Beaufort resident Alene Moore, 92, who worked at Lipsitz from 1940 to 2005. "I couldn't have asked for anybody being any better to me than they have. When one had troubles, we all had troubles. We laughed and we cried together." Moore and Burton resident Effie Martin, 85, primarily worked in the shoe department, running an X-ray machine where children could see the bones in their feet and hand-fitting shoes on people of all ages.
Many customers recalled the high-backed, red-vinyl chairs where children used to sit to have their feet measured. Others talked about Lippy, a caged mynah bird Lucille Lipsitz won in a drawing. It greeted customers with "Hello, what ya want?" and cries of "Stride Rite" when they entered the store's shoe department.
Conroy remembered the day when Lucille Lipsitz, shocked by the size of his feet, loudly tried to fit him in a pair of shoes with D and EEE widths that were still too small. "I'm trying to race out of the store, but before I could get out of there, Mrs. Lipsitz shouted out again and said, 'Wait a minute, Pat! I have a jumbo!," he said. "It was a perfect fit."
For Constance Tootle, 56, a trip to Lipsitz as a child meant a treat from the store's golden goose -- a plastic, golden egg filled with small trinkets. "I can't imagine Beaufort without a Lipsitz," said Tootle, now the librarian at Elliott Elementary on Albacore Street, who took her children and grandchildren to the store for their first pairs of shoes. "It's always been there," she said. "And invariably, you would look around different stores for something you wanted, and then you'd go there and one of the ladies would always open a bottom cabinet and pull it out ... and there it is -- whether you needed a toboggan or a little pair of socks with lace on them for your daughter."
Decision to close the store
Running the store on her own since Alzheimer's disease sent her husband, Joe Lipsitz, into a Veterans Administration nursing home in Walterboro in the winter of 2007, Lucille Lipsitz decided it was time to retire -- despite a steady stream of business. Soon after the announcement that Lipsitz would close, community members have flocked to the store Web site, www.lipsitz-shoes.webs.com, Internet blogs and online social networks like Facebook to share memories.
After the store close, an auction was held March 6, 2009, to sell off the store's remaining inventory. Antique hunters from across the Southeast flocked to the former Lipsitz Department Store and paid thousands for the vintage advertisements, dolls, clothes, furniture, Christmas decorations and window displays that have adorned the store.  The family did keep some of the department store's inventory, much of it moving to Lipsitz Shoes, owned by Joe and Lucille's son Neil, where several Red Goose shoes advertisements and the high-backed, red-vinyl chairs where children used to sit while their feet were measured are displayed.
Tim Cordle, a dealer from Sumter, said he spent several thousand dollars at the auction, much of it on Red Goose items that he expects date back to the 1920s and 1930s. Ken Woodall, an antique dealer from the Atlanta area, said many of those items were rare and valuable. Although several of the big-ticket items were won by out-of-towners, parts of the department store will remain in Beaufort. Evan Thompson, executive director of the Historic Beaufort Foundation, bought a set of chairs for about $600 and said he hopes to create a local exhibit to honor the Lipsitz family.
Higher-priced items at Saturday's Lipsitz Department Store auction included:
- A pair of 1950s Levi's jeans that sold for $500
- A Swift soap container and matching soap sold for $800. The container was likely produced around 1900.
- A Red Goose shoes two-section rug sold for $600
- A plastic goose -- an advertisement for Red Goose shoes -- that laid eggs filled with trinkets for kids who shopped at the store sold for $775