July 29, 2018

Prescott's Goldwater Store: "The Best Always" from 1876-1978

For over a century Goldwater's general merchandise store not only offered the staples of life, but also brought first class merchandise of elegance and good taste to Prescott.

Although its tenure in this city started in 1876, the Goldwaters had been merchants in Arizona starting in the early days of anglo history, 1862--passing on the business to each generation.

When the family first arrived in the territory, it was not to become merchants, but rather freighters. "Micheal Goldwater was quick to see the possibilities of what was to become Arizona. He established himself and his family in the thriving town of La Paz and settled to a busy life of a freighter."

The Founding of Ehrenberg:
Micheal soon realized that La Paz was not a reliable port to unload freight from the sidewheelers that ran the Colorado river. "La Paz was located somewhat back from the normal river channel and unloading freight necessitated carrying it distances varying from a few hundred yards to a mile or more before finally loading it onto the wagons."

Micheal found a spot 6 miles down river where it coursed through two steep banks which would make unloading the freight relatively easy. He had the location surveyed and founded the town of Ehrenberg "in honor of a friend, Herman Ehrenberg, who was killed on the road between Los Angeles and La Paz." Other freighters saw the advantages of Ehrenberg and quickly migrated there.

One advantage La Paz still had was a store. So in 1862 "it was Goldwater who...established the first general store in Ehrenberg. This building became the town hall, the post office and general meeting place of the community." It would be the first of several stores throughout Arizona.

Eventually in 1876, Micheal decided to open a store in the growing city of Prescott. There were plenty of other merchandisers on the plaza already, so Micheal needed to find a niche that would set his store apart. He began with the construction of the building itself. It was "the first brick building in (this) part of the state."

A description of what a visitor to downtown Prescott would see in 19th century store windows.

The first Goldwater's in Prescott was built by blacksmith James Howey on the corner of Goodwin and Cortez.

"Howey's new buildings, on Cortez street are really a credit to that gentleman, as well as to Prescott," the paper wrote. "The brick (building) is two stories high, 30 feet wide and 60 feet long. Upper and lower stories are now being fitted up, regardless of cost, for Mr. M Goldwater, who will shortly fill them with goods of all kinds. Adjoining the brick is a new one-story frame house, 40 x 100--one half of which will be used by Mr. Goldwater; the other half, is now used as a blacksmith shop by the energetic proprietor, Mr. Howey, who has made this fine property by hard licks on the anvil."

Goldwater ad, Dec., 1877
"Nash & Wilson, from Erhenberg, unloaded their huge trains this morning at the two story brick store of M Goldwater who is almost daily receiving new and fresh supplies to his already immense stock. Mr. Issac from Salt River, also unloaded at the same house several thousand pounds of flour."

Fortunately, the Goldwaters were able to open in December, taking advantage of late holiday shopping.

Only a few years later, the store began preparing to move to the corner of Union and Cortez. On June 6th, 1879 the newspaper announced that the Goldwaters were "preparing the foundation for their new store. They do everything on the solid system and we predict their new store will be put up to last for ages."

In 1880 it was announced that "the old, popular and reliable firm of J Goldwater & Bro. has dissolved by mutual consent, and will hereafter be conducted by M(orris) Goldwater & Son, which will be acceptable to all."

M Goldwater & Son "are solidly established, having their own magnificent store building; (they) hire no clerks (and) are consequently under but light expense in comparison to other houses...Therefore they can afford to sell goods at a lower price than some of their neighbors. It is a hard thing to find a finer store or more perfect and elegant assortment of goods even in San Francisco..."

Post-fire Goldwater ad, 1880.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck around 10 pm, July 29, 1880 when a fire started.

"The fire caught in the building occupied by Miss Mattie Given as a dress-maker establishment, and before discovered had gained such headway that saving the building or contents was out of the question." Miss Given lost all her inventory as well as $1300 in lost cash. Also destroyed were a boot and shoe store although its contents were saved.

"On the north of the building occupied by Miss Given, is the magnificent brick edifice of the Goldwater's, which came very near being destroyed, as it was on fire for over an hour, at the same time serving as a barrier to keep the fire fiend from spreading north...The damages to (the) Goldwater's store cannot fall short of $2000."

The Goldwaters quickly bounced back. In 1884 the former Goldwater building became Howey Hall--a theater. This location was then bought by the city and became the location for the fire house before becoming the current city hall.

In 1892 Goldwater's became the first store in Prescott to install large picture windows to display their new stock.

In March, 1896, the store expanded. As the newspaper reported: "An event of considerable moment occurred today in the opening of the mammoth new dry goods store of M Goldwater & Bros., of Prescott. While delays and disappointments have occurred in their preparations for opening day, and although postponed three weeks beyond the time originally set, they failed to receive their full stock. It is located on the Fleming block on 1st Ave. just a few doors from Washington St., and the same taste for which the firm is so noted, has been displayed in fitting the place up, as well as selecting the stock for it, the firm's motto 'The Best Always' having never been lost sight of for an instant. 

"In addition to the two proprietors, Morris and BM Goldwater being present, they had four salesmen, who were kept busy all day waiting on customers, and between purchasers and mere callers, there was a regular crush in the store all day and far into the evening. It is a handsomely fitted up place and is well stocked, and is, without doubt, the second handsomest place of the kind in the territory, the first place...being M Goldwater & Bros. Prescott house. While the firm has excelled all others in their line, they have not excelled themselves."

The story of Morris Goldwater and his oversight of the early development of Prescott, Arizona.

However in 1926, the store moved to Phoenix. The decision behind this move purportedly involved a hand of casino. Baron Goldwater saw the promise of the growth of Phoenix and wanted to move the store there. Morris, however, had deep roots in Prescott. He served as mayor for a total of 20 years--then the record for longest tenure as a mayor of any town in the US!

Morris dealt the hand, but Baron won. This began an 11 year period when Prescott would not have a Goldwater's store. However, in 1938, Goldwaters reopened in the Otis Building just across the street from where the old store stood.

Goldwaters 1938-1978.
It was during this time that Goldwaters advertised nationally in magazines like Vogue and became famous all over the world.

This store remained until 1978 when the company wrote: "in recent years we have had cause to make a long and careful review of two major problems; our small size which has caused us to limit our selection of merchandise, and the ever-increasing parking problem which has become critical in downtown Prescott...Therefore, Goldwater's will cease to operate in Prescott after October 14, 1978."

The store passed into history with little fanfare.

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"Merchants Since 1862" by Raymond Carlson. Arizona Highways Magazine; May, 1939, pp. 6-7, 26-27.

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