Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Columns

April 12, 2014

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: City entrepreneurs went on to fame and fortune

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — In the mid 19th century Lockport was a thriving village on the Erie Canal where many young people (mostly men) could start a career and either settle down or move on to bigger places and other opportunities. This happened to several enterprising young men in what became known as the “Lock City.”

One of the first tenants of the Ringeuberg Building (now the Masonic Building at Main and Cottage streets) was Potter Palmer. The 25-year-old Palmer opened up a dry goods store that was advertised to as “the cheapest place in Lockport to buy new goods.” Most of his merchandise catered to the ladies of the village and included dress goods, shawls, silks and linens, as well as crockery and glassware. Although he did a good business in Lockport, his eyes were set upon a bigger market. 

After only a year here, Palmer moved on to Chicago and set up another dry goods store. He later partnered with two other men, Marshall Field and Levi Leiter. Some of his innovations included a liberal return policy, extending credit to women and creating elaborate window displays. Poor health caused Palmer to sell his part of the partnership, and that business later became the famous Chicago department store Marshall Field’s. 

Palmer invested his money in real estate but lost 32 buildings, including the elaborate Palmer House Hotel, in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Securing a loan, he was able to rebuilt most of his properties including the hotel. His wife Bertha is credited with suggesting the idea of the chocolate brownie to the chef at the hotel. When Palmer died in 1902 he was a multi-millionaire. 

Twenty years after Palmer left Lockport, another man opened another dry goods store in the city. In the early 1870s, Henry Goodman, Sr. and his son, Henry Jr., opened a store at 54 Main St. that stayed in business for 10 years.

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