Schwartz’s Intimate Apparel, One of the Oldest Business in Chicago

Schwartz’s Intimate Apparel, One of the Oldest Business in Chicago

As the third largest city in the United States and being home for the fourth largest Jewish community in the country, Chicago introduces itself as a city with plenty history to tell. Especially when it comes to the first Jews to ever migrate to America a few centuries ago.

Yosef Meystel knows that the wind city has been known for being a dynamic location for commerce and cultural exchange. Thanks to its privileged location on the map different Jewish immigrant families decided to move in and start a new life in a promising land. This was the case of the Schwartz, a couple of Jewish Polish immigrants who founded one of the most traditional Jewish businesses in Chicago: the Schwartz Corset Co, later known as the Schwartz’s Intimate Apparel.

For 100 years this company warmly served thousands of women who were looking for the perfect corset or bra. Having closed its doors on August 5th this year, the store said goodbye to its loyal customers after becoming one of Chicago’s signature businesses founded by a Jewish family.

What made the shop special?

Three generations of Schwartz family members worked in the store, worrying about giving women fine pieces of lingerie that could enhance their self-image. This was what made the store special. The Schwartz would always care about the one-on-one service they provided to their customers. This is why they decided to close the store instead of selling the name because they knew that the first thing that would disappear was the service.

Personal approach was always signature to these retailers. No matter how hard it was to help a big lady find the perfect size 58 K bra, they would gladly help her find the perfect match for her body.

A Brief History of the Business

Image courtesy of Heidi De Vries at Flickr.com

In 1915, Molly and Ben Schwartz arrived in West Division Street in Chicago and opened a business called the Schwartz Corset Co.

Molly was a teenager when she first moved to Chicago and her first job in the city was as a corset sewer for a corset company. Her entrepreneurial spirit allowed her to build her own clientele and soon she was sewing corset on her own for her customers and opening the Schwartz Corset Co, where she would manufacture corsets in the back and conduct fittings in the front.

Even though the Schwartz never were some of the most notable Jews in Chicago’s history, they managed to build their own empire and pass their business from Molly to her children, Florence and Milton Schwartz, who would do the same and pass the company to their children, carrying the tradition of providing a high-quality service to women of all sizes. In time, the store became the Schwartz’s Intimate Apparel and opened up to three spots in different places of the city, each one of them serving its customers for over two decades.

The Schwartz’s Intimate Apparel became a reference in the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce as one of the oldest retail stores in Chicago, overcoming every challenge that showed up along the way.

Sadly, this year, the Schwartz decided it was time to close its doors. The fourth generation of the family didn’t have the same interest in working for retail stores and the current owners didn’t want to see the business die because of the lack of energy and the loss of its identity. They decided to retire on its own terms.

Related: Schwartz’s Intimate Apparel closing after 100 years.

The Schwartz’s Intimate Apparel and Playboy

Over the decades, the Schwartz’s business was prolific and always attending its loyal customer’s needs, regardless how crazy or unique they were. From long silk peignoir sets to cashmere gowns and robes, the apparel store would do anything to meet its clients’ needs. They would customize pretty much anything on the store if a customer wanted so.

It was this will of customization and the fact that they were the only ones who had a vast stock of pantyhose in pretty much every color, the lucky circumstance that allowed Milton Schwartz create a commercial bond with the Playboy magazine. An eccentric client who would ask for the pantyhose in the store’s inventory and other unconventional lingerie pieces for its models.

Positive Care Division

As pioneers in the design and production of lingerie pieces, Schwartz’s Intimate Apparel launched a business division called Positive Care. It was the 1960’s and women who had breast cancer were getting mastectomies and there were no bras for women with uneven breasts. This is how the company decided to provide custom-fitted bras to women who had gone under breast surgery.

This initiative was meant to help women be more self-confident at a time when they wanted to keep mastectomies a secret. In time, this division started to help men who also needed wound-care garments.

Goodbye after 100 years of great service

It took 100 years for this business to say goodbye to its loyal customers. After serving three generations of women in Chicago, the Schwartz have decided to retire instead of adapting to the new business models that indicate they should not give such a close service to customers and sell personalized products.

The Schwartz decided they wanted to go out on their own terms before the store was outdated or customers didn’t want what they offered anymore. It was definitely a tough decision, but every woman in Chicago’s Jewish community is grateful for the outstanding service provided during these 100 years.