It was the "go to" place in downtown Dodge City. Eckles Department Store was the shopping Mecca for all of southwest Kansas.
The Locke Mercantile Company had the original building built in 1908 and Frank Locke managed it as the Bargain Store. The original building did not last long as it was destroyed by fire in 1909, but they quickly rebuilt it in 1910. In 1926, brothers George and Charles Eckles purchased the building for $124,000 and remodeled the interior.
People thought the brothers were crazy when, during the Great Depression and devastating drought of the 1930s, the Eckles brothers did a major remodeling to the store. One of the brothers stated "we know the dust and drough [sic] could not last." It didn’t and the store continued for nearly a half century. In the 1950s, the owners again made major improvements to the inside of the business.
The Department Store was a jewel in downtown Dodge City drawing people from surrounding counties to shop in the four-floor store. The basement housed fine china and crystal along with kitchenware and, during the holidays, a wide assortment of toys. On the main floor was jewelry and cosmetics, shoes, men’s wear and hosiery. For those who sewed their own clothes, were fabrics and notions.
Towards the rear, one could step down into a large music store with a grand piano often played by a store employee. Along with other musical instruments were instruction books and sheet music.
A "hat bar" graced the center aisle of the second floor. This floor contained mostly clothing. The mezzanine held boy’s clothing and linens.
The ladies room was a gathering place with comfortable chairs for women to rest when the shopping was finished.
The aluminum store front that so many of us remember was placed during a 1963 remodel. At that time the Eckles had acquired the building to the south and placed the grill over both for a sense of uniformity and to "modernize" the structure. Though the building is part of the Downtown Historic District, the grill rendered it, a least temporarily, a non-contributing structure in the district.
In the 1960s, the brothers died, but the family tradition lived on as George’s son, Paul, and Charles’ son, Jack, had taken over the family business. Even some of the grandchildren were involved in the store.
In the early 1980s, Eckles Department Store closed and was converted to a "mini-mall" which still exists. In 2010, Dr. Kirk Gross bought the building and in 2011 removed the aluminum grill revealing the historic exterior of the building.
Kathie Bell is the curator of collections and education at Boot Hill Museum.