A. Schwab’s located on historic Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, has seen a lot of changes out its front window, a whole lot of changes. Opened in 1876 by Abraham Schwab, it has the distinction of being the only original business still in operation on Beale Street, and, possibly, the oldest family-owned general store in the mid-south. The family business was originally located right up the street and moved to its current location in 1912. In 1924, it expanded into the building to the left of the main doorway, which had been occupied by I. Goldsmith’s and Brothers (the predecessor of Goldsmith’s Department Store). The beautiful brick buildings were built in 1865.
When you step inside its doors, you are immediately transported to a different time, a simpler time. The creaky wooden floors, glass display cases, and tin roof are reminiscent of the original Beale Street of years gone by. But the going hasn’t been easy for the iconic store. In the mid-seventies, with traffic on Beale at an all-time low, the family began a museum within the store to pay homage to the rich history of the street and area they called home.
The museum includes many relics of Memphis history. From farming tools to washboards and household items, original blues records, and even a carriage warmer, the museum is a visual history of Memphis and the Delta region through the years. But it isn’t just about the past at Schwab’s. The store has adapted and changed with the times. In the 1980s, the store played an essential role in the revitalization of the community and the street. Once again, visitors young and old begin to stream through the doors and discover the wonders inside. Wonders like a fully stocked old fashioned candy counter with all your favorites from your childhood represented.
Are you looking for a pair of Elvis Pajamas? They have you covered, complete with an Elvis pillow. How about suspenders? Schwab’s carries over 100 different kinds. A galvanized Maid-Rite washboard and bar of homemade lye soap are located just across the aisle from an extensive collection of kazoos and harmonicas. Books about Memphis history line a table that is right beside the largest collections of hats I have ever seen in one place.
I am always amazed at how many locals have never walked through the doors of this treasured landmark. Children love the selection of retro-inspired wind-up tin toys, yo-yos, and slingshots. A very nice change of pace from the ever-growing diet of video games most of them are used to. There are plenty of Memphis, souvenirs too. From T-shirts to post-cards, key-chains, and bumper stickers, Schwab’s is one of the city’s biggest fans.
In 2013, Schwab’s made another addition to the store, a retro soda fountain. With its 50-foot white marble counter and vintage stools, it is the perfect place to sit and watch the people walking up and down the historic street. Want a simple ice-cream cone? They have you covered. But the soda fountain also creates and mixes their own syrups for delish and unique sodas and shakes.
After being in the Schwab family for 136 years, the torch was passed to new owners in 2011. But do not fear, the new owners are dedicated to preserving the rich history found within the walls of the store. So next time your kids have a day out of school, or you have an unexpected free Saturday, head downtown, and be a tourist in your hometown, I have a feeling you will be pleasantly surprised.