“The Jacobson’s Experience” highlights the history of the diversity behind the old department store.

“The Jacobson’s Experience” highlights the history of the diversity behind the old department store.

Photo by Mary Genson

The Birmingham Museum triggers nostalgia with ‘Jacobson’s Experience’

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 21, 2022


BIRMINGHAM — In the 1950s, Birmingham became home to a department store called Jacobson’s, which became very popular throughout the community. In 2003, the store closed, but its memory still lives on at the Birmingham Museum’s “Jacobson’s Experience.”

“Jacobson’s was so much more than a store to the people of Birmingham. It was an experience,” Museum Director Leslie Pielack said.

The Jacobson’s exhibit was first installed in 2019, but museum staff has kept the exhibit updated to complement the rest of the museum.

This year, the museum is featuring “A Tapestry of Birmingham: Exploring our Diversity” as the museum focuses on the history of diversity in Birmingham.

“In the last year, we have tried to talk a little bit less about Jacobson’s as a store and Jacobson’s more of a progressive ideal,” Museum Specialist Donna Casaceli said.

In this exhibit, the museum shares some of the specific ways Jacobson’s promoted diversity.

It all began when Nathan Rosenfeld purchased Jacobson’s Birmingham and offered opportunities for employees that many places did not offer.

For example, women were allowed to work after marriage, and they had the potential to become managers. The exhibit highlights one Birmingham woman who was a manager for the men’s boutique.

“Jacobson’s was offering an idea that if you are a hard worker, that’s what mattered,” Casaceli said.

Casaceli said there are several Jacobson’s reunion Facebook pages full of past employees who have fond memories of their time working.

“They (Jacobson’s) respected people, and you can see that in how they treated their employees as well,” Casaceli said.

Saleswomen on the floor were given stationery and stamps to write individual letters to customers to let them know what was going on at the store.

“It was a place where high society definitely came to shop, but they also offered well-designed, well-constructed clothing for the middle class as well,” Casaceli said.

The exhibit also highlights important stories of Black and LGBTQ designers and workers, such as Stephen Burrows, who were given opportunities in the Midwest at Jacobson’s.

When the Birmingham Museum decided to create the “Jacobson’s Experience,” they advertised that they were seeking artifacts from the old store. Casaceli said they were lucky enough to have been flooded with artifacts and stories from nostalgic community members.

“Jacobson’s just inspires people to feel very nostalgic,” Casaceli said.

The exhibit is filled with clothing and accessories from Jacobson’s including hats that people can try on when they visit.

At the center of the exhibit is a wedding dress from 1970 that was purchased and worn by a Birmingham woman.

People are also welcome to share some of their experiences in the book the museum has laid out for guests.

“It’s so heartwarming to hear our visitors exclaim out loud when they walk in the exhibit and begin sharing Jacobson’s stories with each other,” Pielack said.

Casaceli said they plan to keep this exhibit up at least through 2023.

The museum is located at 556 W. Maple Road. For more information on the museum, visit bhamgov.org.