Simon (Founder; died in 1877)
A family-operated business
In 1850, a rabbinical scholar by the name of Simon Lazarus arrived in Columbus, and in 1851 he opened the Lazarus store. Simon Lazarus "was short…and quiet…but, my, how very cordial he was… a real business man, always far ahead of the times… and always so awfully good to poor folks." Assisted by his wife Amelia and sons Fred and Ralph, Simon and his store gradually began to prosper. Opened with a modest capital of less than $3000, the store measured less than 20 x 50 feet, boasted a staff of one clerk, and bordered boot and shoe dealer F. Fassig to the left, Harvey Coit, clothing merchant to the right, and George Elliott, photographer, upstairs.
Fred and Ralph, the two boys, worked in the store before and after school, and the family lived near their place of business, on the site of one of the present-day Lazarus garages. Fred was often sent down to the Scioto River with a bucket to get water for mopping the store floors before school in the morning—sometimes he would have to enlist his brother's help in knocking holes in the ice before they could fill their buckets.
Next generation of Lazarus
When Simon Lazarus died in 1877, Columbus lost not only the founder of what would be its signature store but also its first ordained rabbi. Simon Lazarus reputedly "caused many a heart and soul to soar aloft on the wings of devotion to their God." Amelia Lazarus shared the store's ownership with her sons during the 22 years of her widowhood, until her death in 1899. At that time, the store's name was changed to F.&R. Lazarus.
While Fred and Ralph did all the buying, advertising, bookkeeping, and some of the selling in the early days of their store ownership, they added personnel gradually and by 1881 the store employed 22 clerks. In 1933, J. W. Knox, a long-time employee of F.&R. Lazarus, recalled that "Mr. Ralph Lazarus wrote the ads when I first went into the store in 1890. I remember hearing the fellow from the Ohio State Journal say, 'Well, Mr. Lazarus, got your ad ready?' and Mr. Lazarus would say, 'No…but I'll have it in three minutes!' and then he'd just sit down and write it out, with pencil, on a piece of wrapping paper, like as not!"
By 1888, Ralph Lazarus was putting his advertising skills to good use, promoting the seven electric lights and all the modern improvements of the F.&R. Lazarus store. The store continued as a family tradition, and Ralph and Fred were joined by Simon and Fred Lazarus, Jr. after school and on weekends.
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We are indebted to several institutions for sharing the wonderful images that bring this story to life: The Ohio Historical Society, WBNS, and The Columbus Dispatch. In addition, we are grateful to The Columbus Foundation for supporting this production.