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South Texas Living

Remembering first visit to Joske’s department store

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Rainy Days and Starry Nights
April 23, 2014 | 3,863 views | Post a comment

I read a book, A Girl from Texas, which is the biography of Ruth Conerly, a small-town Texas girl who from poverty became one of America’s most successful commercial artists. She moved back to Texas from Chicago and New York, to San Antonio, and began working for Joske’s during the 1940s. She was their top fashion illustrator for many years. Reading about the store, and the changes through the years, brought back memories. I dug out this old story about Joske’s department store.

It was in the late 1940s that I heard about Joske’s when I graduated from Poth High and moved to San Antonio in 1949. My first real shopping trip to a big department store was Joske’s on Alamo Plaza. Before that, the only place I ever went shopping was to the C&C dime store and Lieberman’s in Floresville. My Aunt Janie worked at the dime store, and going in the store with Mother to buy notions, such as ribbon or thread, or maybe some dime-store makeup, was the highlight of our trip to Floresville on Saturdays. But I could only afford Blue Waltz “perfume,” which was 10 cents.

Now I was in the “big city” and could go to Joske’s. It had two or three stories, and everything in the world you wanted -- furniture, clothes, shoes, cosmetics, toys, appliances, piece goods, and farm and ranch supplies. The Joske family knew how to build a department store. And what it would take to bring the people in!

I took the bus downtown, and walked over to Alamo Plaza, and seeing the big store close to the Alamo was an exciting event. I stared at the big glass windows, with the displays of women’s clothes, children’s clothes, and other home furnishings (the store had many display windows all down Alamo Street), and could hardly wait to go in.

Walking in through those big heavy doors, and feeling the cool air from the air conditioning that summer, it felt like heaven. And the smell! I could smell the expensive perfumes and the smell of new clothes and shoes, and I just wanted to stay in the store all day. I browsed all afternoon, going through every department, from floor to floor. I didn’t buy a thing. I just did a lot of wishing!

I recently looked up the history of the store and found out it was established 135 years ago! What a heritage! Julius Joske opened the first store in 1867 on Main Plaza. It was known as J. Joske store. The store was eventually moved to Alamo Plaza and the name changed to Joske Brothers. The store moved to Alamo and Commerce in 1887, and in 1932 the Allied Store Corporation bought out the store, though they kept the name of Joske’s. James Calvert took over as president of Joske’s of Texas until he retired in 1964.

From everything I read, James Calvert was instrumental in making Joske’s into the famous department store it was. While he was president, Joske’s became the first air-conditioned store in Texas. The store was once called “the biggest store in the biggest state.” At one time, Joske’s was the largest department store in the U.S. It was the first store west of the Mississippi to have escalators, and those escalators came from an exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. They are still in daily operation today.

More about Joske’s in the later years in another column!

Lois Zook Wauson is the oldest of eight children who grew up on a farm in Wilson County in the mid-20th century. After many years living in other parts of Texas, she now lives and writes in Floresville. Her two books are available from the Wilson County News office. Email her at

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