L.S. Good & Co.
”Mr. Good’s successful life epitomizes the opportunity offered to every young man in this country. Without special advantages of birth or inherited wealth, he built himself a great business, won an honored position in life, and died commanding the admiration of his friends…” —from the obituary of Lee Samuel “L.S.” Good
The golden age of the large department store is a distant memory in Wheeling – malls, mega thrift stores, and online shopping have siphoned away the retail dollar. With their lifeblood drained, the old hulks that remain have been converted into office space or simply stand empty, skeletal reminders of Wheeling’s once robust downtown. In its prime, Wheeling featured an impressive array of homegrown local department stores like Horne’s, Kaufmann’s, and Bernhardt’s. The city was also home to two larger, regional concerns: Stone & Thomas, and L.S. Good & Company, which featured over a dozen stores each. And it’s important to remember that most of those successful stores were founded by immigrants, like L.S. Good, who started with almost nothing.
Out of Switzerland
Lee Samuel “L.S.” Good (Larry Good’s paternal grandfather) was born in 1855 in Gallingen, Switzerland (now Germany) on the German border near Lake Konstantz. According to family lore, Gallingen was actually a hybrid – equal parts German and Swiss. Or, as Larry Good commented, this account of the city’s national dualism may have evolved to provide the family a credible claim to Swiss citizenship when Germany’s actions contributed to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.
Whether Swiss or German, L.S. Good left Gallingen in 1871 at age 17, departing for Galveston, Texas, arriving in 1872. His reasons for leaving Germany are unknown, but probably included the fear of conscription, as the bloodletting of the Franco-Prussian War rendered the German government desperate for cannon fodder.
In fact there were not many professions open at the time in Germany to a country boy who happened to be Jewish. Jews were limited to a few trades such as liquor, tobacco, and sheep herding for wool, so it makes sense that a young man like L.S. would leave for America in search of opportunity.
L.S Good & Company
According to his obituary, L.S. Good arrived in Galveston as a penniless boy. From Galveston, L.S. Good traveled by train to Wheeling, where the topography reminded him of his Bavarian homeland. He purchased a cart and began buying wholesale dry goods, reselling them at retail from his cart in small Ohio towns. He did this for six or seven years. But the cart was just a forerunner to a much larger dream.
In Morristown, Ohio, L.S. Good met Fannie Hanauer, daughter of Sam Hanauer, a German Jew who immigrated there in 1839. L.S. and Fannie were married and had three children who survived into adulthood: Samuel (whom the Wheeling Intelligencer called Wheeling’s “indispensable man”), Sidney (Larry’s father), and Bertha.
L.S. Good may have been drawn to Wheeling by the town’s reputation for having good warehouses. In just a few years, he went from penniless boy in Galveston to a position of responsibility with Jacob Dry Goods in Wheeling.
Through frugality and hard work, Mr. Good accumulated “a modest capital,” enough to found his own store on Main Street in 1884. The store moved up Main Street after the 1884 flood and was expanded into adjacent buildings.
L.S.’s time pushing a cart served him well. He became a keen judge of merchandise and ran his store by merit and common sense (1980 interview of Sam Good by Margaret Brennan). He was a progressive executive, beloved by those who worked for him. Often on Sundays, for example, L.S. invited several of his employees to his home for a chicken and spinach dinner.
L.S. Good & Co. grew into one of the largest dry goods stores in the Ohio Valley. Mr. Good’s sons, Sam and Sidney, assumed leadership of the company in 1924. By 1955, the store, which had started with a staff of two, employed 126 people. (Wheeling News-Register, Sept 14, 1955).
Most Wheeling people old enough to have shopped at L.S. Good & Co. fondly remember the talking Christmas Tree stationed annually in the front window. No downtown Christmas shopping excursion could be considered complete without a chat with the animatronic tree. The store also featured a superior music department, where one could purchase the latest records and tapes as well as Capehart and Magnavox record players.
L.S. Good & Co. was a community leader, promoting the arts as well as concerns of national importance, including desegregation. It was the first Wheeling department store to integrate its sales force. Sidney Good and his wife Jeanette Berg Good spearheaded an integrated Frazier Music Concert, possibly the first unsegregated event in Wheeling’s doggedly segregated history. A great lover of music, Jeannette was one of the organizers who helped bring the concerts to Wheeling. Jeanette was later aided in the effort by her daughter-in-law Barbara (Larry’s wife), whose stellar, cabaret-style singing made her a very popular regional performer.
Sidney and Jeannette were married in Philadelphia in 1922. They had five children: David, Ruthie, Sidney, Joan, and Larry.
Sidney died suddenly in 1952 while attending David’s college graduation. He was 54. Jeannette, a much beloved figure in the history of the Good family, died in 1985 at 83.
L.S. built the elegant structure now known as the Good Mansion at 95 – 14th Street in 1904 for $7,000. The Neo-Classical Revival house was designed by the architect Millard F. Giesy, and most of the materials were produced in Wheeling by local craftsmen. A few years later, he invested another $7,000 in renovations, installing intricate woodwork and two dozen magnificent stained glass windows. The home featured original paintings and ceiling murals by a German artist named Kaufman, hand painted tiles, inlaid hardwood parquet floors, and a bronze statue of the goddess Orchadia. (1980 interview of Sam Good by Margaret Brennan and Wheeling Intelligencer, Jan 16, 1989).
The Good family sold the house in 1944. The famous building is now the location of a wine shop, and has been restored by the proprietor to much of its original grandeur.
Eoff Street Temple
The Good family attended Eoff Street Temple, which was located next to Clay School near 12th Street. Sidney Good served as President of the Temple from 1936 to 1938. The Good family later became active participants in Temple Shalom, the Woodsdale based congregation that succeeded the Eoff Street Temple in the late 1950s.
A Public-Spirited Citizen
In addition to being one of Wheeling’s most successful entrepreneurs, L.S. Good was also a great philanthropist, though he preferred that his gifts remain anonymous. His donation paid for the creation of “Twin Lakes” at Wheeling Park, now known as Good Lake. An additional lake was built at the Good Zoo at Oglebay Park to honor L.S.’s great grandson, Phillip Mayer Good, who died at age seven.
L.S. Good died in 1927 at age 72, just a few months after the lake was built.
To honor their highly respected competitor and friend, many of Wheeling’s major retail establishments— including its great department stores—simultaneously closed their doors for one hour during L.S. Good’s funeral. The text of an ad run by the store’s chief competitor Stone & Thomas was typical:
The doors of this store will be closed from 2:00 to 3:00 o’clock during which hours his funeral services will be conducted.
By his death, the community has lost one of its leading men of business and one of its most public-spirited citizens, and we mourn the loss of a respected and valued friend.”
The unusual display of esteem was coordinated only one other time in Wheeling’s history, to honor W.E. Stone, founder of Stone & Thomas when he died.
As L.S. Good’s obituary proclaimed: “It is the law of nature than man die, but the loss to a community of stalwarts of the type of L.S. Good is indeed grieving.”
Source: Interview of Laurance Good, September 17, 2008. All images courtesy Laurance Good.