(Sept. 4, 1824-May 7, 1896). Ayres was born and raised on a farm near Oswego, New York, and began his mercantile career at the age of 19 as a peddler of goods in Geauga County, Ohio. He owned and operated a general store for 15 years in Chardon, Ohio, and a dry goods store in Geneva, New York, for seven years. In 1872 Ayres accepted an offer to buy controlling interest of a leading dry goods store in partnership with N. R. Smith in Indiana’s fast-growing capital city.

A large seven-story brick building with many windows.
L. S. Ayres downtown store at the intersection of Washington and Meridian Streets, 1945 Credit: W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

The Trade Palace was a well-established dry goods retail store located in “Ray’s Stone Front Building” at 26-28 West Washington Street. Ayres remained in New York as the resident buyer for the Trade Palace for two years and then moved with his family to Indianapolis to assume full ownership of the business. He changed the firm’s name to L. S. Ayres And Company and within two years moved his store into a new and much larger three-story building at 33-37 West Washington Street.

Besides being a careful businessman, Ayres was known for generosity and concern for his employees, personable customer service, and use of technological innovations. From 1874 to 1896 his staff grew from about 30 to 175 employees. He started new employees at a higher wage than did other retailers, was the first retailer in the city to have an annual employees’ Fourth of July picnic, and closed on Saturday afternoons in the summer months so that his employees could take advantage of the city’s new parks. Ayres greeted each employee by name in the morning, as well as every customer at the door. His was the first store in the city to install electric lights and an elevator and to use glass showcases to display merchandise.

Before his death in 1896, Ayres purchased Hubbard’s Block at the southwest comer of Meridian and Washington streets. His son, Frederic M. Ayres, incorporated under the name of L.S. Ayres and Company following his father’s death that same year. On this site in 1905, Frederic M. Ayres built the city’s first modern department store and developed a successful retail business with his father’s legacy.

Revised February 2021

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