In 1896, Herman Wilhelm Bloch, who later anglicized his name to William H. Block, opened a small department store at 9 East Washington Street. Block had emigrated to New York from Hungary in 1876, where he had studied to be a rabbi. He changed careers with financial help from an immigrant aid society and began peddling dry goods in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Initially, Block carried goods in a backpack, but he soon began carrying samples and shipping orders to customers. Quitting peddling after a few years, he teamed with Abraham Thalman (ca. 1880) to open the Block and Thalman Wholesale and Retail Department Store in Kokomo, Indiana, with branch stores in Anderson and Columbus. In 1894, Block sold his interest to Thalman and spent the next year in New York manufacturing women’s apparel. Two years later, he settled in Indianapolis and opened his store on Washington Street.

A man bends down to place a shoe on a woman's foot.
A customer enjoys a personal fitting in Block’s upscale shoe department in 1951. Credit: The Bretzman Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

Initially, Block’s store had little frontage. He annexed an adjoining six-story building around the turn of the century, more than doubling the store’s size. In 1907, the store was incorporated as the William H. Block Company. Three years later, Block built a large eight-story building at Illinois and Market streets, strategically located across the street from the Traction Terminal. More than 70,000 people turned out for the grand opening of the store, which included a luncheonette, a grocery, and an in-store candy shop. When Block died in 1928, his sons—Meier, Rudolph, and Edward—took over the company.

During the mid-1930s, Block’s undertook a two-year remodeling and expansion of its downtown store. During the next three decades, the company continued to expand, opening suburban branch stores as well as several appliance stores and tire centers in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1962, the founder’s sons sold the business to Allied Stores Corporation, a New York retail conglomerate. Allied was purchased in 1986 by the Canadian Campeau Corporation, which quickly sold Block’s to Federated Stores. In January 1988, all Indiana Blocks stores became part of the Lazarus chain, headquartered in Cincinnati. Lazarus, which operated five Indianapolis locations, closed the old Block’s downtown store in January 1993 due to insufficient profits. Lazarus was eventually absorbed into Macy’s department store chain in the early 2000s.

Revised July 2021

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