Asheville Archives: The many locations of Bon Marché, 1889-1980

GROWING WITH THE CITY: In 1923, Bon Marché relocated to the corner of Haywood Street and Battery Park Avenue. On Nov. 11 of that year, The Sunday Citizen noted: “Bon Marche grew up with Asheville and in the acquisition of this new home it is felt that the store is merely keeping pace with the progress that is certain to be made by the city that supports it.” Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville

Throughout the 1880s, Asheville witnessed plenty. The railroads arrived, Riverside Cemetery was incorporated, electric streetlights shined brightly, the city’s first public schools opened, Mission Hospital formed and, of course, the prominent Jewish businessman Solomon Lipinsky moved to town by way of Tabor.

OK, perhaps Lipinsky’s 1880 arrival didn’t garner the same attention as the other landmark events. (To be fair, he wasn’t prominent just yet.) But his name would soon be known, and his future department store, Bon Marché, would eventually become emblematic of the city’s own downtown growth and progress (as well as its eventual decline).

Lipinsky and his half-sister Eva Ellick opened Bon Marché’s first storefront in 1889. On Oct. 3 of that year The Daily Citizen’s Business and Pleasure column noted the store’s available styles. This included Pearl shirts, along with “the noblest and most fashionable gentlemen’s neckwear, suspenders and gloves.”

When Ellick died in 1893, Lipinsky took over as sole owner (later to be joined by his three sons). The business would relocate several times within its first two decades of operation. But from 1911-23, Bon Marche settled at the former Berkley Hotel on the corner of Patton and Lexington avenues (site of the present-day Kress Building).

On Oct. 9, 1911, The Asheville Citizen reported that the only remaining semblance of the former Berkley Hotel was “the four walls of the building which have housed numerous traveling men and hundreds of tourists.” The roof had been replaced and the interior of all three floors stripped, installing new hardwood maple floors and steel ceilings. Meanwhile, the paper noted, “A telephone exchange with fifteen stations connects the many departments and the electric elevator is doubtless the largest in the city.”

Coverage of the new location continued throughout that year. On Nov. 4, The Asheville Gazette featured an overview of the store’s operations, noting Bon Marché employed roughly 60 people. At times, the breadth of its enterprise appeared to flummox the paper. “There is, for example, department E — hosiery and knit underwear,” the Gazette informed readers. “Sounds simple, yet it requires the work of six people.” Meanwhile, Department K, the article reported, was “nothing but corsets — a corset store.”

By 1922, plans for a new, larger site were underway. The Oct. 16 edition of The Asheville Citizen declared:

“The Bon Marche, S. Lipinsky and Sons, owners, will have one of the finest department stores in the entire State as the result of an agreement with E.W. Grove for the erection of a five-story fireproof building on Haywood Street.”

CONSTRUCTION UNDERWAY: Taken in January 1923, this image shows the early stages of construction on the new Bon Marche (present-day Haywood Park Hotel and Isa’s Bistro). Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville
CONSTRUCTION UNDERWAY: Taken in January 1923, this image shows the early stages of construction on the new Bon Marché (present-day Haywood Park Hotel and Isa’s Bistro). Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville

Construction began in late December. By January 1923, the foundation’s concrete was poured. Early estimates had the building’s completion set for early 1924. But the project would finish ahead of schedule, opening that November. (The building, which still stands today, is now occupied by Haywood Park Hotel and Isa’s Bistro.)

Along with its numerous departments, the new Bon Marché also featured a Public Assembly room, located on its third floor. “Committees, divisions and all bodies of any of the civic organizations are free to use this room, by appointment, at any time they wish,” the Nov. 11 edition of The Sunday Citizen reported.

Three days later, on Nov. 14, the department store held its official dedication. It included a brief address by the city’s mayor, John H. Cathey. The following day’s paper featured the mayor’s remarks. Cathey stated:

“It has been my pleasure since a country boy of 10 years to watch Asheville grow. From an over-grown country village of 35 years ago, with narrow muddy streets, I have seen it develop into what it is today. In contrast to what we had then, we now have miles of paved streets, hundreds of miles of cement walks, a school system second to none in the entire South, a water supply equal to any in the country and churches in keeping with the times.

“As Asheville has grown there has grown with it the Bon Marche. It has kept pace with progress and today we are here to dedicate to the service of the people of our City, a greater Bon Marche, one in keeping with the growth and progress of Western North Carolina[.]”

Lipinsky died on March 28, 1925. The business remained family-owned until the late 1970s. In 1937, Bon Marché relocated its downtown store, moving the business across the street (into present-day Earth Guild). It continued to operate from this location until it closed in 1979.

During this time, the department store also opened two additional locations at the Westgate Shopping Center (1956) and the Asheville Mall (1973). Sold to the Myers-Arnold Co. in 1979, the organization would eliminate the Bon Marché name from both storefronts in 1980.

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

3 thoughts on “Asheville Archives: The many locations of Bon Marché, 1889-1980

  1. Curious

    Are there any members of the Lipinsky family still living? Isn’t there a building named Lipinsky at UNCA?

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.