Boggs & Buhl Department Store,
once a North Side institution
By Paul S. Korol
In 1869, two young men, Russell H. Boggs and Henry Buhl,
Jr., left their hometown of Zelienople to start a small store at
It may have been Henry’s grandfather, Christian Buhl, a
furrier, who encouraged his grandson to become involved in merchandising.
Legend has it that Christian took Henry into a market blindfolded, and had him
identify by touch every piece of fur handed to him. If he had the genes and the
background, he would be a success in the clothing and dry goods trade in
As their business prospered, they moved across the street
into what later became part of their main building complex. Boggs & Buhl
had captured the “carriage trade” in
Russell Boggs, the senior partner, was the idea man -- sometimes coming up with promotions and displays to which the more conservative Henry would cautiously agree. But the two men complemented each perfectly. Packages were wrapped to perfection, and teams of matched horses pulled the delivery wagons that brought purchases to your door. The National Retail Drygoods Association ranked Boggs & Buhl with the best of the country’s retailers.
In 1912, after 43 years in business, the two partners decided to retire, and sold the store to the May Company of Cleveland. Customer service, merchandise quality and profitability immediately began to decline. Neither retired partner could tolerate the loss of reputation in the store that bore their names. In a decisive move, they bought it back in 1915. The partners were once again in business.
In 1921 Boggs & Buhl became the focal point of a two-week manhunt headlined by newspapers across the country. The theft of $45,000 in cash and the shooting death of the assistant building superintendent outraged the community. Within two weeks, three individuals including a husband-wife team were convicted of the theft and slaying. A fourth suspect who had masterminded the robbery eluded police for 13 years until his capture in 1934. All four received long prison sentences.
Boggs continued as senior partner until his death in 1922, the same year in which Henry’s wife, Louise, died. In his 70s without heirs, Henry continued to operate the store and planned for the distribution of his estate. His will included $100,000 for the Boggs & Buhl Welfare Association that benefited retired employees. Henry died in 1927.
The store expanded over the years to include 244,000 square feet of floor space. The emporium would eventually employ 1,200 people. After Henry’s death, the business was controlled by a trusteeship, The Buhl Foundation.
Near the end of 1947, operation and remodeling costs led the
owners to vote to liquidate. The store had lost $1,323,959.00 from 1931 through
1947. Shortly after the vote, six
By 1955, the death knell was being sounded for the store,
which had been waging an unsuccessful battle to retain its business and
reputation. The opening of
** I wish all of you Pittsburgh Senior News readers a wonderful holiday season with happiness and prosperity throughout the coming year. **
Addendum – By Glenn A. Walsh
The preceding was a very informative history of the Boggs and Buhl Department Store written by Paul S. Korol for the 2004 December issue of the Pittsburgh Senior News. The following is a small addendum regarding the closing of the Boggs and Buhl Department Store.
Herman Mike was employed in the maintenance/custodial department of Boggs and Buhl Department Store for many years until it closed in 1958. At that time, he took a similar position at The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science [located one block north of the Boggs and Buhl Department Store], which lasted until his retirement shortly before the closing of the original Buhl Planetarium, as a public museum, in 1991.
Mr. Mike was well known for providing a beautiful polish to the many bronze and brass surfaces in the Buhl Planetarium building, such as the brass railing of the Foucault Pendulum Pit.
Mr. Mike once told Mr. Walsh that one of the reasons the Boggs and Buhl Department Store closed was because the owner, in the late 1950s, was not willing to spend the money to modernize the building. In particular, he was not willing to air-condition the entire building.
Ironically, The Buhl Planetarium and
So, it seems, the failure to air-condition, and make other building modernizations to, the Boggs and Buhl Department Store resulted in the closing of this landmark institution.
gaw 2005 Jan. 11
Addendum 2 – By Glenn A. Walsh
Also, "Boggs and Buhl" is memoralized on the Great Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt, created at Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science in 1988. The "Boggs and Buhl" quilt strip is located just to the left of the Buhl Planetarium Observatory strip of quilt squares.
gaw 2009 Feb. 17
2) Boggs and Buhl Department Store closed to the public, permanently, on 1958 March 22.
Part of recollection of former employee, Peg Sebak, related during television documentary produced by her son, Rick Sebak.
Citation: Sebak, Peg. Interview. By Rick Sebak. North Side Story. Television Documentary. Pittsburgh: WQED-TV 13, 1997.
gaw 2009 Aug. 10
"Former Allegheny Center Mall successful with offices."
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 2010 Dec. 28.
"Around Town: Days of shoe repair coming to a close for North Side cobbler." Column.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2010 March 30.
"Young Frank started in shoe repair at Boggs & Buhl, the old North Side department store on Federal Street, for 75 cents an hour in the spring of 1952...
"In 1985, the year before Gimbels closed, Mr. Serrao bought this shop, where he'd been working as a an employee a couple of days a week since the (Allegheny Center) mall opened in 1972."