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  • Diane Janowski

Things you don’t know about Iszard’s

By Diane Janowski, Elmira City Historian



Those of us past a certain age remember our beloved Iszards on North Main Street. We recollect the brown bread they served in the Tea Room and visiting with Santa after the big Christmas Parade. We remember the flagpole, the clock, and the overhanging awning. We loved riding in the elevator with the crisscross gate and the uniformed attendant. And we can still see the money going up through that skinny chute.


But, there are some things about Iszards that you may not know.


At nineteen, Samuel French Iszard of Philadelphia went on the road as a salesman for Strawbridge & Clothier. One of his frequent stops was the Dey Brothers department store (soon after known as Reynold’s Big Store) on the corner of East Water and Baldwin Streets (still there). Iszard bought this store in 1904. He and his family moved here from Germantown, Pennsylvania.


Iszard opened his new building at 150 North Main Street in November 1924. Within six years, the Mark Twain Hotel opened next door. The hotel was great, as it brought a steady stream of out-of-town travelers to shop at Elmira’s biggest department store.


In 1939, Iszards advertised that it was “air cooled” from sixty feet under the sidewalk on North Main Street. Apparently, “under Iszards is a large quantity of water on a bed of round, smooth rocks.” They guessed it was an underground spring, as the water temperature was a steady 52º. No matter what time of year, the temperature was always 52º.


So, how did Iszards use that cold water for air conditioning? The advertisement claimed, “A large pump draws over 200 gallons per minute from 60 feet down. This water is pumped through radiators in the building. A powerful four-foot fan blows Fresh air over these radiators to different parts of the store.”

The air cooled as it passed over the radiators, and a dehumidifier removed the excess moisture. Iszards claimed that “as the air is recirculated, it passes through spun glass filters, and most of the dust which is injurious to health is removed.”


Because Iszards had so many customers in the store at one time, they breathed up much of the good oxygen. For this reason, an electric ozonifier added oxygen to the air in the store. “As a result, our store is a healthy and comfortable place to shop.”


Miss America 1926 was Norma Smallwood of Bristow, Oklahoma. Norma won both the bathing suit and evening gown contests in the pageant. Instead of returning to school after her win, she visited the US with her mother on the Orpheum Circuit for $1,500 weekly. One of her stops was Iszards. On July 22, 1927, nineteen-year-old Norma sat on view in Iszards front corner window wearing the swimming outfit that won her the title at Atlantic City. After the window sitting, she put on a small fashion show modeling all of Iszard’s finest women’s clothing. Later that day, she sang and danced for a large audience at the Grotto Club (now Joy Crest). Elmira was lucky to see her – she stopped attending her scheduled appearances a few weeks later when she claimed the circuit paid her only half her expected salary. Norma returned to Atlantic City in September 1927 but did not retain her title.


Iszard’s was a four-generation store with branches in the Arnot Mall and on the Commons in Ithaca. Iszard’s closed its Elmira stores in 1988.



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