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Preserved on main street is the original cast-iron façade of Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution, sometimes claimed to be the first department store in America.


Preserved on main street is the original cast-iron façade of Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution, sometimes claimed to be the first department store in America (organized in March 1868). The store began as a response to price gouging in Salt Lake City. During the early pioneer days, basic commodities from the eastern United States were scarce and expensive because they had to be hauled by ox team from Missouri. Aware of this predicament, various Salt Lake merchants took advantage of the situation and asked exorbitant prices for their goods. At one time the price for a sack of sugar rose to one hundred dollars, and something had to be done about it.

President Brigham Young’s answer was to encourage the Saints to organize cooperatives. Some private store owners joined the cooperative movement, and some communities organized their cooperatives from scratch. Soon there were 146 Church sponsored branches of ZCMI throughout the territory, all offering the same merchandise for the same prices. Each ZCMI establishment had the standard “Holiness to the Lord” sign over the front door. The Saints benefited by lowering costs and having a trustworthy outlet to sell their goods.

The large department-store ZCMI building on Main Street, located behind the façade, was constructed in three sections between 1876 and 1901. During the more than one hundred years following its institution, various wings were added as the cooperative expanded and modernized (modernizations included electricity, cash registers, and elevators). Previously, coal oil lamps lit the building and money was dropped into black kettles, which were periodically gathered by clerks and taken into offi ces, where the money was counted and recorded. The old façade has been preserved and will be part of the rising City Creek Center. It is a beautiful historic landmark and reminder of the ingenuity and industry of the early Utah settlers.

In 2000 the Church sold all its ZCMI holdings to Meier and Frank, bringing an end to Church involvement in competitive retail trade.

Homesite of Jedediah M. Grant

The lot where the south end of the ZCMI façade now stands was the homestead of Jedediah and Rachel Grant. Jedediah M. Grant was the first mayor of Salt Lake City and served in the First Presidency as Second Counselor to President Brigham Young from 1854 to 1856. When Jedediah died in 1856 at the age of forty, Rachel was left to raise their son, Heber, who was only ten days old. Rachel never remarried, and President Young took a special interest in the young, fatherless son of his counselor and friend.

Home where President Heber J. Grant lived as a boy located near where the ZCMI façade now stands.
Photo by L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University

Heber was a frequent guest at the Lion House, just a halfblock northeast of the Grant homestead at the intersection of Main Street and South Temple. “I was almost as familiar in the homes of Brigham Young as I was in the home of my mother,” Heber explained. “I knelt down time and time again in his home in the Lion House at family prayers, as a child and as a young man.

I bear witness that as a little child, upon more than one occasion, because of the inspiration of the Lord to Brigham Young while he was supplicating God for guidance, I have lifted my head, turned and looked at the place where Brigham Young was praying, to see if the Lord was not there.”

Heber J. Grant was the first President of the Church born in Utah. He liked to share stories from his youth about things that occurred on or near this lot. He presided over the Church from 1918 to 1945, which included the years of the Great Depression and World War II. He used examples from his life about overcoming poverty to inspire the Saints to climb out of despair and the difficult conditions that surrounded them.

“My mother was keeping boarders at the time for a living,” he explained to the Saints, in reference to his youth, “and I shined their boots until I saved a dollar, which I invested in a base ball. I spent hours and hours throwing the ball at a neighbor’s barn (Edwin D. Woolley’s,) which caused him to refer to me as the laziest boy in the Thirteenth Ward. Often my arm would ache so that I could scarcely go to sleep at night. But I kept on practicing, and finally succeeded in getting into the second nine of our club. Subsequently I joined a better club, and eventually played in the nine that won the championship of the Territory. Having thus made good my promise to myself, I retired from the base ball arena.”

As illustrated in President Grant’s story, he adopted a slogan in his life: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased.”