J.W. Knapp Company

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The J.W. Knapp Company, more commonly known as "Knapp's", was a chain of department stores based in Lansing, Michigan.


In 1893, Joseph W. Knapp, a salesman originally from Hillsdale, Michigan opened a dry-goods, coat and carpet store in Albion, Michigan in partnership with Frank W. Jewett, called Jewett & Knapp.[1] By 1897, the store had relocated to 123 N. Washington Avenue[2] in Lansing, occupying 6,000 sq ft (560 m2) of space[3] at the site of a former dry-goods store.[1]

In 1908, Jewett and Knapp sold the business to Frank Lackey, who renamed the store "J.W. Knapp Company".[1] Knapp remained in charge of company operations, with Lackey as a silent partner.[4] Knapp's billed itself in advertising of the day as "Lansing's Busy Reliable Store".[5]

The same year, the business moved to 220-226 South Washington. By 1918, Knapp's had incorporated a specialty gift store into its business, the "Kenilworth Gift Shop" in partnership with Kenilworth Studios of Chicago, and involving an extensive advertising campaign.[6] In 1923, Knapp's supplied the latest current fashions to costume participants in a musical revue at Michigan Agricultural College in nearby East Lansing.[7] In 1928 the store was expanded and renovated at a cost of $15,000 to help it compete with the rival F.W. Arbaugh Company.[3] The new South Washington store featured a pneumatic cash transportation tube system.[8]

In 1937, Knapp's commenced construction of a new building, completed in 1939, at 300 S. Washington, on the site of the Hotel Downey, which was demolished to make room for the new store,[3] and the still earlier Lansing House hotel and saloon.[9] The store expanded by the 1940s to cover a full city block.[1]

In the 1950s, the company was sold to the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which owned a collection of department stores in mid-Michigan, including Smith-Bridgman in Flint; D.M. Christian Company in Owosso, and Robinson's in Battle Creek. Knapp's opened a smaller branch in East Lansing in the early 1960s; this store was later closed, and a newer Knapp's was built as one of the anchor stores of Meridian Mall in Okemos when it opened in 1969. Two additional mall-based locations, at Lansing Mall in Lansing, and at Westwood Mall in Jackson, were acquired 1972 from Grand Rapids-based Wurzburg's.

Extensive television advertising on Channel 6 made Knapp's known throughout Michigan.[1]

In 1970 the L.S. Good Co. of Wheeling, West Virginia bought all of the Mott Foundation divisions; L.S. Good Co. declared bankruptcy in 1980, and all of the Mott Foundation nameplates were shuttered.[10] The three mall-based locations were all sold to JCPenney, while the downtown Lansing location was shuttered.

See also[edit]

J.W. Knapp Company Building