Robertson’s Department Store, 211 South Michigan Street
Many older South Bend shoppers recall this locally owned department store. It was more open to African American business than any other.
Robertson’s was considered the best location for African Americans to shop downtown because they were treated fairly and with respect by the proprietors. The Robertson Brothers opened their first store in 1904, but the Robertson’s Department Store flagship location opened at this site in 1925. It was the premier department store in the greater South Bend area and the cornerstone of downtown South Bend’s vibrant downtown shopping and business district.
Unlike most of the downtown shopping district, Robertson’s allowed African Americans to try on clothing. Barbara Brandy became one of the first African American secretaries hired downtown at Robertson’s. As shopping malls became popular, South Bend failed to adequately reinvent its historic downtown.Buildings were razed and parking lots dotted the once vibrant city center. Robertson’s began having severe financial trouble and faced decline in a city that was experiencing urban decay, population loss, and deindustrialization following the collapse of Studebaker and the onset of the Rust Belt in the 1970s and 80s.
Robertson’s closed in 1986 and remained unused until the South Bend Heritage Foundation redeveloped the building to house affordable apartments downtown for seniors 55 and older.