Robert Herstein came to Huntsville armed with his business acumen and a promise of prosperity. Known historically as one of the first Jewish settlers in the area, he also had a reputation as a dealer of fine clothing and furniture. By 1859, his roots were firmly planted in Alabama soil—a long way from Germany where he was born. Four years after moving to the new city, he married Rosa Blimline. Seven children followed.
He continued to become more invested in the community and served on local boards where he was active in city affairs. During that time, he also opened The Trade Palace, now known as the Corner Office at 123-125 North Side Square. Robert and his friend Morris Bernstein co-owned the building after purchasing it in 1867 for $4,750.
In 2019, Crunkleton announced it would be redeveloping the historic building into a more modern office and retail setting. This isn’t the first time the property has changed faces and accommodated the needs of its tenants. It has been known as several businesses throughout its history and has adopted many uses.
Yesterday – The Trade Palace
Perhaps its most well-known historical use was as The Trade Palace, a business owned and operated by Robert and his business partner Henry Lowenthal. The store specialized in selling dry goods, clothing, shoes, carpets, and other household items.
After Robert died of pernicious bilious fever in 1878 at his Monte Sano Mountain home, his wife Rosa took over The Trade Palace with Lowenthal. She continued to work at the business until she passed in 1909. Afterward, the building went to new ownership and different uses.
Much of the property’s history is recorded in Paul A. Hays’s book, I. Schiffman & Company: Huntsville’s Most Diversified Entrepreneurial Business. A lot of the following information was recorded there.
In 1915, the building was leased to Huntsville Bank & Trust. By the 1930s, the property had become a jewelry store.
Little did the owners know that on March 10, 1932, The Huntsville Times headline would read: “Jewelry Store Gutted by Fire—Firemen Hampered by Ice and Cold.”
“A fire of undetermined origin caused an approximate damage of $10,000 to Wood’s Jewelry Store on the north side of the square this morning at 2:30 a.m.,” it read. “Firemen were hampered in their efforts to combat the flames by extreme cold weather and ice, but managed to confine the fire to a single building. J.N. Neely, a member of the fire department, was overcome by smoke while cutting a hole in the floor. He was carried to the hospital but later moved to his home. He was not seriously injured.”
Amazingly, the building withstood the fire and the upstairs offices were only slightly damaged by smoke. The first floor was a different story thanks to the fire originating in the basement. It destroyed the entire sales floor, but all valuable stones and merchandise were in the safe and not damaged.
The fire was ultimately a cancelation of the lease and it was reported that no one suspected Wood’s Jewelry to reopen its doors. In 1933, the basement and ground floor were leased to a drug store. The second floor housed three offices of various industries between 1936-1939.
As downtown Huntsville continued to grow, more exciting retail concepts were introduced to the area. Local women, driven by the desire to own the latest fashions, would stop at 123-125 North Side Square in the 1950s to shop at Vicki Company of Alabama. But in 1958, the ladies ready-to-wear store failed to pay rent and lawyers sent them an eviction notice. It was reported that the company vacated the property without notice.
After its brief stint as a clothing store, the building reverted back to a jewelry shop. Lorch’s Credit Jewelry moved into the space in 1958. The company marketed itself as Alabama’s largest jewelers that specialized in diamonds, watches, and Samsonite luggage. Three rooms on the second floor were leased to a beauty shop from 1965-1969, giving women trendy styles and cuts that were popular in the day.
In addition to changes in clothing, hair, and fashion, architecture experienced its own evolution. North Side Square was renovated in the 1970s to match the developments of the time by covering up its brick and showcasing a sleeker exterior. This shift in design only lasted a decade or so before it fell out of favor. It later returned to its original brick façade.
Today – Corner Office
When Crunkleton took over the property and announced its renovation in 2019, it was (and is) being used as an office and retail building with restaurants on the ground floor. Since its redevelopment, it was announced that Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint would join the property, giving the community another chance to enjoy the unique setting of North Side Square.
Its new, modern look and amenities have attracted tenants who are looking for a downtown location with great views that’s in walking distance of Huntsville’s major hot spots like the Von Braun Center, The Garage at Clinton Row, The Avenue, and the many nearby museums, apartments, developments, and hotels.
Since its beginnings in the early 1900s, Lincoln Mill has evolved alongside Huntsville. From producing “duck” canvas to aiding the creation of NASA’s Lunar Rover and supporting present-day creative and tech companies, its walls have transformed to accommodate our city’s ever-changing landscape.
Observing history through an old sepia photograph or on the pages of a book is one thing, but walking into it is a different experience entirely. Huntsville’s history includes snapshots of space exploration, talented artists, and a landscape that’s in a constant state of change. However, change sometimes forgets a few corners of the city and it’s there you will find some of the oldest operating retail businesses in town.
When it comes to longevity, there are a few businesses in Huntsville that seem to have cracked the code. We’re proud to have a sizeable list of retail that has been around for generations and still operating today.