James Black Co., Waterloo, Iowa

The James Black Co. was one of Iowa's
most respected department stores, and
operated from a landmark building on
the corner of 4th and Sycamore in
downtown Waterloo.

The store occupied a brick-and-stone faced
building opened in 1915.

An 8-story addition to the west along Sycamore
street echoed the form of the original store, but
featured more modern details in keeping with
the era in which it was built.

A view from the corner of Sycamore and 4th
street shows both the 1915 and 1929 parts
of Black's store.

In 1957, Black's renovated an adjacent
structure, extending the store to Park
Street and creating new quarters for its
Men's Store.

James Black Co.
4th and Sycamore
Waterloo, Iowa

ADams 4-3571

Coffee Shoppe • Black's Budget Store

Street Floor
Fine Jewelry • Fashion Jewelry • Handbags • Leather Goods • Gloves • Neckwear • Hosiery • Accessories • Street Floor Sportswear • Street Floor Lingerie • Hat Bar • Cosmetics • Notions • Candy • Stationery • Cameras • Trim-A-Home Shop
Men's Store
Men's Furnishings • Men's Sportswear • Squire Shop • Men's Clothing • Sir Shop • Men's Shoes

Appliances • Televisions • Stereos • Record Shop • Luggage • Sporting Goods • The Book Shelf • China • Glassware • Gifts • Lamps • Pictures • Beauty Salon

Second Floor
Domestics • Linens • Fabrics • Art Needlework • Curtains • Draperies • Infants' Shop • Children's Shop • Sonny Shop • Boys' Shop • Girls' Shop • Subteen Shop • Children's Shoes • Personnel Offices

Third Floor - Fashionable Third
Sportswear • Dreses • Daytime Dresses • Half-Size Dresses • Coats • Suits • House 'n Town • Better Dresses • Better Sportswear • Knit Nook • The Villager • Forecast Shop • The Crystal Room • Fur Salon • Bridal Salon • Millinery • The Wiggery • Shoe Salon • Foundations • Loungewear • Lingerie • Sleepwear • Credit Office • Cashier
Young Iowan Junior Sportswear • Junior Dresses • Junior Coats

Fourth Floor
Furniture • Sleep Shop • Rugs • Floor Coverings

Fifth Floor
Housewares • Electricals • Toys • Garden Shop

Sixth Floor
Professional Offices

Seventh Floor
Professional Offices

Eighth Floor
Skyroom • Garden Room • Executive Offices • Black's Gallery

Black's Casual Shop
Blackhawk Village
December, 1962

Black's for the Home
Blackhawk Village
May, 1965

November, 1965

College Square
November, 1965

Coming in due course.


  1. this is a nice site. My great grandpa was a meat cutter in the basement years ago...still need to find out what year that was. Do you know was there a grocery store in the basement, and did it have any connection to the department store. I noticed above it said lower level "coffee shoppe"and Block's Budget Store". I look forward to seeing this site completed.

  2. I beleive Black's was actually in Waterloo, Iowa. Not Cedar Rapids, where you have it listed. The main department stores in Cedar Rapids were Killians (Which was aquired by Von Maur) and Armstrong's (which lasted well into the 1980's). Other Eastern Iowa department stores were Roshek's (Dubuque, closed 1980's), and McCabe's (Rock Island, IL, closed 1984). Under Davenport you list Petersen's, which is the same Company known today as Von Maur. At one time it was known locally as "Petersen's" but the full name was always "Petersen Harned Von Maur" You can guess which family ended up being the owners. There was also a small department store in Clinton, Iowa called Van Allen's (John D. Van Allen and Son) that had a four story building designed by Louis Sullivan. It was eventually absorbed into Von Maur and it closed in 1987 as Clinton is far to small to support their current store prototype. The original Von Maur (Petersen's) in downtown Davenport also closed in the mid-1980's

  3. It would be nice if you had some real photos of the inside on differernt floors from the 60's

  4. I started to work at Black's Department Store in downtown Waterloo, Iowa in 1957 in one of their offices. It was an enjoyable business to work for.

  5. I hope there will be pictures of the interior at some point.....from the 50's and 60's.
    It was a wonderful place. As a little girl coming to Waterloo from Oelwein, I was transported to a very big and exciting world when I entered this wonderful store. I used to buy Nancy Drew mystery books at the balcony book area. After I grew up and moved to Waterloo I worked downtown and ate lunch there nearly everyday. What great memories! :)

  6. It's me again here....I wrote the previous post last night. I'm also remembering that when I got married in the 60's we bought our bedroom furniture at Black's as well as our first set of nice dishes. To this day, we still have that bedroom furniture and I've slept in that bed for all these years. Dr. Thornton was located on, I think the 5th floor, and it was there that I learned I was expecting my first child. I think there must be a small piece of my heart within those walls. :)

  7. My mom and my aunt both worked as waitresses in the Sky room (?) my aunt continued to work there through the years and then the coffee shop in the basement of the store. As a young girl I remember catching the bus in Elk Run and riding to Waterloo, My aunt would take us to town that way and we would shop at the five and dime and get to eat at the Black's coffee shop. When I got a job at the courthouse years later I would go to the coffee shop and eat at my aunt's counter. Such fond memories.

  8. Blacks was in Waterloo, the building is used for other purposes but the Big sign on the roof is still there.

  9. The extension in the bottom pictures was Men's Wear. I think appliances was on second floor wear Pete K. worked for maybe 30 years. The basement was discount, like so many others around the country. I remember the pneumatic tubes to shoot cash etc. all over the store, much like some banks driveups now. Black's was not the biggest, just my favorite. Jim D. EHS 67

  10. I'm pleased to see that someone is thoughtfully documenting an interesting aspect of America's commercial, architectural and cultural heritage. These businesses were at one time essential components in the cultural life of their communities. Well into the 1960's, Blacks Department Store in Waterloo, Iowa served not only a commercial need, but also functioned as a social hub and community icon. It is amazing to me as a native of Waterloo Iowa, that a department store the size and scale of Black's was created prior to the First World War. The building's architecture matches or exceeds any of its contemporaries found in major cities throughout the US. Thank you for your efforts to record this aspect of our Nation's history.

  11. Black's was in downtown Waterloo and was acquired by Allied Stores Corporation in the 1970s which owned Donaldson's (Minneapolis). The president of Black's at that time was Robert Landis who became an executive at Donaldson's responsible for leased departments. He relocated to Minneapolis. Donaldson's made numerous efforts to revive the downtown Waterloo store, but shopping had moved out of downtown to malls. Donaldson's opened a store in Cedar Rapids in the late 1970s. I believe they closed the downtown Waterloo store in 1980/81.

  12. My niece was given a very old black fur jacket from Blacks of Waterloo , It is black fur with a tannish -gray collar and is 3/4 length sleeves and is waist length .The black satin lining has tiny white leaf patterns here and there and are surrounded by the same leaf pattern in black.. Could someone tell us more about it ?? My name is Roberta. Please answer here.

    1. I am also trying to find out more about a fur coat I received from my mother which also reads 'Black's Indianapolis' on the tag. Let me know if you've been able to find out any information so far. I will do the same! Thanks

  13. I lived in the Waterloo area from 1980 to 1990 and sadly witnessed the empty Blacks building along with other downtown storefronts, which still had the ghosts of their names above the doors, though all had moved to the mall. The Blacks building was used intermittently for political campaigns.

  14. My husbands great grandparents were part owners of Blacks. Thanks for the wonderful memories as I am planning on making a book for my husbands birthday.

  15. I remember in the summers Black's would have sidewalk sale's along with the rest of the downtown stores. The streets were packed with people shopping for bargains. As a teenager in the 70's I worked at Black's on the street floor. Loved it.

  16. I grew up in West Union Ia, 60 miles north of Waterloo. It was always a great time to go to Black's to shop with my parents and then eat at the Tea Room on the 8th Floor. Many fond memories

  17. Did they sell mens fur coats at this store? I found a vinatage coat with Black's label. It says fur but does not seem soft enough to be real fur. Thanks to anyone who can help me with this.

  18. Does anyone know if Black's gave out promotional savings banks? I found a bank that said Black's , Waterloo, Iowa on it. I was wondering if anyone had any information about this bank and the time period it came from.

  19. I remember my first trip to Black's in the early 1950s. My family was visiting friends in Waterloo. We lived in North Dakota. This was the first time I had ever seen an escalator, and I remember how BIG the store seemed.

  20. In 1959 I was nine years old. I was watching at the Messinine toward the main floor. I saw two guys carrying a canoe and the security guard from Black's held open the door. I thought what a nice thing he did. Moments later a man from sporting goods came to the front door on 4th to tell the guard two men stole a canoe. Great memories there and getting a cherry coke at Kresgee's (sp).

  21. There was a bank in Black's later years, not sure which one

  22. Please help. My mother gave me what seems to be a 3/4 sleeve, real animals fur coat (bear maybe) and it seems to be from Black's Indianapolis. I am trying to figure out if it's an original piece and just how old it is. Any information you may have will be appreciated

  23. That would be Block's of Indianapolis; Black's never operated in Indiana. I have no information on fur coats.

  24. I remember the store from about 1960-1971. Black's was THE place to be at Christmas time. The store, and, particularly the ground floor, was grandly decorated. The Mezzanine level housed huge wooden, leather-upholstered chairs. The Mezzanine level was open and the chairs were all around the railing where you could sit and observe shoppers and all of the Christmas decorations in the ladies' accessories and in-store candy counter on the ground floor below. My Mom worked in the Black's credit department. In those days, there were no VISA or MC credit cards, and, people had credit accounts at a particular store. When a customer wanted to charge to their account, the sales clerk would have to call the credit department. In the credit department, there were long boxes of cards -- a card for each customer's charge account. The ladies who received the call would push themselves on rolling chairs up and down the long counters filled with boxes of account cards to look up a customer's account. They would look up the account and give the sales person authorization for the charge, or, they would deny the charge if the customer was delinquent or if they did not have any room to charge on their account. I loved the lunch counter in the basement. The egg salad sandwich was the best, and I always ordered a nougat milkshake (a very unusual flavor, I think)to have with the egg salad sandwich. I often had lunch there with my Mom when she was working, and, I went to the store many times after classes at East High School to meet my Mom and ride home with her. The elevators were manned by ladies who wore uniforms, including little pill box hats. They announced the floors and what was on the floor, "Third floor, credit department!" There was an expanding guard across the elevator doorway, and, when the elevator door opened, you could not get on or off of the elevator until the elevator operator had pulled back the expanding guard.

  25. I worked in Black's advertising department...on the mezzanine, tucked back behind the appliance department, with windows overlooking the street,---from 1965-1968, when I moved to Mpls. to work for Target stores. I was a copywriter, distributed ad proofs to buyers, then moved over to the art desk and did the fashion illustrations for the newspaper ads. Great job/loved it. Fun people, wonderful memories. I was born and raised in Waterloo...until my move to Minnesota. Black's was my first real "career" job: prepared me for my life's work: 35 years as fashion art director at Target. I was so lucky to start out there.

  26. How fun is this site?? I worked in the advertising department on the balcony as a copy writer and charge-back person in approximately 1966 - 67. Sherri McGreevey was the artist who did all those great drawings from tube socks to wedding dresses. We became good friends and she later moved to Minneapolis, MN and worked for Target for many years before retiring as their Art Director. In 1970 I left Waterloo for Minneapolis and had 9 great years there and am now planted in Colorado. I am 86 and Sherri is 75 and we had several conversations today regarding Black's and the Buyers who frequented our office with copy for advertising their
    department's wares. In reading all the comments I realize how much I had forgotten about
    Black's and how many memories it renewed. When I was a teenager I met Rosemary Clooney and her sister Betty in the record department on the balcony and of course we all got autographs. This has been a really fun trip down memory lane.......Black's was a beautiful store.

  27. I am an independent filmmaker working on a documentary about Black's and downtown Waterloo. I am looking for home movies, photos, and other visuals related to Black's and its merchandise and downtown Waterloo 1900s-1980s. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  28. I have a beautiful calf hide coat with the Blacks label. I'm guessing it's from the 60's.

  29. Lynne Scott. I spent childhood in Ramelton, Co Donegal, Ireland, where James Black came from - a relative. Has the history of the store proceeded?


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