Portrait of Philip Battelstein. Permanent Collection of The Heritage Society.Gift of Mrs. Ben Battelstein.

Portrait of Philip Battelstein.
Permanent Collection of The Heritage Society.Gift of Mrs. Ben Battelstein.

 One of Houston’s leading department stores of the 20th century, Battelstein’s Inc., was a true family business. The story begins with the store’s founder, Philip Battelstein whose “spirit and determination built the multimillion dollar merchandising firm of Battelstein’s Inc. from a handmade tailor’s bench.” Philip was born in Lithuania of Jewish decent in 1870 and immigrated to America at the age of 13 with just $.50 in his pocket when he arrived in Maine. As the son of a tailor, Philip made his first home in Chicago working as a tailor’s apprentice. Next, he moved to St. Louis where he met and married his wife while working at a clothing factory.  Then in 1897, Philip moved to Houston where he opened his first tailor shop in a 12 ft. x 12 ft. space in the Prince Theater building next to Sweeney and Combs Opera House.

The small tailor shop burned down, but Battelstein persevered by borrowing money and opening another tailor shop at 618 Main Street. His young son Abe joined him in the growing business in 1913 and in 1919, his son Harry followed.  They also added men’s ready-to-wear clothing at the store. In 1924, the store again suffered from a fire and Battelstein again opened another shop on Main Street.  Although they began operating in just a small part of the first floor, the retail business grew over time by adding women’s ready-to-wear cloths, a boy’s and young men’s shop and a millinery shop.  Next, Battelstein’s youngest son Ben joined the business, making it truly a family enterprise.

Battelstein’s hats. By the mid-twentieth century, Houstonians were becoming more prosperous with the growth of the oil industry, and downtown was the leading area for retail shopping. An essential part of a middle-class woman’s outfit at the time was a hat, which came in a colorful hatbox. Permanent Collection of The Heritage Society

Battelstein’s hats. By the mid-twentieth century, Houstonians were becoming more prosperous with the growth of the oil industry, and downtown was the leading area for retail shopping. An essential part of a middle-class woman’s outfit at the time was a hat, which came in a colorful hatbox.
Permanent Collection of The Heritage Society

The growth of the business Philip Battelstein founded at the turn of the 20th century mirrored the growth of Houston. The city’s population grew from just under 50,000 in 1900 to over half a million by 1950. Battelstein’s went from a “small tailoring shop to a glittering many-storied downtown store.” By 1950, Battelstein’s enlarged to include 10 floors in its downtown location and added a lady’s shoe department.  In 1953, they expanded by opening a store in the fashionable River Oaks suburb of Houston.  Like its competitors, Battelstein’s also opened a store in Sharpstown in 1961.

Eventually the title of President of the company was handed over to Abe Battelstein, but Philp, also known by his nickname around the store “Pop,” continued to be a presence in the development of the company.  After many decades of great success in Houston the retail enterprise was closed in 1981.