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Downtown Lexington’s last department store, Wolf Wile, 1992

Posted on April 23, 2017 | in Uncategorized | by

The aisles of Wolf Wile’s department store were filled on April 7, 1992, with shoppers looking for going-out-of-business bargains. Sixteen days later, on April 23, downtown Lexington’s last department store closed its doors after 103 years. Wolf Wile was known to generations of Lexingtonians for its sophisticated décor, personal service and lively window displays.Wolf Wile specialized in women’s apparel and accessories, but it also sold men’s clothing, household goods and other merchandise. The store closed at 5 p.m. six days a week and wasn’t open on Sundays. The store became less of a force in Lexington retailing as suburban malls, round-the-clock mail order and bargain outlets became popular with time-pressed consumers. “I’ve traded with this store for 60 years,” Virginia Williams of Morehead said on one of the store’s last days. “I used to come here when I was a teenager. I hate to see it go. It really breaks my heart.” In the days leading up to the closing, much of the merchandise had been marked down as much as 60 percent, creating a shopping frenzy that the store had not seen in years, with hourlong waits at checkout counters. The sale also was tinged with sadness. Shoppers said they would miss the quality of Wolf Wile’s merchandise, the exemplary service of the sales clerks and the excitement of the days when downtown hummed with retail activity. Click on the image for a closer look. Photo by Tim Sharp | Staff

Joseph S. Wile Sr., 86, president of the 103-year-old Wolf Wile Co., in April 1992. The store, founded in 1889 by cousins of Wile’s father, Dolph, was downtown Lexington’s last department store. Wile, who had worked for Wolf Wile’s since 1927, said the closing was forced by declining sales, the lack of a successor willing to take over the business and the lack of a buyer for the store, which has been at 244 East Main Street since 1950. Click here to see an image from our archives of the building under constrcution. Wolf Wile’s had been the only department store downtown since 1980, when Ben Snyder closed the store it had operated on East Main Street since 1935. Earlier downtown closings included Purcell’s in 1970, Stewart’s in 1979, Hymson’s in 1981, Embry’s in 1981 and Woolworth’s in 1990. Wile attributed the survival of Wolf Wile to conservative management and low overhead (the company owned its East Main Street building). Today it is the offices for Gray Construction. Photo by Tim Sharp | Staff

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