Beale Street in Memphis is probably best known for being heart of the city’s nightlife and music scene. Here, you’ll find bars with live bands, playing blues and rock’n’roll that spills out onto the streets, all day and night long. On the completely pedestrianised road, acrobatic performers and buskers entertain visitors and locals alike.
In the middle of the music and madness, you’ll find A.Schwab’s Dry Goods Store. The only original business that remains on Beale Street, the store is just as much a tourist attraction as it is a shopping emporium.
Their motto? ‘If you can’t find it at Schwab’s, you’re better off without it’.
The store was opened by Jewish immigrant Abraham Schwab in 1876. Although it actually began at another location on Beale Street, it actually moved to the current location (the oldest remaining building on the street) in 1911. In 1922, it expanded, to become the two-and-a-bit storey store you’ll find today.
A Schwab’s consists of two large floors of shopping, and in the middle, you’ll find a very small museum space chronicling the history of Beale Street. It’s not a massive space, but you can spend 10-15 minutes perusing memorabilia from both the street itself, and more personal items and stories from the Schwab family.
The store originally began its life as a men’s clothing store, then a ‘dry goods’ store, and now it sells a whole load of things, basically. On the ground floor, souvenirs, jokes, toys and clothing fill up the majority of the space. As you reach the next floor up though, things take a quirkier turn – you’ll find a decent share of intriguing hoodoo items, such as candles and ‘magic’ items, amongst goods from well-known Memphis names.
Fact of the day: A Schwab’s used to sell the biggest overalls in the world, so large they hung from the ceiling. Two pairs a year were sold!
And, of course, hats. Who doesn’t love a good hat display?
A section of the second floor is also dedicated to memorabilia from Memphis history too, from furniture to art. Even if you’re not buying, it’s definitely a cool place to have a look around.
The thing that actually drew us through the door in the first place wasn’t actually shopping based. Nope, it was the fact that I was DYING of heat, thirsty as hell and fell in love with the sound of an old fashioned soda. With plenty of ice.
The Soda Fountain sells old fashioned drinks, all-American style milkshakes and a range of gelatos served in waffle cones. I grabbed a Down Home Peach, and it was amazing – pure syrupy, ice-cold goodness. The sort of thing you’d imagine an American grandma to pass out to her grandchildren, as they sit on the porch of her country-lane house.
A Schwab’s is definitely worth popping your head into – whether it’s to cool off with a drink, pick up a souvenir or just have a browse at the quirky displays and things on offer!