In 1874, Abraham Schwab fled Alsace Loraine, France to avoid conscription into the German army after the Franco-Prussian War. He landed in New Orleans and, after running out of money, joined family in Memphis. He partnered with the Hirsch family to open a “Boots and Shoe Company” at 66 Beale in 1876. For context, during that same year, Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful telephone call, and Wild Bill Hickok, American gunfighter and entertainer, was shot and killed.
Eventually, the store expanded its offerings to include basic clothing, housewares, and hardware. The families parted ways, and A. Schwab moved to 149 Beale. In 1911, the store relocated to the first floor of 163 Beale. Abraham’s sons Sam, Elias and Leo continued the operation of the store.
Sam’s daughter, Eleanor Schwab Braslow, and Elias’s son, Abram Schwab, succeeded them in the next generation. From her perch on the mezzanine of the store, Eleanor Braslow served as the buyer for the store, paying close attention and adapting to changes in the marketplace.
Her cousin, Abram Schwab, became the face of the store, leading tours and enthusiastically relaying the store’s rich history. Abram’s son, Elliott, continued managing the store in the next generation, and his sister, Beverly, worked at the store off and on for years; she remains involved today. Eleanor Braslow’s sons, Sam and Marvin, had other careers, but participated in operations on a part time basis. Sam’s son, Joseph, became the fifth generation to join the business. As the street prospered during the first quarter of the century, so did A. Schwab.
The store’s footprint expanded to the second floor of 163 Beale and then into the building next door at 165 Beale in 1924. An addition to the rear of the building created the iconic grand staircase and expanded the space by twenty percent.
As the century wore on, A. Schwab remained an anchor in a community that experienced much change; ultimately, it was the only business that survived. In 1974, in the face of dismal traffic, the Schwabs launched the Beale Street Museum showcasing the community’s rich heritage.
The extensive collection remains today and includes hand farm implements, primitive washing implements, old bottles and jugs, documents from the 1800s, a carriage warmer, newspaper clippings of significant events, old Blues records, a large plantation bell, and a cornucopia of items that provide glimpses into the history of the Delta.
In the 1980s, the Schwab family played a vital role in the re-launch of Beale Street as an entertainment district. They adapted their merchandise to appeal to tourists while continuing to offer an old-fashioned experience.
In 2011, a new family bought the store (two generations are already involved). They are dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of the store and telling the story of the street and region through historic artifacts and relevant merchandise.