If walls could talk, historic buildings would have many stories to tell. Historic buildings are not just bricks, mortar and boards. They are an accumulation of the history of the various occupants of those buildings over time. Dubuque is fortunate to have many long-standing businesses that have given life to buildings downtown. These businesses are sometimes known as legacy businesses.

What is a legacy business?

Any local business that has been in operation for 30 or more years and is significant to the identity of the city can be considered a legacy business. Whether they are manufacturers, service providers, small shops or restaurants, legacy businesses create jobs, generate revenue and contribute to their towns’ distinct brands.

Why are they important?

Dubuque was chartered in the 1830s, making it the oldest town in Iowa and one of the oldest towns west of the Mississippi. Over the years, plenty of restaurants, grocery stores, clothing shops and manufacturers have done business in Dubuque. Legacy businesses have continued to grow and invest in our community, despite the challenges that small businesses face, such as rent increases and the rise of ecommerce. According to a study by the City of Seattle, “legacy businesses serve as community gathering spots, hubs of social capital and cohesion, and valuable ‘third spaces’ apart from home and work that support local culture and stability.” Large corporations do not offer the same community value.

What can we do to help legacy businesses thrive?

Local businesses are integral to our city’s economic success and cultural vibrancy and they need community support. There are plenty of ways to help out.

  • Shop small whenever possible and encourage friends and family to do the same.
  • Dine at locally-owned restaurants.
  • Attend community events with local vendors.
  • Share your positive experiences with small businesses on social media.
  • Support events like your local farmer’s market and Shop Small Saturday.
  • Give small business products as gifts for birthdays, holidays and other special occasions.
  • Leave positive reviews online.
  • Support your local and national Main Street organizations.

While preservation work is usually building-focused, saving places means more than preserving physical property. Preservation is about celebrating the history, people and businesses that have given life and purpose to our buildings. After all, buildings would not exist without the people who built them.

In the coming months, we will be sharing stories of some of Dubuque’s legacy businesses. Follow along by joining our e-mail list and following Heritage Works on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@heritageworksdbq).

Read below for our first legacy business spotlight, Graham’s Style Store.

Legacy Business Spotlight: Graham’s Style Store

Ed Graham started Graham’s Style Store as Ed Graham & Sons when the store opened on 845 Main Street in Dubuque on August 15, 1936. The store was originally a men’s clothing shop, at a time when a full suit sold for $20 and neck ties and dress shirts sold for $1 each.

Ed Graham’s sons, John and Joseph, were associated with the family business from the beginning and helped their father run the store. John later went on to become a member of the clergy.

The store moved to 888 Main Street in 1943.

Joseph Graham’s son, Thomas, began working at the store in the late 1960s. During this time, Ed Graham owned the store and Joseph operated it. The business briefly moved into the Fischer Building at 923 Main Street in the midst of urban renewal in the late 1960s through 1971. Joseph Graham bought the site of the 888 Main Street store and built the current Graham Building at the north entrance of a newly created pedestrian mall. Graham’s Style Store moved to its current location at 890 Main Street in 1971, by which time Joseph Graham was president of the company, with Thomas Graham as vice-president.

This photo shows Graham’s at its 888 Main Street location circa 1968 next to what was Arenz Shoe Store. Photo credit: Encyclopedia Dubuque.

After the financial difficulties that plagued Dubuque in the 1980s, Thomas Graham became a leader in the revitalization of downtown Dubuque. He helped lead other downtown business owners in an effort to garner support for Dubuque’s local businesses and economy. He also purchased the adjacent Stampfer’s Department Store. Later, Thomas helped establish Dubuque Main Street, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the downtown neighborhood. He spent 30 years running the business before retiring in 1995. Thomas’ brother, Joseph, bought the business in 1995.

Ben Graham joined his father, Joseph, in 1996. Joseph encouraged Ben to give Graham’s a new voice at the turn of the century. They worked hard to give the store a fresher look through the addition of tuxedo rentals, younger men’s sportswear and shoes, even adding women’s clothing to their product mix in 2006. On January 31, 2014, the Graham’s moved to 960 Main Street for two months for an extensive store remodel. Joseph Graham retired in April 2016. Today, Graham’s Style Store is run by Ben Graham and Katie McFadden, who are both great-grandchildren of Ed Graham.

Graham’s Style Store provides a wide selection of high-end dress and casual clothing and in-house tailoring for anyone looking for exceptional products and service.

To learn more about Graham’s Style Store, visit www.grahamsdbq.com.