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Photo courtesy Cabell County Public Library

Like other downtown Huntington businesses on 4th Avenue, Montgomery Ward was inundated by the record-setting 1937 flood. Note the U.S. Coast Guard boat tied up at the corner store. This photo was taken after the floodwaters had receded quite a bit.

Editor's Note: This is the 261st in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.

HUNTINGTON — In 1872, Aaron Montgomery Ward, a traveling dry goods salesman, started selling to farmers by mail through a one-page catalog list. By inventing the general merchandise mail-order catalog, Ward could keep prices low through bypassing the middlemen, like small-town shopkeepers and itinerant salesmen.

By 1883, the company's catalog, which became popularly known as the "Wish Book," had grown to 240 pages and 10,000 items. In 1896, Wards encountered its first serious competition in the mail-order business, when Richard Warren Sears introduced his first general catalog.

In 1926, the company broke with its mail-order-only tradition when it opened its first retail store in Plymouth, Indiana. It continued to operate its catalog business while pursuing an aggressive campaign to build retail outlets in the late-1920s. In 1928, two years after opening its first outlet, it had opened 244 stores. By 1929, it had more than doubled its number of stores, to 531.

In Huntington, Montgomery Ward opened a store on the corner of 4th Avenue and 8th Street. Like other downtown businesses, Montgomery Ward was inundated by the record-setting 1937 flood. Its employees sold boots, flashlights and other items to eager customers who rowed their boats up to the store’s second-floor windows.

In 1939, after the Huntington Theater closed, Montgomery Ward opened a store in the former theater building. Located on the southeast corner of 3rd Avenue and 8th Street, the building had been built as the Davis Opera House in 1884.

Montgomery Ward struggled financially in the years following World II and was forced to begin closing some of its stores.

The Huntington store was closed in 1960. Manager Larry Morris said the store had employed 71 workers. The following year saw the Bazaar discount store open in the former Montgomery Ward location. Today, three popular places to eat — Peace, Love & Little Donuts, HWY 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries and Charlie Graingers, a specialty hotdog restaurant share the space.

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