History of the Cooperative Workers of American Department Store in North Omaha

In the 1920s, North 24th was a street filled with Jewish-owned businesses in a mixed community filled with Black people, Jews, Eastern European immigrants and others. One store stood out from all others though. This is a history of the Cooperative Workers of American Department Store in North Omaha.

Announcing its launch in March 1920, a group of African American businesspeople formed a new corporation to open a department store in the Near North Side called Cooperative Workers of America. They bought the entire building on North 24th between Charles and Seward, and opened their store in June 1920.

Cooperative Workers of America Department Store, 1516-1518 North 24th Street, North Omaha, Nebraska
The Black-owned Cooperative Workers of America Department Store opened at 1516-1518 North 24th Street in 1921.

A Black-owned business opened explicitly to serve North Omaha’s African American community, the Cooperative Workers of America (CWA) Department Store had big ambitions. In an article about its opening, the store said it planned to “give employment to from thirty to forty young women and young men.” “Colored people must enter the higher forms of modern business, just as other races have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years, and they must take the best features of business organization…”

Cooperative Workers of America Department Store, 1518 N. 24th St., North Omaha, Nebraska
After opening in June, the grocery and meat department of the Cooperative Workers of America Department Store opened in November 1920.

It also announced, “In a short time branch stores will be established in other parts of the city, and in other states, and then will come a bank of our own and other enterprises which follow success in the business world.”

However, something wasn’t right in the business almost from the get-go. I haven’t found enough information yet, but it took almost six months to get the grocery and meat department of the store going, and by July 1921, the store was “under new management.” From that point onwards, its ads said plainly, “This is YOUR store and solicits your patronage.”

By November 1921, the Cooperative Workers of America Department Store in North Omaha was closed permanently. Home to grocery stores, a dress shop, and other businesses afterwards, the building burned down in 1968.


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Cooperative Workers of America Department Store, 1516-1518 North 24th Street, North Omaha, Nebraska
The Black-owned Cooperative Workers of America Department Store opened at 1516-1518 North 24th Street in 1921.

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