As a segregated community, the Near North Side neighborhood of Omaha was denied many of the conveniences given to white-only neighborhoods throughout the city. When a five-and-dime store opened by North 24th and Patrick Avenue, people took note. This is a history of the 9 Center Variety Store in North Omaha from 1938 to 1947.
In July 1938, the first variety store in the Near North Side neighborhood opened at 2035-37 North 24th Street in the Ritz Theater building and was called the 9 Center. From the day it opened, the store was renowned for hiring Black clerks. The first manager of the store was quoted saying, “I am well pleased with my Negro clerks and can see no difference in them to the white clerks.” At the time, he had one white clerk and three Black clerks. The Omaha Star sang the praises of the store when it opened too, writing “Let us as a group stand by the firm who believes in fair play and stands on the square when it comes to proportional employment. That is imperative if we ever hope to climb the ladder of economic prosperity, if we ever hope to place our youth in other stores on Twenty-fourth street… Make your dollar count by spending it where you can realize a return.”
The store was noted for hiring African American workers, which other department stores and clothing stores along North 24th and in downtown Omaha would not. Defacto segregation was strict in Omaha, and Jim Crow prevented Black people from working in many places that would gladly profit off of them. Announcing Spiegal’s 1943 purchase of the store and his retaining the African American workers there, the Omaha Guide extorted readers, “Why go downtown? Spend your money where you can work.”
The store was bought by a Jewish businessman, Richard H. Spiegal (1909-2005) and his wife, Bertha (1911-2000) in 1943, and closed soon after. After serving in World War II from 1943 to 1945, Spiegal reopened the store in 1945 after the war ended, moving north to 2522 North 24th Street. There, Speigal also owned the Ideal Furniture Store next door.
Spiegal ran a closeout sale in December 1946, and closed the store permanently in January 1947. He used the location and remaining inventory in his new store at the same location called Ideal Hardware. It stayed in business through 1968.
The Ritz Theater building housing the first location of the 9 Center Store was demolished in the 1970s.
Today, the building housing the second location still stands on the southwest corner of North 24th and Ohio Streets with a beautiful mural celebrating Black history on the side.