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A Retail History on the Shelf

A Retail History on the Shelf
Coulters Department Storeon Wilshire Boulevard, circa 1935-39

Founded by Kentucky-born minister and entrepreneur B. F. Coulter in 1878, Coulter Dry Goods Co. was one of the pioneering businesses in downtown Los Angeles. Built on the corner of Temple and Main streets, the original 900-square-foot building contained just $1,000 worth of merchandise that originally was purchased in New York and shipped west.

With a business philosophy of providing exceptional quality items at a fair price, Coulter quickly distinguished his enterprise — which eventually changed names to Coulter’s Department Store — from competitors with his keen attention to customer service. Advertisements described Coulter’s as “the nicest store in Los Angeles.”

Over the years, the store was moved several times, finding larger homes on Main, Spring, Broadway and Seventh streets before it relocated for the last time to the Miracle Mile section of Los Angeles.

Eventually, the L.A. business economy and consumer tastes changed and Coulter’s was purchased by The Broadway Department Store chain. The company’s final — and longest-held — location at 5600 Wilshire Blvd. was razed in the 1980s. Today, the site is home to an upscale apartment complex.

Although Coulter’s fate was the same as competitors such as Mullen-Bluett, Bullock’s and The Broadway, long-time Angelenos still have fond memories of the store that made customer care a top priority for nearly a century.

The history of B. F. Coulter and Coulter Dry Goods Co./Department Store has been preserved by the USC Libraries. The Coulter Dry Goods Collection contains correspondence, newspaper clippings, photographs and assorted ephemera ranging from corporate checks that featured images of Coulter’s daughter to family wedding and social invitations. The collection is a rare resource for scholars interested in business and Los Angeles history, as well as advertising, marketing and merchandising.

Other vintage photographs of Coulter’s businesses are available through the USC Libraries in the California Historical Society Collection, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Collection, 1890-1960, Title Insurance and Trust/ C. C. Pierce Photography Collection, 1860-1960 and the Dick Whittington Photography Collection, 1924-1987. Many of these images have been digitized and made available through the USC Digital Library.

For more information on the Coulter Collection, contact USC Libraries Special Collections at (213) 740-5900 or To access the USC Digital Library, visit

A Retail History on the Shelf

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