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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Stampfer's Department Store enjoyed decades of popularity. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

STAMPFER'S DEPARTMENT STORE. Founded by Joseph Frederick STAMPFER, the department store was the successor of a dry goods store known as Kees and Sullivan. In 1855 Stampfer bought out Kees' interest in the company.

The location of the store in the building beneath the TOWN CLOCK served the citizens of Dubuque for ten years. In 1895 the growth of the business led to the need for a larger store which was constructed on the corner of Eighth and Main. (1) The firm of Sullivan and Stampfer continued in operation until 1901 when Stampfer bought his partner's share. In 1908 the firm was incorporated as the J. F. Stampfer Company.
Birthday greeting letter to an employee. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
This 5" x 7" Christmas booklet was given out at the store during the 1940s. Published by Parent's Magazine, it contained a variety of stories and activities with a certificate worth $1.00 off a subscription to either Humpty Dumpty's magazine or Children's Digest.

In its brightest years, Stampfer's operated with little concern for competition. A brisk business was carried on in clothing despite its being priced several times higher than in other stores. Customers bought Stampfer's merchandise rather than travel to high-priced stores in Chicago. Furs were sold in a department called the French Room. On May 31, 1927 on the store's 42nd anniversary, the general public was invited to a Mardi Gras themed event featuring the third floor cleared for dancing. Every street car in the city was chartered between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. on the morning of June 1, 1927 to bring people to a sale of special merchandise. Other items in the store was not for sale. The release of two hundred balloons was expected to draw special attention because twenty contained five dollar coupons good at the sale. (2) Although privately owned, the store did its buying in association with over fifty other stores. Buying offices were also maintained in New York City and Chicago. (3)

Paper bag indicating the purchase of the department store. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Dubuque's oldest department store was sold in July 1962 to the Johnson Hill's chain from Wisconsin. The purchase of the Dubuque store was the first venture of Johnson Hill's outside of Wisconsin where it owned and operated nine stores. With the acquisition of Stampfer's, the sales of Johnson Hill's on an annual basis was expected to exceed $13 million. (4) For a time, the once top-of-the-line store operated as a discount operation giving out green stamps.

In 1976 F.P. Inc., a corporation from Oskaloosa, Iowa, purchased the store from McCoy-Stampfer's, Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin which had owned the building since 1975. (5)

In 1979 the building was sold to Tom and Mary Graham who announced their intention to rebuild the store's past greatness. In August 1981, citing a delay of Highway 561 and high interest rates, the Grahams declared the business would not reopen.

In 1991 the Stampfer building known by then as the SECURITY BUILDING was renovated into office space. It became the headquarters of COTTINGHAM AND BUTLER, INC.

1935 Letterhead. Photo courtesy:Cathy's Treasurers,156 Main, Dubuque
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Stampfer announcement of "Feather Party" for employees ("boosters)." Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
59th Anniversary advertisement. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald and Paul Hemmer



1. "Stampfer is 45 Years in Dubuque," Dubuque-Herald and Times-Journal, August 24, 1930, p. 54

2. "Stampfer Company Will be Host to Public," Telegraph-Herald and Times Journal, May 31, 1927, p. 14

3. "Stampfer is 45 Years..."

4. "Johnson Hill's of Wisconsin Buys Stampfer's in Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, July 26, 1962, p. 1

5. "Stampfer's Under New Management," Telegraph Herald, June 13, 1976, p. 18

175 Years, Volume 3, "Razzle Dazzle," Telegraph Herald, September 15, 2008