Not many buildings in Council Bluffs have the amount of history as the one on the 500 Block of West Broadway. Originally built in 1903 by Storz Brewing Co, the building was best known for being the home to Iowa Clothes from 1930 to 1996.
The building is one of the last remnants of days gone by. It was once home to many thriving businesses including Iowa Clothes, Storz and the brewery’s Blue Ribbon Saloon, Wilcox Flowers, Martin’s Drug and later Eve’s Pastry Shop and Lane Brothers Pharmacy, as well as tenants of the apartments above the stores.
The 712 Initiative just held a groundbreaking ceremony for the start of construction on the $5.3 million restoration of the building. At this ceremony it was announced that the building is getting a new name and will henceforth be known as The Cohen Building.
This new name immortalizes Iowa Clothes founder Harry Cohen for his impact on the Council Bluffs community.
Cohen and his store were a staple in the community for over half a decade. The men’s clothing store was founded in 1919 and made the move to 530 W Broadway in 1930. It remained in the building until Iowa Clothes closed in 1996.
“Harry Cohen made such an incredible imprint on the community with his shop on the 500 Block,” said the 712 Initiative CEO Sheryl Garst. “We’re glad to be able to honor his legacy while we work to activate this block once again.”
Cohen’s granddaughter Patty (Lee) Nogg and her husband Steve made a significant donation to the project for naming rights of the building.
“I have such fond memories of the store and its long-time employees! My grandmother Annie ran a small women’s department for a few years when I was young. My father Si Lee worked side by side with my grandfather until my parents’ divorce in 1966. My brother Richard “Pete” Lee took over the business after my grandfather’s death in 1974 and ran it until his death in My mother Betty Studna worked in the store for many years and my sister Judy (Lee) Brantz and I helped out during the Christmas season, before Father’s day and on Crazy Daze in the summers. Our sons, Jeff and Brian (4th generation) even worked at the store one summer during high school! It truly was a family business!”
“I have always had an interest in preserving the past and collecting family photos and memorabilia. The idea of saving this building and rehabilitating it resonated with me,” explained Nogg.
“We were happy to be able to contribute. For us, there was no question that this building should be named in honor of and in memory of my grandfather.”
Cohen was well known and liked in the community. Iowa Clothes was the place to go for everything from work clothes to formal wear for men. Harry was known for giving the first pair of Osh Gosh bib overalls to any customer who brought their new baby boy into the store!
Former Iowa Clothes employee and family friend Terry Berner reminisced on his time shopping as a youth and explained, “My brothers and I were treated like any adult, except at the end there was always a piece of bubble gum put in our hands.”
Berner said, “Harry exemplified love of family, pride in your work, generosity to your community and love for your country. That is how you bring an institution like Iowa
Clothes up from the one room basement where it began to becoming a mainstay of Council Bluffs for 77 years. A life fully and humbly lived deserves acknowledgement. He would be beyond proud.”
The 712 Initiative made a call on Facebook for stories about the building in June 2020 to help with a local historic landmark designation. The post resulted in over 300 comments, the large majority talking about experiences in the store and with Cohen through the years.
Nogg said, “After reading the comments on Facebook it is clear that many, many people in Council Bluffs have wonderful memories of Iowa Clothes and its owner Harry Cohen.”
“He was a beloved businessman and a respected member of the Council Bluffs community. In our current world of malls and large chain stores, I hope his success story will be incentive to others that they too can succeed in whatever endeavors they undertake.”
The redevelopment of The Cohen Building is the first phase of what is planned as a three-phase revitalization of the 500 Block of West Broadway. With construction officially underway, The 712 Initiative plans on reopening the building’s commercial and residential space in July 2022.
The historic character of the building will be maintained in the redevelopment, returning large storefront windows to the street level, encouraging walkability and window shopping. When completed, the project will add 18 new apartments and 2 commercial bays to the downtown district.
To learn more about the nonprofit behind this project visit the712initiative.org.