Isanti County resident, local historian
In Cambridge in the south west corner of the intersection of Main Street and Hwy. 95 is the building that once housed the Lewis Department Store.
The founder and original owner of the store was Jack Lewis, one of the county’s more unique and colorful citizens.
He was born in Eastern Europe, and arrived in Cambridge in 1894 at the age of 19. Since he was Jewish he was indeed in a minority. However, this never stopped him doing what he chose to do.
Early on he was a farm to farm salesman, using a horse and buggy to peddle his merchandise in the mostly northern townships of the county.
Since most of the people in that part of the county were Swedes, the language of choice in almost all households was Swedish. Jack Lewis was wise—he learned to converse in Swedish, and in the process made lots of friends who would invite him in for a meal or to stay the night. In the early 1900s he opened a retail store in downtown Cambridge, and in 1910 he moved to the building on Main Street that became the Lewis Department Store. In its day this store may have been the largest department store between the Twin Cities and Duluth.
Jack Lewis was keenly attuned to his customers, and I remember him staying close to the entrance so that he could give a personal greeting to everyone who entered the store.
In addition to the store, Jack Lewis was active in the civic affairs of the city and community. Jack Lewis passed away suddenly in 1942, and the operation of the store was turned over to his daughter and son-in-law, Art and Evelyn Bornstein. The Bornsteins continued to operate the store until 1967.
At that time the store was sold to John Carlson of Braham. The name remained the same when John Carlson owned the store until 1976, when it was again sold and the new owner decided to change the name.
For over 75 years the Lewis Department Store was a most important part of Downtown Cambridge. Is it not somewhat ironic that Jack Lewis started out his career in Isanti County by using a horse and buggy, and that the current occupant of the building is a Tack Store?
This story originally appeared in the April 16, 2010 Isanti County News.