In the spring of 1883, Herman Eilerman, aided by several of his sons, opened the first Eilerman store in Newport. The location at that time was in the six hundred block of Monmouth Street, but it soon moved to larger quarters on York Street. In 1888 the store was moved to a new building that had been erected at 814 Monmouth Street, and was the first move made by any merchant from York Street, which was then the business district, to the present thoroughfare. From 1888 until 1903 the store remained in that location. At that time August Eilerman, Sr. built the present building at 818 Monmouth Street, which because of the electric lights and many new innovations in store arrangement and lighting, was considered to be the last word in modernity.
The aspect of the business district has changed greatly since that time, however, and the remodeling of the present store in the fall of 1931 was intended to again make the Eilerman Store the last word in store arrangements. But although the new atmosphere of the store is one of luxury, it is invitingly homelike and there has been no change in the policies which have made this store possible. The building itself has been converted from a structure of the early 90's to a strictly modern building, whose architectural beauty rivals that of any structure of its size in this location. The façade of the building has been carried out in vitrolite, ornamented and inlaid with sandblasted designs of black and silver. Above the arched window that tops the street entrance is a floral panel of colored vitrolite tiles, the only one of its kind in the world. Above this is a chromium metal flag holder, which has been set into the wall. The name "Eilerman" is sandblasted into the face of the tile and lacquered with silver.
The lobby of the store is a triumph of modern store display planning. The floor is of terrazzo, and the color scheme of the exterior is carried out in vitrolite, chromium metal, and decorated plastic relief. It is illuminated by concealed lighting. The large painted panels immediately inside the entrance arch are painted in mettled pastel tints on a silver background. The eleven display windows located on Monmouth Street, and in the lobby are paneled in Avodire, a rare African wood [see a picture of Avodire here], and are decorated with American black walnut. The floors of the windows are inlaid designs, using black walnut border and Erin-Vera strip with a herringbone center. The lighting effects for these display windows have been concealed and each window is equipped with spot and side lighting. Situated above the lobby are the offices and rest rooms, which occupy the entire dimensions of the mezzanine. They are reached by a Monel Metal [an alloy of nickel and copper and other metals (such as iron and/or manganese and/or aluminum)] stairway leading from the ground floor. Seen from the interior, the wrapping and change department on the mezzanine looks like an attractive balcony, guarded by an ornamental stainless steel railing.
Within the store are the most modern of fixtures and furnishings. The entire 10,000 square feet of floor space has been covered with inlaid linoleum which carried out the color scheme of white and black. A modernistic star design of black has been inlaid in a white background. Contrary to the usual conventional plan of carpeting laid in strips to form aisles, the floor of the store is covered with scatter-size rugs. The entire center of the front part of the store is given over to haberdashery. The Australian inlaid walnut casing has plate glass tops and sides that extend down a foot. They are indirectly lighted and permit the showing of merchandise much in the manner that a show window does. To the left of this is the shoe department, with walnut cases and shelves and individual upholstered chairs for the customers while fitting shoes The rear of the store has been separated by a high arch. In this section is situated the boys' department, and the men's clothing department on the rigfht. The fixtures here are finished in mahogany. The high white walls are hung with India prints, and the tops of the chow cases bear potted plants. A Lamson Tube System is used and there are extension telephones in all departments.
The vitrolite front of the Eilerman Store is the third largest job of its kind in the United States, the largest use of the material being made on the Chrysler Building, New York City, and the second largest on the Empire State Building, also in New York City. It is the only store in the world which has utilized the material to such an extent on its façade. There are 4,000 separate pieces of vitrolite in the front, each of which had to be separately marked for a specific place. Twelve men labored thirty days to set the tiles. Each tile is laid separately and surrounded by a metal strip. It is impossible for them to come out without smashing the entire store front. The façade of the store is 65 feet high and 56 feet wide.
Written as part of the WPA writer's project, circa 1938. The name Leona Lawrence was handwritten on the typed draft we found, and we presume her to be the author.