The Baton Rouge history of Reymond’s Department Store is bigger than its selection of purple and gold ribbons, although that is the part of the story that is most important to LSU fans.
Why? Because that’s where LSU chemistry professor Charles E. Coates and football captain Ruffin G. Pleasant went hunting for blue and white ribbon for the Tigers’ first-ever football game and walked out with armloads of purple and gold instead.
It was 1893 when Reymond’s stood on the southwest corner of Main and Third Streets in downtown Baton Rouge.
But then it moved to the corner of downtown’s Third and Florida streets, and history was made. Well, state history, anyway, because Reymond’s was the first department store in Louisiana to install a soda fountain and candy counter.
Yes, Reymond’s pioneered sweet treats even before New Orleans’ Maison Blanche.
That happened nearly a century ago in 1926. But that jumps a little too far into Reymond’s history, which began in the 1880s when Swiss immigrant SI Reymond opened his store on that corner of Main and Third Streets.
“Reymond’s originally opened in the Fisher Building,” said local historian John Sykes, who is developing a historic walking tour of downtown Baton Rouge.
The building was named for John D. Fisher, who bought the two-story corner building in an 1811 sheriff’s sale for $8,073, according to the Downtown Development District. The structure was occupied at the time by the B. Fiebelman Co. store, which eventually moved out.
Why? The Downtown Development District cites the July 1984 “Architectural and Historical Survey of Downtown Baton Rouge,” not saying, but acknowledging that a third story was added during Fisher’s ownership.
“A description mentions that the building is occupied by SI Reymond Company, Ltd. There is no indication that Samuel Reymond erected the building,” the district says, again referring to the survey.
“The building was leased to Reymond’s,” Sykes said.
The location is now home to The Little Village restaurant. Reymond’s carried a variety of items in stock, according to the store’s early ads in The Advocate and LSU’s Daily Reveille, which features Knox Hatte, Lion Brand shirts and collars, Knotair Hosiery, Schloss Bros.’ Clothing and headlight overalls. For LSU cadets, Reymond promised “the cheapest, most reliable stock in shoes, hats, collars, cuffs and underwear.”
It is not forgetting its coils of purple and gold ribbon. Coates and Pleasant bought the entire stock of it in 1893 when they were looking for school colors to represent LSU’s newly formed football team.
To summarize Coates’ account of the story, LSU President David Boyd thought the Tigers should wear blue and white, but Reymonds had ordered purple, green and gold armbands in anticipation of Mardi Gras in the coming months. The only problem was that only the purple and gold ribbon arrived, which is why Jayden Daniels did not set FBS records on November 11 against the University of Florida in a blue and white jersey.
“LSU was on its downtown campus at the time on what is now the metropolitan area, so Reymonds would have been the closest department store,” Sykes said. “It would have been easy for them to go there.”
SI Reymond already owned what was called the Reymond Building on Third Street, according to Sykes.
“He opened it in 1902. He built it for investment. It had retail space on the first floor and offices, but the store wasn’t in it,” Sykes said.
The store’s new home, known to locals as “New Reymond’s Building,” opened at 263 Third St., in 1916, claiming the corner site at Third and Florida streets.
“The original building design was for seven stories,” Sykes said. “There were only three in 1916, and four were added in 1921. It was completed in June 1922, and from 1922 to 1925 it was the tallest building in the city.”
Then came 1926, when the Louisiana National Bank Building—now the Watermark Hotel—surpassed it by 12 stories. But being the tallest wasn’t as important to SI Reymond as offering customers things they couldn’t find anywhere else, like a soda fountain and candy counter.
“The soda fountain also offered curbside service, which was also a first in the state,” Sykes said.
And while New Orleans’ Roosevelt Hotel offered men’s haircuts in its barbershop, Reymond’s expanded the hotel by opening a women’s beauty salon in 1927.
“We don’t know if Reymond’s was the first store to have a beauty salon, but we do know that it was added, as well as a cafeteria,” Sykes said. “The store also added a large two-story extension.”
With the expansion, Reymond’s occupied most of the block between Third and Lafayette streets.
But even Reymond’s wasn’t meant to last forever.
“The store was refinanced in 1929 and SI Reymond’s son, Dalton, was named president,” Sykes said. “The store was already feeling the financial strains of the impending stock market crash of 1929, especially after the addition of the extensions. So it was reorganized under the name Dalton’s.”
Dalton Reymond resigned his position soon after for a screenwriting career in Hollywood. He served as a consultant on film sets and wrote novels, his most notable title “Earthbound,” about a sugar cane farm in Louisiana.
Until recently, passersby could still see remnants of Dalton’s etched into the tile of what would have been the store’s Lafayette Street entrance. The doorway has since served as an entrance to bars and restaurants, but the cursive “Daltons” beckoning visitors has been scraped away.
Yet the story of Reymond’s shop building does not end there. Air conditioning was added in 1936, then the store was sold in 1955 to New Orleans-based firm DH Holmes, who kept the Dalton’s name for a few years before hanging their own sign above the store.
“Then IH Rubenstein’s bought the building and opened its store in 1965,” Sykes said. “It was open until 1974.”
State National Life Insurance Co. purchased the building that same year and chose to demolish the Reymond office building, along with part of the Reymond store building expansion, citing fire regulations as the reason.
As for the seven-story store, it still bears the State National Life Insurance name at 263 Third St. The building is empty except for Downtown Grocery, which occupies the corner of the ground floor at Third Street.
Still, the old shop building is not declared dead. Earlier this year, New Orleans investor Jared Cohen announced plans to breathe life into this corner once frequented by Baton Rouge customers.
Cohen, who now owns the property, said in an interview in April that he plans to repurpose most of the building as office space with retail and a restaurant on the first floor and an event space on the roof.
Cohen also told The Advocate that he believes more LSU students will begin living downtown within the next five to 10 years because of its proximity to campus and its increasing amenities, bringing this story full circle — in a neatly tied package of purple and gold ribbon.